Donald, Bernie and trade

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From what they seem to be saying, and from the responses from large numbers of working people, Bernie Sanders the socialist and Donald Trump the fascist are on the same side on the issue of international trade. Both claim to oppose trade agreements as they stand (e.g., NAFTA) and as they are being proposed (e.g., TPP), holding that these agreements cost the American workers jobs which, in turn, undermines the overall U.S. economy. Both promise that, if elected, they will reverse this course. Trump is specific in his protectionist policy that would impose heavy duties on imports from outsourcing American companies. Bernie is less specific, hinting at tax penalties for outsourcers.

These positions resonate well with the affected American workers who are leaning en masse to either Trump or Sanders. But the perspective here is that both are hoodwinking the people. In their anti-trade positions, both are bucking capital as if it were still nation-state rooted rather than global, which puts it beyond the control of any single nation-state. This means that they are basing policy on a paradigm that no longer exists, while, in fact, going up against the new one – globalized capital – that has totally insulated itself.

For example, the World Trade Organization (WTO) – a non-democratic, internationally-subscribed to entity created by global capital to serve only global capital – apparently reigns supreme on trade issues, overriding the nation-state itself. Through the WTO, corporations can seek – and have won – damages against nations engaging in protectionism and subsidizing domestic industries in order to advantage them in the global market. Global capital demands that the market be controlled only by global capital – and since it transcends the nation-state by virtue of being global, it has power that the isolated nation-state does not.

There would seem to be retaliatory measures: keep my product out of your country and I'll keep yours out of mine. These protectionist measures became pronounced in the depression era preceding WW II, leading to intensified competition between nations and to war itself. But these policies, instituted to shore up national capital, are today precluded by the transnational corporations' demand for an unfettered, borderless market – the inevitable expression of capital that is global rather than nation-state rooted. How can any elected leader, confined to his or her nation-state, deal with borderless capital? This is the conundrum facing any U.S. president, and the answer is that he/she is virtually powerless in the face of it. What is missing from the political dialogue is acknowledgement of the new economic paradigm – free-roaming global capital – that rules the world. And any promise or policy not rooted in that reality is doomed.

Where does this leave a U.S. president? He/she certainly cannot single-handedly negate the rights of private property that underpin capitalism and give license to do pretty much what one wants with what he owns – including moving a corporation to where it's more profitable. We read in The New York Times (3/20/16), that Carrier, long-time U.S. manufacturer of heating and air conditioning equipment, is costing 1,400 American workers their jobs by moving to Mexico because of "the long-term competitive nature of the business and shareholder value creation." Who's going to stop Carrier? Penalize it through taxes? How do you tax a "citizen" of another country, which Carrier will become? Boycott the product and bring on WTO penalties?

Nonetheless, as long as presidential candidates concede to the realities of global capital and make policy within that framework, all is not lost. In the short term, any job loss through corporate relocation – though it can't be stopped – can be compensated for by government outlays, first, directly to the affected workers, and second, for massive job-creating infrastructure renewal. As to the long term, only one approach holds the promise of a permanent solution to a destructive situation that cannot reverse itself: an international consensus to rein in global capital.

This will require a massive effort that includes an agreement between nations to standardize tax rates so there are no longer "tax havens" encouraging relocation, and an international standardization of wages at a livable level, ending cost-cutting inducements to outsourcing. While it may be difficult to elicit the cooperation needed to enact these policies, they create a global power stronger than that of global capital, since it is the consolidated power of the majority. As things stand now, capital can successfully play one nation against another to maximize profit, leaving the loser destitute – an impossible tactic against a united front.

These are the realities a presidential candidate should be expressing, and the goals toward which he or she should be working. Donald Trump has neither the capacity to correctly analyze prevailing conditions and create appropriate solutions, nor the desire to benefit humanity. But Bernie, who possesses both, should know better than promising to bring global capital under national control – an impossible task by definition.

Andrew Torre lives in Landgrove.


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