It’s Friday morning and it seem certain that fast track will pass later today. The hype is that the vote is too close to call but that seems only to be hype. NAFTA was a squeaker. It’s hard to believe that this will be a one-vote squeaker. The Congressional passage of fast track for the TPP will announce to the world that the US is a corporatocracy, although many, like John Perkins, have known this for decades.
Living under a Corporatocracy
What will it be like living in a corporatocracy? Initially not much different except health safeguards, inexpensive medicines, clean water at reasonable prices, GM food, labeling ingredient laws, cigarette labelling warnings, and requirements for less pollution will slowly be overturned. Slowly but surely towns, cities and states will be unable to pay for the lost profits of the corporations violating local restrictions and so, to avoid bankruptcy, will be forced to capitulate.
This will be the new face of big business in our country: a face that many already see but now it will be the de jure law of the land. Whatever a corporation wants—as long as it does not explicitly require the deaths of human beings—the corporations may be able to get. I wonder how specific the exceptions are. Could zoning restrictions be overturned by corporate builders? It’s hard to know since we have not seen anything but a couple of worrisome sections on how conflicts are resolved by corporate lawyers and how medicines will cost us more than they do now.
In general, any limit on corporate profits—a ban on fracking, child labor, ecological zones, LA’s new $15 minimum wage, labor protections, building codes, any restriction on bottling California’s scarce water—will be vulnerable to being overturned. In addition, there will be the additional likelihood of fines against those who insist on defending forests, rivers, and mountaintops with nonviolent action or with lawsuits. The fines will offset the profits not realized because of the restriction or blockade of the corporations in question. Nonviolent blockades of loggers, coal mines and big oil will become extremely expensive, which will cause them to diminish to the imperceptibly rare.
All the environmental protections that currently put the brake on some corporate activities will be slowly eaten away. All laws insisting that workers get a minimum wage may be challenged and overturned. The possibilities are too many to think about, especially without knowing what’s in the huge TPP bill. Politicians that try to defend labor or cut back toxic chemicals will become fewer, a noble species going extinct. Those who profit from corporate activity will profit more easily and with fewer roadblocks.
None of this will happen immediately. We won’t even see the text of the TPP until it has been finalized and then approved by the US Congress and the Senate. Those who have called upon Bernie Sanders to release the text are whistling in the dark. It wouldn’t matter to the yes-votes in the Congress since there are already plenty of thirty-second spin-doctor phrases that provide enough cover on the issues for the Congressperson to get by in public (and if Sanders did spill the text, he’d be breaking the law and only progressives—and Hillary– would appreciate what he did). The average American who is employed won’t have time to look at any incriminating passages and FOX news will not emphasize them. There will be plenty of goody-goody passages TPP supporters can repeat and corporate media can echo to soothe those who become worried. It will take time for jobs to disappear, wells to be dug, pipelines to be put in place, activists to be financially penalized.
There’s a lot that will happen before the president can finish negotiations and sign the bill. More troops will go to Iraq. More ice will be melting at both poles. The weather will get screwier and screwier and big storms will occur. Baseball games, no-hitters, golf championships, transgender celebrities, stock market volatility, losses in Iraq and much more—they’ll be enough to fill the 24/7 barrage of information on TV, in newspapers, and on the Web. Tensions with Russia and China will rise to a shrill pitch and may lead to military action. All of this will obfuscate the negative realities of the TPP and put them in the background.
The approved TPP will enrage progressives and libertarians alike. The president will sign it and give a smiley speech on how the economies of the US and Asia will benefit and, yes, there will be more jobs.
At some point down the road, the corporate powers will realize that we all live on the same planet. Even with their access to the best healthcare, the healthiest food, and the best private security guards, there will come a time when Climate Change will overtake them. Whatever the future holds, we will be surprised by the volatility of what we’ve taken for granted. The future, even just a little down the road, is unknown, even to those who make political and economic decisions. The wealthy do have kids, and grandkids. We may not be in the same boat but we are in the same harbor. While a healthy GDP does not lift all boats, drastic Climate Change will sink everyone.
I must admit that I find all of this depressing. I don’t see how older people can look at this without some concern for their own old age and for those coming after them. My generation was part of the problem, although many of us tried to spread the word. I remember giving the first talk at a national Environmental Conference. I talked about “The Imperative to Live Sustainably.” The speaker after me, a very decent human being and a scholar in all things environmental, began his talk by saying “I won’t mention the ‘S’ word.” The audience laughed. Now he’d be with the rest of us. Even then he tried to reduce his ecological footprint. He was the first homeowner in his neighborhood to plant native species where there had been grass.
Since those days when sustainability could be joked about, the planet’s weather patterns have become significantly more volatile. Each season brings evidence of irrevocable change. Across the globe people are experiencing extreme events made more likely by global warming. The methane and carbon we’ve put into the atmosphere will add to global warming for a decade even if we stopped today. The warming is creating its own negative feedback loops—for example, as tundra melts, methane goes into the atmosphere, a much more potent greenhouse than carbon. Nature is not at fault. Water boils at 212 F/100 C at sea level. If you heat water sufficiently it will boil and may boil over the sides of its container. It’s not the water’s fault. That’s just the science of it, the natural laws that come into play.
Is there hope for our own species? Is there any hope for the many species being pushed toward extinction because of the toxins and other externalized costs?
The only hope I can see will seem a bit outlandish to tough-minded readers who assume, contrary to the history of science in various times and cultures, that public verifiability is bedrock and the only one way to acquire knowledge about the world. But here it is. If the planet is a living being we can call Gaia, if Gaia has the ability to act intentionally, then, if enough of us try to respect her, she might chip in. Native peoples around the globe have been giving us continual warnings that we need to change and, finally, most of the world is moving in the right direction , even some corporations.
The New World Order
Recalcitrant big corporations like oil companies, coal companies, GM companies are the final collective evolution of the human attributes of cooperation, control, fear, and greed. Sixty-five million years from now, the skeleton factories, offices and manufacturing centers will buried be underwater near the coasts of continents or eroding away on land. Some other species might be as curious about these massive structures as we are about the dinosaurs that went extinct about sixty-five million years ago. These curious beings won’t be human descendants. Instead, animals not yet evolved and plants not in our plant books will be living in and around these relics with the small animals and insects that were able to adapt to the changes. It will definitely be a new world order, free of corporations and human beings. It’s nothing to be pleased about but that’s how the future will plausibly unfold.
Bart Gruzalski is a professor emeritus of Northeastern University, Boston. He has published three books and a number of articles online as well as in academic journals.