Murder, Inequality, Corporate Profits, and Free Trade Go Together

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.  You can follow him on twitter at

Here’s the President on Sunday on a new trade deal with Colombia.

Obama says US trade deal with Colombia has strong protections for workers and the environment….

“It’s not a race to the bottom, but rather it says each country is abiding by everything from strong rules around labor and the environment to intellectual property protection. And so I have confidence that as we implement this plan, what we’re going to see is extraordinary opportunities for both U.S. and Colombian businesses.”

Here’s the AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka’s mild  and private (subsequently leaked) objection to the trade agreement.

Mr. Trumka noted that many Colombian employers continued to subcontract work in what he said was an illegal strategy to block unionization. He wrote that after municipal workers in the city of Jamundí began a unionization effort in January, the city fired 43 workers, two union leaders received threats, and one activist, Miguel Mallama, “was gunned down in the streets on March 25.”

And here’s the reality, as seen by leaders on the ground.

“The United States was talking about how our situation has gotten better,” Cambindo, who visited Washington last week to voice his opposition to the deal, told HuffPost through a translator (video below). “But that’s not true. Our situation continues to be bad, and it’s getting worse.”

Colombia remains by far the world’s most dangerous country for union leaders and members. Nearly 3,000 activists have been murdered there in the last 25 years, with convictions resulting in a paltry 6 percent of the cases.

Finally, this is the macro picture, a graph of corporate profits mapped against net exports.  The core relationship is the arbitrage of labor costs by the threat of offshoring.  The Colombia FTA, which is supported by both Obama and Romney, is simply continuity with this framework.

You can see the beginnings of financialization and globalization in the early 1970s.  The trade gap gradually expanded during the Reagan Presidency in the 1980s, then the gap began widening after Clinton signed NAFTA and really took off in the late 1990s after American businesses figured out how to do business in China (after Clinton let China into the WTO).  Then there was an explosion of the trade deficit and corporate profits after Bush came into office in 2000.  This system briefly collapsed during the recession of 2007-2009.  President Obama’s policy framework resuscitated this architecture of corporate profits at the expense of workers’ paychecks and, well, lives.

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About Matt Stoller

From 2011-2012, Matt was a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters, focusing on the intersection of foreclosures, the financial system, and political corruption. In 2012, he starred in “Brand X with Russell Brand” on the FX network, and was a writer and consultant for the show. He has also produced for MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show. From 2009-2010, he worked as Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Alan Grayson. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller.


    1. K Ackermann

      I re-reading it now because I see it at work everywhere. It’s stronger than ever, and I expect Kline to to publish a followup that hits hard at things currently in progress.

  1. Max424

    Cool chart.

    The diverging red and blue lines are like widening jaws. I think I shall call it, the Neo-liberal Spread, the Swallower of Worlds.

    1. Party Pooper

      Maybe Larry Niven will add Swallower of Worlds to this series.

      1.Fleet of Worlds (2007)
      2.Juggler of Worlds (2008)
      3.Destroyer of Worlds (2009)
      4.Betrayer of Worlds (2010)

      The Pak Protectors protect their own, then turn on each other in a battle to the death, until there is only one.

      …until there is only one.

      Course that was the theme for Highlander too.

      1. F. Beard

        Thanks for that. I haven’t read Larry Niven for years. It’s nice to know he has some “new” stories about Pak Protectors (Note to self: buy some yams).

        1. Party Pooper

          The “Worlds” series is actually a prequel to the Ringworld series.

          Worthwhile read if you are a fan of Puppeteers, Earth ARM types and Louis Wu (he had a super genius dad, Carlos Wu), Pak Protectors, and even the Kzin tiger people.

          Probably doesn’t matter if you read or re-read the Ringworld series before or after this series. They wrote this series sort of standalone, tho it gets a bit repetitive of background info if you already are familiar with Niven’s “Known Space”.

          1. F. Beard

            Yes, I am a fan of all of the above and “Sinclair monofilament” and lot’s of other stuff.

            My hedge, if there is no God (and even if there is?), is that humans will at least have an exciting time in the future (assuming we can get there). I enjoy Larry Niven’s optimistic future where any of us might have a personal interstellar space ship!

          2. Party Pooper

            Hopefully we will have personal spaceships built with the Puppeteer indestructible hull, and an autodoc that you can hop into and come out being 20 years old again, and the kitchen food synth tool is nice – just dial up a real fillet mignon, and the fusion drive that runs off water takes care of a lot of problems too.

            Then if you are lucky while cruising around the galaxy in hyperspace (at 3 days per light year speed) you may happen across a Slaver Empire stasis box and retrieve something really cool like a Slaver Disintegrator – the Slavers being the first galactic empire to blow itself to Kingdom Come.

  2. F. Beard

    The union organizer murders go back to the banks too. Otherwise, the workers would be significant co-owners of the corporations they work for.

  3. Eric L. Prentis

    Spanish King Juan Carlos, hunting elephants in Botswana, in the early morning, while walking to the loo, broke his hip, and took a private jet home—for an operation.

    King Juan Carlos, who says he cannot sleep because of Span’s high youth unemployment, said, when leaving his expensive African safari, “Let them eat pachyderm.”

  4. Cynthia

    Obama couldn’t care less about dead Colombian workers. It’s like the 60s and 70s all over again. Back then the US backed Pinochet and brutal regimes in Argentina and Central America as counterweights to Cuba. Today it’s Honduras, Colombia and Chile again as counterweights to Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Yet sadly, Obamapologists refuse to see their man as the greater evil that he is. The fact is that McCain could not possibly have pushed any of these new SHAFTA deals (nor a host of war crimes, constitutional violations, assassinations, insurance racket bailouts, etc.) through congress. It required a lying SOS like Obama to get it done by shrewd deceit and treachery, much like Slick Willie before him with NAFTA, the Telecom Monopoly Act, the gutting of welfare, and the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

      So here we add new crimes to Obama’s rap sheet. His will be a short trial and summary judgment when the people take this country back.

      1. Procopius

        Well, it goes back as far as the 1930s, when our State Department decided to back Batista (in Cuba) over some guy who was a real democrat, because Batista was more reliably friendly to U.S. corporate interests and against unions. Or even back to 1893 when we backed the sugar planters against the Hawaiian monarchy. That’s if you only want foreign examples.

      2. Cynthia

        Doug Terpstra,

        Colombia has been the focus of greatest US control within the hemisphere for decades, ground zero for the so-called “drug war,” with its rampant violence and corruption geared to support catastrophic iniquities — and a booming drug trade including large numbers of US “operatives,” mostly unofficial.

        When the US wants to intimidate Chavez, it builds more bases “to fight drugs” in Colombia.

        H/T: Common Dreams

  5. NWO v. JPM

    In articles critical of capitalism you often read the standard slogan, “but but but there is no alternative!” Whenever propagandists talk about the strawman of alternatives to capitalism, they’re trying to divert attention to features of global capitalism that this state will kill to suppress.

    One forbidden feature is the world-standard labor rights set out in ILO Conventions 87 and 98, and . That’s why our government is killing Latin Americans again.

    Another forbidden feature is human-centered development as advocated by UNCTAD and G-77, Ever since the Bretton Woods conference the world has been trying to bring economic policy bodies into relation with the democratic checks and balances of ECOSOC, as required by the UN Charter, supreme law of the land under Article VI of our sacred constition. To escape this the banking oligarchies have blown off 80% of the world so they can run the world like a hardcore Dartmouth frat.

  6. Klassy!

    Obama says US trade deal with Colombia has strong protections for workers and the environment….

    Oh wait. It’s not funny.

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