Thursday, June 25, 2015

Some Thoughts On The Trans-Pacific Partnership

So it looks like the Trans-Pacific Partnership is going to be a thing, even though it seemed to be on the ropes just last week.To be blunt, these sorts of issues aren’t something that really gets me fired up one way or the other. I basically think that the forces that are driving globalization forward (new technology, global capitalism, the interests of elites in developed societies in creating a more interconnected world etc.) mean that globalization is coming, whether we like it or not. And since the only thing that really stopped it from happening (in the modern era at least) was a World War and a Great Depression, it’s not clear that the alternative is feasible, or desirable. So personally I'd rather spend my time on other issues.

But to be blunt I think a number of groups came out looking pretty bad during this whole debate. Here’s my run down.

Pundits: Remember when Obama’s presidency was doomed because many of the members of his party in Congress disagreed with him over a trade treaty? (This had never happened before of course.) I wonder if any pundits do too? Personally I think Obama should just paraphrase Malcolm Tucker and announce at his next press conference, “Before you get any ideas just remember that I’m Lazarus, and not normal boring Lazarus, no no no, I’m self-resurrecting Lazarus!”

Free Traders: There used to be strong arguments for lowering tariffs in general, but that debate should be over because tariffs are incredibly low globally and especially in the area that is affected by the TPP. The old school Ricardian arguments about comparative advantage just don’t make a whole lot of sense anymore and free trade advocates and their economist friends should stop treating up like children and pretending we are creating another European Coal and Steel Community or something. The TPP is largely about things like patents and copy right protections, and that’s fine, but if people want to advance those policies they should explain why copy right and patent protection is so important, not pretend we are still living in 1956 or something.

Anti-TPP People: I am sympathetic to a lot of the arguments that people who oppose the whole TPP thing have made over the last few months. It’s true that globalization seems to create a small group of supper wealthy winners and large groups of losers. Likewise the labor and environmental records of many of the corporations and countries that stand to benefit from this agreement are pretty awful.

Having said that, the opposition against fast track negotiating authority and demands that every negotiation be put on YouTube or something is totally insane. All serious negations of this magnitude (in business, labor negotiations, or foreign affairs) have to be carried out in some degree of secrecy or they rapidly collapse or just turn into pointless displays fake negotiations where everyone just recites per-written talking points and no one offers anything and nothing is decided on. The only way to do anything like this is to hammer out a deal and then take it back to your respective sides and see if you can sell it. Otherwise the negotiations collapse as outsiders start screaming about “YOU CAN’T GIVE THAT AWAY!” or "THAT'S NOT ENOUGH FOR THAT!" or whatever. Otherwise they become pointless kabuki theater of people pretending to negotiate.

If you want to criticize or defend the deal fine (personally I think it is marginally worse than break even overall, but sort of inevitable anyway) but please do on substantive points. Nobody is served by these pointless and ridiculous arguments to nowhere.

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