Trade, Oppression and Uncle Sam

The belief in American superiority poisons nearly all public debate in the United States. In recent months, the effect of this belief has become painfully clear in respect to the debate surrounding the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a debate, in which opponents and proponents alike refract their arguments through thick lenses of American nationalism. Such rhetoric is compatible with a goal of U.S. global hegemony, but not democratically cosmopolitan values of equality. To fully comprehend the deal, which was finalized October 5, 2015, and for the possibility of a change in paradigm in the American trade debate, such nationalism must cease. Otherwise, future debates regarding trade will follow the same tragic path as the TPP: a path that leads to increased global inequalities.

The American debate over TPP conveniently presents clear nationalism from both opponents and proponents. Leading the opposition against the deal is Vermont Senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders mentions the rest of the world in only two of his ten opposition points.

Similarly, the White House fails to mention the world outside the U.S. a single time in its four main points of proposition.

Opponents’ foremost argument is the loss of jobs expected as a result of the deal. According to Bernie Sanders in his aforementioned opposition points: “TPP includes rules that will make it even easier for corporate America to outsource call centers; computer programming; engineering; accounting; and medical diagnostic jobs.” In a short-term, nationalistic, American perspective, such losses are clearly undesired. Observed from a larger perspective, however, such changes would serve to empower people in the Global South and contribute to the on going creation of a larger middle class in this region. In a blog post on the Huffington Post, Sanders recognizes that “we must help poor people around the world improve their standard of living,” but concludes such measures must be taken without negatively impacting the American middle class. Thus, opposition to TPP values the job and livelihood of an American higher than that of a person from Vietnam or Chile.

Proponents primarily argue that the TPP will lead to market expansion for U.S. companies in emerging markets. They argue that this will have a positive impact on the Global South since expanded market access generally leads to lower consumer prices. Such arguments, however, ignore the negative effects on local companies. Companies who are often outcompeted by American ones that have greater access to human and financial capital. Since market expansion for American companies naturally means market compression for local companies, it serves a sustained American dominance within the private sector while keeping developing nations dependent on natural resources and cheap labor.

Both the TPP and the status quo ensure continued American dominance and the oppression of the global south. According to various economic experts, consequences of the TPP include: higher medical prices, the bankruptcy of companies in the global south, less availability of modern technology at competitive prices, continued natural resource exploitation and dependence, and further impoverishment of non-TPP nations who would not enjoy lower trade barriers.

Following the nationalistic spirit of the American people, politicians continue to use nationalistic rhetoric and propose nationalistic reform. Because the U.S. wields so much influence in global politics in general and the TPP negotiations in particular, its nationalist policies affect people everywhere. American domination of the TPP negotiations can for example be seen in the remaining protections on American dairy production and car manufacturing, clearly not falling in line with a free trade framework.

Until Americans lower the stars and stripes and look upon the world as global citizens, a fair and productive trade deal is beyond hope. A fair agreement that would recognize U.S.’s history of national protectionism and the importance of protectionism for its development will not occur until Americans sense of superiority end. Until Americans recognize it is not their birthright to live better lives than a Chilean or a Vietnamese person, a deal that would tear down protectionism in the north while allowing a continued but decreasing protectionist policy in the south is but a dream. A deal that would include enforceable environmental and labor regulations so that the people regain ownership of the land they live on and the work they perform is but a fiction of the imagination until the American people realize that all men, not just American men, are created equal, and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The TPP and the current world order are both favoring the developed north — especially America — and are propagated by nationalist rhetoric. A new model for global trade is long overdue and is desperately needed – but that model is not the TPP, nor will it be any new agreement championed by American nationalism.