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Neither the TPP Nor National Sovereignty

Though disparaged by millions of people from across the political spectrum, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (who referred to it as “the gold standard in trade agreements” before changing her position), the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, refuses to disappear.

Memorably described by Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach as “NAFTA on steroids,” and widely regarded as the largest “free trade agreement” to come along since the creation of the WTO in 1995, Obama’s recent suggestion that he will try to push the tremendously unpopular agreement through Congress before leaving office should come as little surprise; because it does much to contain China, not to mention Russia, the TPP is a key component of Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” central to Obama’s overall political-economic agenda.

Promising to further impoverish people throughout the world, plunder the environment, virtually enclose much of the public domain via patent and copyright protections, and further aggrandize corporate power while continuing the privatization of the planet, the TPP is an unquestionably bad deal for all but the rich (of its “member-states”). Notwithstanding this, however, the argument that the TPP’s passage will weaken governments’ ability to regulate corporations and constrain corporate abuses is an odd one, particularly since Obama’s support for the TPP illustrates the fact that corporations already pretty much run the political-economic show. In other words, so-called “national sovereignty” (which many TPP protesters fear is being undermined) does not risk taking a back seat to corporate interests for the very reason that they aren’t ultimately distinct to begin with.

To be sure, although it’s constantly hammered into our heads that we live in a democracy, the fact of the matter is that we live in a “representative democracy.” And a “representative democracy” that represents the wealthy, in which money is equated with political speech (see Citizens United) , is nothing short of a plutocracy – the rule of the rich. That is, contrary to ideological assertions, there is no democracy. And there’s little difference between so-called national sovereignty and the sovereignty of the plutocracy.

In addition to the fact that the Democratic and Republican parties are corporate parties through and through (who represent the interests of the rich nearly exclusively), those decrying the loss of national sovereignty sound particularly perverse when one considers that they’re voiced in a political environment characterized by extreme abuses of sovereign power – abuses such as Obama’s “disposition matrix” (which, for those who haven’t been paying attention, allows the Executive to assassinate anyone she likes, without any meaningful due process of law). And Clinton and Trump promise even greater abuses of this “ultimate power to command.”

Rather than lamenting the loss or diminution of national sovereignty to corporate hegemony, then, we should instead consider the thoughts of the late Zapatista Ramona who maintained that, instead of seizing power, emancipatory political movements ought to break power apart so that all will be able to exercise (non-coercive) power and that none will be subject to (coercive) power. That is, corporate sovereignty ought to be rejected, but not in favor of national sovereignty (which empowers Obama to kill people with drones abroad as much as it empowers cops to kill people domestically). In order to reject the TPP, as well as the social relations that give rise to exploitative trade agreements like it (empowering corporations and other coercive institutions), national sovereignty, along with the institution of the nation-state itself, ought to be rejected too.

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Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

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