10 minutes reading time (1999 words)

Politics as Sales

     The opening lines of Douglas’ Monopoly of Credit, first published in 1931 say:

It cannot have escaped the observations of anyone interested in the welfare and orderly progress of society that, more especially in the years which have intervened since the close of the European War and the present time, the centre of gravity of world affairs has shifted from Parliaments and Embassies to Bank Parlours  and Board Rooms. It is probable that this shifting is more apparent than real; that, in fact Parliaments and Embassies have not for a long time been more than the salesman of policies which were manufactured elsewhere.1

    Most people who are committed to the idea that Australia is a democracy will recoil from assertions like these. Given the predominance of men and women in politics of verbal attainments only, it is not difficult to imagine the politician as salesperson. However, to test Douglas’ claim that politics is a sales technique for policies manufactured elsewhere, we will glance at a particular, not insignificant case: the Trans-Pacific-Partnership Agreement.

   TPP negotiations began in 2005 with the intention of liberalising trade arrangements between the now 12 negotiating countries. If successfully concluded, the TPP Agreement will become the most far-reaching agreement of its kind encompassing 800 million people and more than 40% of the world’s GDP, including the economies of the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia.

   The neo-liberal free trade push has gone against the popular grain for more than 20 years. In 1991, when the Australian government was negotiating the Uruguay Round trade liberalisation deals, a poll showed 71% of Australians wanted protection for local goods2. One could imagine the percentage being higher today following factory closures, capital flight of Australian business and downward pressure on wages as we are, due to rapidly dissolving protections, forced to compete on price with nations quite at ease with keeping their populations on or below the breadline.

    It is interesting to observe how the internationalist agenda transcends party division, a sure indication of influence from board rooms and bank parlours. In 2013 Rudd felt the range of the TPP not wide enough, advocating leaving the door open for China to join the TPP in the future. According to Gillard, quizzed about benefits of the TPP for Australia, ‘freer trade with our growing region means Australian jobs’ – the jobs jingo apparently passes all reasonable persons tests – work for everyone, forever.  Luckily for the TPP in Australia, the liberal successor Prime Minister Abbot, with equal confidence was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 2014, ‘there's always horse-trading in these negotiations, but in the end … everyone is better off’.

   Going beyond the banal statements of politicians (or salespeople) worrying signs have come to light about the content and development of the TPP.

   One criticism of the TPP negotiating process has been the secrecy under which it has been conducted. Neither the press nor the government (outside of the negotiating few) have had access to the details of the developing agreement. It was these conditions that prompted Senator Ron Wyder in 2012 to sponsor a bill that would allow the U.S. Congress access to TPP documents. The summary is provided below:

Congressional Oversight Over Trade Negotiations Act - Directs the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to provide access to documents, including classified materials, regarding trade agreement negotiations to which the United States is a party and policies advanced by the USTR to any Member of Congress who requests such documents as well as Member staff with proper security clearances3.

   This demonstrates that not only do the policies not arise through our elected representatives as the reflection of the will of the people, the elected representatives themselves are barred from reading them as they develop. Further, corporate representatives are given exclusive access to TPP documents. Wyden said to Congress, March 2012;

The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of US corporations — like Halliburton, Chevron, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America — are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement.

    Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whose organization leaked the TPP’s Intellectual Property Rights Chapter in 2013 and its updated version in 2014, refers to corporate privilege and a possible reason for the secrecy, ‘The selective secrecy surrounding the TPP negotiations, which has let in a few cashed-up megacorps but excluded everyone else, reveals a telling fear of public scrutiny.’4

    MapLight, a research organisation that examines the link between private money and politics in America, has revealed payments of up to 24 million dollars to well-placed Congress members for access to TPP working documents. Indicating these sales people don’t come cheap. Members of the Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Intellectual Property Rights (ITAC-15) have linked some of America’s largest corporate entities with TPP drafts that are closed even to members of Congress. Corporations such as AT&T, Johnson and Johnson, General Electric, Verizon, The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Recording Industry Association of America among others have representatives that sit on this Committee and advise on TPP content.5 It is not surprising that ratification of the leaked version of The Intellectual Property Rights Chapter would be a windfall for these organisations and the groups they represent.

   The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade deny this collusion on their website. In their frequently asked questions section concerning corporate access they say, ‘The Government does not share negotiating texts with corporations, or anyone else.’6 Given the international scope of the agreement and the facts that have come to light regarding corporate contributions this is a disingenuous and misleading statement.

   Nor is it by accident that the Trans-Pacific-Partnership negotiations have failed to attract public scrutiny. A survey by the Australia Institute found that only 11% of respondents ‘definitely know’ about the TPP. The Centre for Research on Globalization describes the lack of media coverage of the process as ‘a near total blackout’.  The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade even withdrew invitations to journalists to attend a public briefing in November 2013 following the leaking of the IP Chapter, saying that it would be off the record so the media were no longer eligible to attend.

