FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Free Trade and Economic Imperialism

by ROB URIE

The modern dilemma is to understand just how unreasonable the reasoning classes are in both thought and action. Political ‘progressives’ were behind efforts to obliterate Native American cultures through forced assimilation and acculturation for the purported ‘benefit’ of their victims. Likewise, progressives continued and expanded institutional racism in ways that persist to this day through promotion of bogus social ‘metrics’ like IQ (Intelligence Quotient), the racialization of ‘crime,’ and through formal strategies of forced cultural and economic assimilation via ‘education.’

Likewise, political ‘liberals’ have been the primary facilitators of the ascendancy of the radical right in both academia and politics. In academia liberals have functioned much like progressives in an earlier age, producing ‘reasoned’ rationales in their economics for economic imperialism. And in politics liberals play three essential roles: to insist political differences are matters of degree to be ‘worked through’ rather than the irreconcilable differences of competing interests; to derail meaningful political action until a ‘better time’ in the future that never arrives, and to claim the political center no matter how far the rightward march has taken it.

In the dimensions of economics and the environment ‘reason,’ both academic and political, is producing unreasonable outcomes for most people. The ‘managed’ neo-liberalism of academic economics pays lip service to the looming catastrophe of global warming that its own radical capitalism produces. If economic ‘growth,’ as measured by traditional metrics like GDP (Gross Domestic Product), is desirable and it represents the output of industrial capitalism contributing to global warming, as it does, then ‘solutions’ to global warming are simply attempts to clean up the catastrophes and dislocations that capitalists and their academic apologists create. But as is becoming increasingly obvious, these catastrophes never get cleaned up.

For example, about a decade after NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was passed in the early 1990s cheap American corn flooded Mexico and destroyed the peasant agriculture that had sustained millions of peasant farmers for generations. Their livelihoods destroyed, those ‘freed’ from the land went to work either in Maquiladoras, factories established by multi-national corporations in Mexico to exploit cheap labor, or migrated to the U.S. in search of work.

Most of the corn exported to Mexico is ‘genetically modified’ and cross breeds (pollinates) with domestic strains to render the traditional food supply suspect. Subsequent U.S. policy diverted U.S. corn from the food supply to ethanol production causing its price to rise just as Wall Street began ‘financializing’ agriculture through dedicated investment in agricultural ‘commodities’ funds. The result was that people whose indigenous economies had been destroyed by cheap agricultural imports instantly faced starvation as the imported food that consumed most of their incomes became unaffordable.

In the U.S. the ‘financial crisis’ and global recession caused by de-regulated finance was then exploited by cynical and / or ignorant politicians to scapegoat for domestic economic travails the displaced peasant farmers from Mexico who had come to the U.S. looking for work. The circumstances of these economic refugees thus diminished, many now feed the detention and deportation ‘industries’ as new and ever more intrusive ‘free-trade’ agreements are negotiated in secret and to the exclusion of those affected by them.

The destruction of a sustainable indigenous economy and its (forced) replacement with unsustainable industrial agriculture and newly ‘freed’ labor adds to the environmental catastrophe of global warming and the human catastrophes of economic disenfranchisement and dislocation. The ‘efficient’ model of industrial agriculture in use in the U.S. is a major contributor to greenhouses gases through heavy use of fossil fuels, poses an unknown health risk through genetic modification of crops, replaces localized economic risk with systemic economic instability and forces millions of people into labor ‘competition’ in rigged labor ‘markets.’

The issues of nominal importance to political progressives and liberals are here—potentially catastrophic global warming, a global food supply forcibly compromised through untested modification of its fundamental constituents, reliance on fossil fuels, economic inequality and the destruction of sustainable economic practices. Liberal economist Paul Krugman and President Barack Obama are both vocal proponents of the ‘free-trade’ policies behind these outcomes while also proposing that ‘something should be done’ to clean up the rolling catastrophes that their economics produce. But why if radical capitalism is ‘reasonable’ would progressive and liberal cohorts find the outcomes unreasonable– why flail about for ineffective solutions rather than stopping these problems before they arise?

The reason why from the perspective of Western academics is that actual economic history has been replaced with the canard that people in their ‘natural’ state have no economic existence. Neo-liberals permanently point to the economic circumstances that capitalism (and other forms of economic imperialism) create, such as that of the Mexican farmers displaced by radically destructive U.S. agricultural practices via ‘free-trade’ predation, as the ‘natural state’ of humanity that capitalists then claim that capitalism is the solution to. If it weren’t for the Mequiladoras and the work they provide, goes the argument; those poor, ignorant people would be naked, rolling in the dirt, too stupid to feed themselves. And the role of a ‘good’ liberal / progressive is to provide them with a job making genetically modified death burgers for less than subsistence wages.

Lest this seem an exaggeration, spend a moment with what Western economists use to ‘prove’ their case of capitalism’s benefits. The aforementioned GDP measures the monetary value of the goods and services produced within a country. Economic production outside of tradable goods and services, such as household labor, child rearing non-monetary mutual aid—the economic fundamentals of any healthy society, make no contribution to GDP. Likewise, the destruction of real economic value from the effects of global warming—the devastation of the coastal Northeastern U.S. by ‘Superstorm’ Sandy, provides a positive effect as measured by GDP due to the rebuilding of destroyed property that it entails. Depending on the ratio of current to past economic production, global warming could provide the largest boost to global GDP in modern history as it ends human existence.

Likewise, when economists use relative GDP growth rates as evidence in policy debates, what is left out is the distribution of the benefits of economic production that GDP measures. The argument that while Barack Obama has occupied the White House U.S. GDP growth has outpaced that of austerity-burdened Europe leaves out that the resultant income gains have gone almost entirely to the richest one percent of the population. Cheering for GDP growth in this circumstance is pure trickle down economics—if the rich get richer they can hire more of us to mow their grass and polish the silverware on the yacht. (Low paying service jobs constitute the near entirety of Mr. Obama’s employment ‘boom’). The austerity of failed capitalism forced on all but the very wealthy is being used to prove that austerity for the very wealthy doesn’t ‘work.’ The Princeton-Harvard-Wall Street- Washington circle of contrived misdirection is complete.

Economic imperialism has a long history—colonialism, neo-colonialism and modern corporate extraction through new and historical colonial channels, which contemporary mainstream economists appear to have no knowledge of. This is more likely than not why trade economists can write about ‘free-trade’ without tying actual trade relations to imperial history. Progressives and liberals hope to moderate the worst effects of capitalism without admitting their historical roles as facilitators of imperial predation. And contemporary liberals are proponents of the most radical forms of capitalism ever conceived—just consider which self-described liberals win the ‘Nobel’ prize in economics (it is actually a banker awarded prize having nothing to do with a choice of the Nobel Committee) and then take an actual look at their trade economics.

Looming global environmental catastrophe renders the last several hundred years of Western economic theory dubious, if not outright suicidal. Economic ‘progress’ that increases dependence on unsustainable economic practices produces catastrophe in increasing proportion to the benefits that even proponents claim will result. But the great thinkers behind modern trade theory appear to have no knowledge of this paradox. For their own benefit, as progressives would have it, why not ‘free’ the economics departments at Princeton and Harvard to compete with displaced peasant farmers serving genetically modified death burgers for $7 per hour? GDP would certainly rise as a result.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail