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The TPP and neoliberalism

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be another step down the path to a completely neoliberal economic system for Australia, writes Dr Matt Mitchell and Bill Davis.

Neoliberalism is the system of economic reforms and international agreements that we have been told are necessary for our economy and thus our benefit and wellbeing. Yet after decades of this logic, we are now left wondering about some its effects.

One effect of our economic system that has certainly not improved over the past few decades is the damage to our environment. If we are to assess this system by its effects and benefits then what benefit do we get from dumping waste on the Great Barrier Reef? What benefit to us is a "free trade" agreement with China that doubles the numbers of cattle roaming over our fragile outback ecosystems so as for them to be exported to feed other nations? Even the supposed beneficiaries of this agreement – the outback beef farmers – appear to question this logic.

And then there are deeper questions. Given we are being moved towards a global economic system via trade agreements, why are other nations increasingly depending upon us to feed them? One reason seems to be because many have covered their own agricultural land first with houses and factories, then with the pollution produced by these factories. It is reported that at least eight million acres of farm land in China is now so affected it can no longer be used to grow food. This was done to manufacture goods to be sent to Australia and other wealthy nations — goods those nations once produced themselves.

Another argument given for these economic reforms is that these allow greater economic freedom. But we must ask: freedom for whom?

It seems not for the small business person, who now must compete with much larger companies sourcing goods globally from the lowest cost producers (Uber for example?).

Rather, it seems, these new freedoms are freedoms for a dwindling number of rich entrepeneurs. And how do these types get rich? Well, all too often it seems by promoting lies and deception — aided by their governments; perhaps looking to also gain wealth and power (Look what happened to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd when he tried to bring in a tax on mining super profits from public resouces: after an orchestrated campaign by rich miners, his own party turned on him).

We are told that under this new economic system everyone will become richer. In fact, inequality in Australia is growing – rapidly – as it is everywhere. These new economic reforms have largely been implemented. Now we are in a situation where we are told we cannot compete with China — a place where the vast majority of workers are paid subsistence wages, work in dangerous conditions, in a destroyed or decaying natural environment. And this is what we are asked to aspire to? Indeed, in Australia, we are now constantly encouraged to discard our own working conditions and destroy our own environment to double down in this great game of destruction.

I must say I feel very sorry for the poor Chinese. Any attempt by them (or any other developing nation) to improve their conditions and the multinationals, who have stitched up the world so nicely in their favour through trade agreements like the TPP, will up and move to yet another low wage nation. There is no shortage of poor nations in the world.

In Australia, bold steps have been made in the direction of destruction under the guise of neoliberalism. It began with the privatisation of our public assets, against the will of the people and again accompanied by neo-liberal myths. In Victoria – our beloved SEC (State Electricty Commission) was sold off to private bidders. We were promised the competition would give us lower prices. As anyone can tell you, that has turned out to be completely wrong.

Victoria’s electricity system is now used as an example as to why you should not privatise electricity. Nevertheless, political leaders in other states floating privatising power assets wrongly insist prices in Victoria have dropped since the privatisation? But who tells them that — a bunch of industry consultants who profit every time privatisation is considered?

But what about democracy? Just as people in Queensland showed in the recent state elections that they did not want their assets privatised, many in Victoria did not want the SEC privatised. The SEC gave jobs to our young people, taught them trades, invested in the community. Now public servants must work for corporate profits — to provide ‘rents’ to rich people.

Rich people who seem to be in a much better position today than in ancient aristocracies, as today they have managed to justify to everyone that they deserve their affluence. Today, kings are appointed by the market and the authority of markets is  somehow seen as omniscient and beyond question. The primacy of markets seems to be an unquestionable assumption of neoliberalism.

Meanwhile, the poor workers in this neoliberal world are monitored and prodded and cajoled by "performance based measures". Measures that have nothing to do with their service to society and everything to do with the short-term profitability of the companies for which they work. Through such narrow measures and demands for profit, people are being deprived of the higher order motivations that may bring satisfaction to their lives

These neoliberal reforms are all sold on the promise of "lower prices". Take the Coles/Woolworth duopoly — recent evidence suggests they are gouging both their suppliers and their customers. This could, of course, be stopped. Large companies have been forcibly broken up before when they gained too much market power — Rockefeller’s Standard Oil is a classic example. It is almost impossible for individuals to have any impact on the big supermarkets given the position they are now in — this is a job for our leaders. So we must  ask: who are our leaders serving?

Agreements like the TPP that allow global supply chains – where food, for instance, comes to Australia via New Zealand from China – appear to not only favour such large companies, but are promoted and pushed by such companies perhaps at the expense of local producers.

So what is going on with our elected leaders? Who supposedly pledge allegiance to their nations (although some won’t even do this) and then betray this pledge by preferring to promote and support what turns out to be myths propagated and promoted by mega merchants? Myths which are used to justify and promote policies and laws, like the TPP, that take us further down a path that seems to offer no means of return. By following this path, our leaders are allowing our industries to be destroyed through offshoring and our natural environments to be devastated, tying us to a globalised system that will last for generations. Trade agreements are not easily walked away from.

But it is not just the environment and industry that is affected. It also affects us and our families personally. Vast numbers of people are getting into massive debt and a result many families are under increasing financial stress. Justifiably so, as some then fall further into poverty. 

How else have our leaders betrayed us? By not protecting us, and poor unfortunates in other countries, from the false promises of the "free traders".

Yes, free alright. Free to destroy our local industries without impediment — to ship work overseas. Free to allow other cheap workers to come here rather than training or employing local people. India and Africa provide us with a large number of new doctors. Here, we live in one of the supposedly wealthiest nations on earth and, instead of training our own doctors, we poach them from developing nations. This is but one part of a globalised economic system, whereby labour can be sourced from wherever, regardless of the effects.

Yet, under neoliberalism, this is all promoted as inevitable, an economic necessity. 

Is it really an economic necessity to destroy the planet and reduce the wealth of 99 per cent of people to the benefit of the 1 per cent? Many Australians are not even guaranteed a bed and a meal at night — we can’t provide this for 100,000 Australians. Under neoliberalism – the battle of the richest – we can expect this number to rise sharply. 

Are there those in power who are prepared to stand up against this?

We always hear talk about the power of the masses, the power of voters — the same voters that inevitably get beaten up and abused when they get too much support speaking out peacefully against these things.  

Look at the Occupiers. Look at the laws brought in against protesters in Victoria. Look at the statue outside the Victorian state library (888). What about those in positions of influence and power? Why cannot they band together and demand something better? 

It should not just be up to the masses to point out what a failure neo-liberalism is turning out to be. And we certainly should not be signing secret agreements like the TPP that only take us further down this path, especially when there is no return.

Important dates in relation to the TPP  

(Courtesy of AFTINET)

FEBRUARY

  • Feb 27 - Senate Inquiry into Trade Process submissions close

MARCH

  • TPP Trade Ministers’ meeting March 14, possibly Australia
  • China FTA possibly signed and text tabled in Parliament. JSCOT Inquiry and possible Senate Inquiry (1-2 months)

MAY/JUNE

  • Formal signing of TPP text and tabling in Parliament for 20 sitting days. TPP JSCOT and Senate Inquiry
  • June 18 - Report of Senate Inquiry into Trade Agreement Process. China FTA JSCOT report and implementing legislation debated in Senate

JUNE/JULY

TPP Implementing legislation debated in Senate

Please contact your local MP to express your concern about this undemocratic trade deal, clearly designed to favour foreign multinationals for no benefit to ordinary Australians. Also, join GetUp!'s campaign against the TPP.

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