Joe Firestone: Declarations of Dependence: A New e-Book on the Neoliberal Nation-Subjugating “Trade Deals”

By Joe Firestone, Ph.D., Managing Director, CEO of the Knowledge Management Consortium International (KMCI), and Director of KMCI’s CKIM Certificate program. He taught political science as the graduate and undergraduate level and blogs regularly at Corrente, Firedoglake and New Economic Perspectives. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives

The trade agreements currently being negotiated by the Obama Administration are potentially enormously important in their possible impact on the United States. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being negotiated by 12 Asian-Pacific nations, and, if agreed to by Congress could be expanded in membership later on under the President’s sole authority. The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will encompass 29 nations, including the United States. And the third agreement, the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), perhaps the most dangerous of the three, will likely encompass 52 nations, if agreed to by all.

These agreements would bind the United States to multilateral terms with much of the world with some notable exceptions, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Uruguay, and Indonesia. In other words, their scope is unprecedented and their provisions are not yet public. Based on leaks of drafts of the agreements, the book discusses many possible implications of the likely content of these agreements.

By far the most important are the potential effects of the agreements on the consent of the governed, the sovereignty, the monetary sovereignty, the separation of powers, the Federalism, if any, and the democracies, of the participating states. In short, the agreements provide for the governments of the participating states to be subject to external private authorities beholden to multinational corporations, which, in Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) proceedings, can subject nations to fines in unlimited amounts in response to complaints from corporations at the discretion of three-judge tribunals having no accountability to the parties to the agreements. The agreements are, in effect, declarations of dependence!

Most disturbing about the potential effects of the agreements, is the likely constraint on the policy space of participating nations, including the United States, they would produce in relation to legislation and regulations affecting the profits or expectations of profits of multinational corporations. It is the policies of all levels of government: national, state, and local that make it possible for societies to adapt to changes when they meet new challenges. With severely constrained policy spaces they cannot try new policy innovations, nor even use old policy expedients that have been effective at other times in the past to meet particular problems.

It is folly to disarm the governments of nations, and with it their political systems, so they cannot do their jobs in helping peoples and societies to adjust to such changes. That way lies repression, chaos, human suffering, violence, bloodshed, extreme conflict, and loss of life. Ossified and paralyzed political systems have spawned all of the major bloody political and social revolutions we have seen in the history of man. And we are asking for all of that if we stop or hinder national governments from following adaptive policies that solve various problems of change, and that produce social and economic justice. Yet these three trade agreements are likely to do exactly that.

In this new Kindle e-book, entitIed Declarations of Dependence: Trade Tyranny, Sovereignty, and Democracy, I discuss a range of issues and use a critical approach to consideration of the trade agreements, and especially the recently passed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), and the TPP. I come back again and again to the likely governmental impacts of the agreements. What I also do in this book is to review the fast-track legislative process and politics, up to the present, consider the question of how to get around “fast-track” legislation, which I consider a ruse and a fraud, and also consider a variety of justifications for the TPP and other trade deals, while challenging the very fundamentals of their “free trade”-based justifications, with a more comprehensive perspective on trade agreements as instruments of public purpose. Finally, I place the trade deals in the broader context of the multi-decade conflict between democracy and neoliberalism, and locate the trade agreements as part of this struggle and the continuing efforts of neoliberalism to master and rule over political democracy.

The result is a book intended to fuel popular resistance efforts to defeat the trade deals in the coming months and years, if necessary. Of course, whether it does that or not depends on how the book is received and used by you, my readers.

Mike Norman, Matt Franko, and myself had a conversation about the book and related matters on Mike’s Talkshoe podcast today, July 24. The podcast is also below.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Mbuna

    “It is folly to disarm the governments of nations, and with it their political systems, so they cannot do their jobs in helping peoples and societies to adjust to such changes. That way lies repression, chaos, human suffering, violence, bloodshed, extreme conflict, and loss of life.”

    It is not folly to do this if your intention is to eventually morph current political systems into proxy rule by corporate power. By doing so, corporate power is shielded just enough to continue to say that human bloodshed is not on their hands, and don’t you know- it’s not personal, it’s just business…

    1. Joe Firestone (LetsGetitDone)

      Depends on where you’re sitting, of course. From the point of view of any strict view of “the national interest” of the United States, it is certainly “folly.” But, as you say from the multinational corporate point of view it makes perfect sense until the reckoning comes.

  2. Spring Texan

    Some of us just hate reading e-books. I bought one book I really wanted to read months ago that is only available in that format and still have read only a small bit, so I’ve learned not to do that. It is not that expensive to self-publish a book that can be obtained as either an e-book or a printed book, nowadays. Just saying.

    But I don’t need your book to be against these nefarious agreements, the impact on drug prices alone has my adrenalin flowing . . . however, others who also prefer printed books might be influenced, so just suggesting that it is not that big a deal to get a book that can be sold in print form (my sister has done that).

    1. Joe Firestone (LetsGetitDone)

      Thanks for the comment. I’ll think about it. But my initial reaction is that I don’t want to take the time away from writing my next e-book.

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