During the lame duck session of Congress that begins this month, a trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will likely be passed into law if it comes up for a vote. Although both presidential candidates stated that they do not support the TPP, this "hot potato" has been effectively removed from public debate. Yet, if enacted, the TPP will likely have a greater adverse impact on the lives of average Americans than the election result itself.
What does a Pacific trade agreement have to do with Maryland and surrounding areas? International trade agreements have a habit of making the rich richer, strengthening multi-national corporations and sending our nation's jobs overseas. Although there is much talk about the threat of a globalized and centralized "one world" government, few connect the governing body behind such trade agreements, the World Trade Organization, to it.
It is not by accident that there is a blind spot regarding the WTO and its growing control over our well-being. It is orchestrated and executed through the "iron law of oligarchy," which states that organizations, no matter how committed to democracy, will inevitably succumb to the rule of an elite few. In the Dark Ages, it was known as feudalism, when nobles ruled the people; later it became fascism, when dictators and appointed government officials ruled the people; then communism emerged, where state elites ruled the people; and now there is oligarchy, where a small number of rich rule. What do they have in common? Wealth goes to the few. That is, unless there is a vigilant effort by the people to maintain balance. This is an area where many in the political right, left and center can come together. Our rallying point is against class war and growing economic inequality. Unfortunately, it appears that the TPP will make these problems worse.
A central provision of the TPP will significantly expand the use of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Authority, the coup d'état for elites. This provision establishes a court that some say will "rule the world." Composed of lawyers beholden to multinational corporations, this court's decisions will be final and will trump national laws. ISDS is increasingly becoming a tool for rich investors to make large, uncapped settlements from speculative lawsuits, resulting in rewards that taxpayers are forced to pay. If these trade courts agree with corporate claims of less than expected profits, the gravy train for 21st century robber barons could be endless, and we would have no recourse but to pay the bill. Dozens of cases resulting in more than $100 million in settlements are pending already. This system is working beautifully for rich owners of multinational corporations, thrusting them into world dominance over our national sovereignty. Already, "made in America" and "country of origin" labeling have been rolled back because of the ISDS.
There is hope and it is found in the old maxim: think globally, act locally. Imagine the world consisting of a globally quilted pattern of local economies, grounding wealth in our communities and fairly allocating the rewards to its working residents. It is this process that our immigrant forefathers mastered in places like Little Italy, Chinatown and other ethnic neighborhoods. Through buying and selling to each other, wealth is grounded in local communities. Instead of assembling one massive global trade vacuum for the rich, let's rebuild our economies from the ground up and rediscover our greatness through worker-owned cooperative businesses. When workers own their businesses they don't decide to close down and move overseas where labor is cheaper.
Although competition is dramatic and memorable, cooperation is far more widespread and important in nature. Promoters of capitalism falsely claim that the driving force behind nature is ruthless and cunning competition. This logic suits the rich, but divides and conquers the public by pitting us against each other. We can no longer afford to be victimized by such distortion. Cooperation, not competition, is the key to fighting class war.
It's time to take back our jobs and country. We can start by writing our U.S. representatives and insisting they prevent the TPP from coming up for a vote in the lame duck session (Nov. 14 through Dec. 16), thereby derailing it, and then advise Gov. Larry Hogan and your state representatives to incentivize the creation of worker-owned cooperatives.
Christopher K. Croft is an adjunct professor of global environmental policy and sustainable communities at the University of Baltimore and chairman of political and economic justice program of Maryland Sierra Club's Greater Baltimore Group. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.