Thursday, November 01, 2012

Trade Agreement or Political Takeover?


In addition to what we already know – about corporations being able to sue TPP governments for making laws that infringe on their profits, the unjustified and unjustifiable secrecy surrounding the negotiations, about us signing over our right to demand reasonable work conditions and pay, decent and affordable education, enviromental protection and control of our own media, etc – here are some more insane facts about the TPPA:

Remember ACTA/PIPA/SOPA? Those were drastic pieces of international internet legislation which people power managed to thwart early this year. They have been repackaged (again!) to be part of the TPPA.

Companies will be able not only to patent medicines, making them unaffordable to most people, but also “impose patent protection for diagnostic and treatment methods” (Deborah Gleeson, La Trobe University lecturer, Melbourne), which means public health professionals won't be able to use tried-and-true practices for healing people – budget constraints will force them to resort to less effective, unpatented methods.

Similarly, schools will be under-resourced, as the TPPA wants to extend copyright protection periods to 120 years, which means many school texts/resources will no longer be free – the same goes for libraries.

Remember the Food Bill? That's included too. You could be criminalised for giving away food you grow in your garden to a neighbour, and farmers' markets will be a thing of the past.

The TPPA is not really a 'trade agreement'. That's just a clever branding exercise, a cover for corporate asphyxiation of democratic governments – of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. It's also branded like that to hold countries like New Zealand and their egotistical politicians to ransom: 'If you sign this we promise to buy your meat and dairy -- come now, independence and self-determination are a small price to pay!' The problem is, once we sign up, it will be almost impossible to renege. They have planned for this, it's built into the Agreement.

The National government, in fact the majority of our elected leaders of all colours, are so unimaginative that they think we can't save our desperate economy (actually it's not in such bad shape, in global terms) without selling our sovereignty to investors with the fattest cheque book, and keeping inflation down at all costs (they think inflation is a disease you can catch off airport toilet seats). Yet they allow rents to rise without restricton, appease international corporate interests with obscene trade agreements, screw down our workers with a minimum wage that hasn't adjusted for inflation, increase GST (which affects wage-earners, not business owners) and implement other 'austerity measures' (read: stealing from the poor to pacify the rich). The TPPA neatly ties up all of this. The difference between the TPPA and what conservative governments normally do, is that the TPPA will fast-track everything and set it in concrete, making it very hard for successive governments to undo.

Our small-minded parliamentarians don't dare to suggest practical measures such as boosting the minimum wage and creating jobs so that people have more money and therefore spend more money and therefore get the economy moving. They tell you to blame beneficiaries, who are stealing your hard-earned taxes. In fact, most people on a benefit want to work. In fact, if there were no beneficiaries, there would be no real minimum wage, and you would probably be earning less than you are now (across the board). Next time you encounter a beneficiary, thank them for helping to keep your wages out of the gutter.

These unimaginative politicians bail out fraudulently managed finance companies to the tune of billions of dollars, and in the same breath tell us we're going to have to tighten our belts for the good of the country. People with a bit of money to spare get to gamble on dodgy investments, knowing that the safety net is there for when things inevitably go wrong. Yet, when a guy in a wheelchair asks for a bailout of food to get him through the week, he's turned away as though he's some kind of irresponsible citizen who's getting his just deserts.

If you feel you could do with a quick lesson in basic economics, read on. If not, skip the next five paragraphs.

It's not complicated. It isn't over your head. You already know the important stuff of economics, but you've been bamboozled into thinking it's a mysterious science that only economists, the high priests of capitalism, can have an opinion on. Actually, most of the time they are wrong and contradict themselves terribly. Don't be shy, find out for yourself.

Don't let anyone tell you there's a 'job shortage'. Jobs can be created in an instant by goverments. We have an earthquake-ravaged city that needs rebuilding. We have builders out of work. We have a pitiful public transport system in our main centres, so we punish people by increasing vehicle registration costs, fines and parking fees. Thousands could be employed building rail and bus networks, and all the administrative and creative work that goes along with a scheme like that. We have children that need school lunches. We have documentaries that need to be made. We have green energy tech that needs to invented and/or perfected.

If our economy is hurting, it's not because people have “excessive sovereignty” or because we are lazy, it's because it is contracting by design. It's because people are powerless to mend their own country. We do not have a stake in our society. We are prevented from healing its economic sores. The people we have elected to run it for us, are running it for someone else.

Economics is not an ethereal science that only over-educated experts should comment on. Economics is simple. It's about people and stuff: labour power and commodities, and money is merely the lube that keeps the engine turning over smoothly. Money is not productive. Money is simply permission to work. Owning money isn't work. Lending money isn't work. Gambling isn't productive. Employing people while sitting on one's arse isn't productive. Economics is based on productivity of workers (both manual and information-based) and the raw materials.

The second part of economics is consuming what comes out after the raw materials and labour are combined. The people who make the stuff, need the stuff, so they buy it, with the wages they earn. When the money you earn for the stuff you make isn't enough to pay for the stuff you need, something's wrong. It means someone is creaming it off the top. Profit is not a necessity. Competition is not healthy, it causes people to die of malnutrition. Recessions and depressions are usually caused by skimping on engine oil. They have very little to do with an actual shortage of labour or materials.

Back to the TPPA. The international high priests of economic bullying are assembling in Auckland in December to decide our fate. We cannot leave it up to our politicians to hold them accountable, most of them have already rolled over on us. We must throw a spanner in the works ourselves and stop them ripping off our future. Shut it down? How? There are a few things we need to do to stop this barbaric 'agreement' – we need to turn out in large numbers to show public opposition that the apologists can't ignore, we need to physically interrupt the negotiations, we need to get the word out about the TPPA (at this point most NZers don't know what it is) so that people are informed and public opinion is on our side. We have seven weeks to do all this. If you would like to contribute to this effort, contact us to be on the mailing list: aksocialistaotearoa@gmail.com.

Further reading:
Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism, by Jim Stanford of Canadian Auto Workers' Union (2008)
Economics of the Madhouse, by Chris Harman (1995)
Almost Everyone's Guide to Economics, by JK Galbraith (first published in 1978 – dated but still relevant)
What is the TPPA?
It's our future

-Sian R

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