Nick Dearden writes:
Donald Trump’s victory should be a warning to those on the centre left pushing for more “market” in our lives. But early signs suggest that there is every danger of Europe’s leaders falling into an even deeper sleep.
The United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade agreement has become a hated modern symbol of the power of big business and the market over our societies.
The TTIP deal has rightly been seen as less a traditional agreement on tariffs and more an attempt to give big business new powers over our laws and public services.
All of this would be enforceable in special “corporate courts” only accessible to large foreign investors. Trump cynically exploited working-class anger over these sorts of trade deals.
He spoke of the devastation caused by TTIP’s forerunner, the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which radically speeded up the ability of corporations to “offshore” jobs to Mexico, leaving communities hollowed out and their voices silenced in the mainstream media.
He also promised to halt TTIP’s sister deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
All this helped him to get his racist message a hearing in traditionally Democrat parts of the US.
But Trump offers no hope for those who are rightly angry about the sort of politics that TTIP represents.
First, TTIP is already dead.
It has been killed off by the millions of European and American activists who have campaigned against it for the last three years.
This campaign has been run not by Trump supporters but by people who believe in an open, equal and democratic society where diversity is embraced and everyone’s rights are respected.
These activists objected to TTIP largely because it will further erode our democracy and hand power to big money – and to businessmen like Trump.
In fact, Trump proudly admitted during his campaign that he has got rich by exploiting trade agreements such as Nafta to “offshore” jobs and avoid regulation.
Second, despite his rhetoric, Trump believes in the power of big business.
Within a certain framework, he supports the deregulation and privatisation agenda embodied in TTIP.
Where he differs is in his belief in massive public investment and industrial strategy, but for Trump this is all about creating a much closer relationship between big business and the nation state.
Trump’s support for public investment and industrial strategy are, at their most basic, simply essential tools any governments should use to plan and manage economies.
Neoliberalism’s rejection of these tools is economically illiterate.
It’s how these tools are used that should be the central question.
The soaring value of stocks of some of the world’s biggest and deadliest corporations – arms, fossil fuels and pharmaceuticals – in the wake of Trump’s election shows that these tools are likely to be used in a way that is deeply damaging to the environment and the majority of the world’s population.
When combined with his tendency for rightwing protectionism – using state support and tariffs to dump your economic problems on neighbouring countries – and deep racism, we have the essence of fascist economic policy.
Particularly frightening is how some of the “free traders” who supported Brexit, such as trade secretary Liam Fox and backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, are keen to make their own trade deal with Trump as quickly as possible.
This should dispel any notion that Trump’s politics cannot be reconciled with those of the most extreme neoliberals here.
The worst lesson the left can draw from this disaster is to up the stakes on trade deals such as TTIP.
In particular, TTIP’s sister deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, between Canada and the EU, is making its way through the European parliament, and social democratic opposition in on a knife edge, with MEPs terrified about playing into the hands of rightwing populists.
The only way to defeat Trump is to remove the genuine economic grievances of so many “left behind” communities on both sides of the Atlantic.
If he is perceived to be the vanquisher of TTIP, this will compound his popularity.
In the next month MEPs have the chance to send Ceta the same way as TTIP. They should take it.
They then need to develop a clear strategy that meets the needs and rights of ordinary people, while retaining open and non-racist principles.
This includes public investment and industrial strategy which can, and must, be used in a fundamentally different way to Trump’s proposals: to halt climate change, to reduce poverty, to create jobs, to support small business and cooperatives.
It also includes a fundamental challenge to trade policy – ensuring that trade does not prevent government’s ability to uphold human rights and tackle climate change and does not get in the way of providing decent public services or protecting small businesses and small farmers.
Beyond this, trade can play a part in building a better world – for instance through ensuring life-saving technologies are transferred without harsh intellectual property restrictions, and encouraging a “race to the top” in terms of working conditions.
This is the very opposite of the current direction of trade, and so requires a massive rethink of mechanisms and policies.
Time is not on our side.
But TTIP was not killed off by racists or the far right – it was killed by the democrats of the left.
If our politicians get behind us, we can starve Trump and his ilk of their oxygen.