   Another of the chief objections to the TPPA is the inclusion of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses that allow corporations to sue governments for legislation that leads to loss of profits. These provisions have been written into previous trade deals and have enabled a number of controversial legal actions against governments for legislating in the public interest. Phillip Morris is currently suing the Australian government for the plain packaging on cigerettes reform under ISDS agreements included in a trade deal signed with Hong Kong in 2003. After a challenge in the High Court failed, Phillip Morris Asia Limited fell back on the ISDS mechanism saying they had a legitimate claim against the government that could run into the billions of dollars. The case will be decided by an international arbitration committee of three in Singapore.  Most of the proceedings remain confidential. Two other ISDS cases in Canada see Lone Pine resources suing the Canadian Government for $250 million dollars for pausing fracking operations under the St Lawrence River and Eli Lilly suing for $500 million for refusing to renew patents on the drugs Strattera and Zyprexa. Both these cases reasonably fall under the responsibility of governments to legislate in the public interest.  The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade state on their website that ‘the Australian Government is opposed to signing up to international agreements that would restrict Australia’s capacity to govern in the public interest — including in areas such as public health, the environment or any other area of the economy. It is difficult to see how such a policy is consistent with the signing of agreements with ISDS clauses.

    In a recent worrying development proponents of the TPP in America have pushed for a fast tracking of the Agreement through Congress. Such a measure would prevent any amendments being made to the TPP as occurs in normal circumstances. Again, one must wonder at the power of behind-the-scenes backers that can elevate the TPP above normal government operation. In any case, in Australia, after the agreement is signed by the government, there will be a public consultation period of ’20 sitting days’ to review the entire agreement before it comes into force.

    The TPP agreement represents the most advanced stage of what Douglas stood so strongly against; centralised control over people by a mostly unknown, distant and unreachable authority.  Wikileaks’ press release describes the Intellectual Property Chapter; ‘The 95-page, 30,000-word IP Chapter lays out provisions for instituting a far-reaching, transnational legal and enforcement regime, modifying or replacing existing laws in TPP member states.’6 A more concise description of Douglas’ idea of the ‘exaltation of the State (or super state) into an authority from which there is no appeal’7 would be difficult to find. (Brackets mine). The failure of both mainstream media and politics to deal with real concerns regarding the TPP suggests they are simply instruments performing their role. ‘One fundamental goal of any well- crafted indoctrination program is to direct attention elsewhere, away from effective power, its roots, and the disguises it assumes.’9

    It is imperative that the people in our so-called democracies realise our government for what it is; salespeople for power. That is not to say that every politician has malevolent designs for the installation of tyrannies but that the money power has such penetration that it can ensure the election of candidates in sufficient numbers with a proven track record of not opposing, or actively promoting, the policies of international finance and MNCs. The public grudgingly accepts this set of policies because of the chronic shortage of money brought about by a centralised and dysfunctional financial system. We must realise that the artificial money problem can only be solved by dealing with it directly. The core of the case for trade liberalisation is we need money, regardless of the cost to our sovereignty, environment and civic rights. Any attempt to play the system by contracting more debt, selling more for export credit, privatisation, and the sale of land and assets only translates out to complete loss of real wealth.

     What is the lesson here? It is of the utmost importance that the public shift their focus from the theatre and distraction of go-nowhere political wrangling, slickly delivered to us as the means for ‘the exploitation of ‘public opinion’ manipulated by the Press owned and controlled from the apex of power’1. It is at this apex, ‘the Bank Parlours and Board Rooms’ that we must direct our glare.

     The final words of the first press release following the leak of the IP Chapter in 2013 are Julian Assanges’:

If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.4

 

References

  1. Douglas, C. H. (1979). The Monopoly of Credit, 3rd Edition. Bloomfield Publishers, England.  

  2. Dunkley, G. (2004). Free Trade: Myth, Reality and Alternatives. Strategic Information Research Development, Kualar Lumpur.

  3. Congress.Gov. 2012. Available from:https://www.congress.gov/bill/112th-congress/senate-bill/3225 [24 February 2015]

  4. Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) – IP Chapter. 2013. Available from: https://wikileaks.org/tpp/pressrelease.html [24 February 2015]

  5. Major Political Donors Have Access to TPP Documents, Everyone Else? Not so much., 2014. Available from: http://maplight.org/content/73378.  [24 February 2015].

  6. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 2015. Available from: www.dfat.gov.au. [28th February, 2015]

  7. Douglas, C. H. (1934). Economic Democracy, 4th Edition. Bloomfield Publishers, England.

  8. Press Release – Updated Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) – IP Chapter (Second Publication. 2014. Available from: http://www.wikileaks.org/tpp-ip2/pressrelease/ [24 February 2015]

  9. Chomsky, N. (1992). Deterring Democracy. Random House Australia Ltd, Sydney.

     

 

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