These days trade agreements are not just about imports and exports. They’re also about undermining the power of governments to protect public health and the environment by regulating corporate behavior – via provisions slipped into trade agreements in the guise of “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (I.S.D.S.), as James Surowiecki explains in the New Yorker:
In the old days, aggrieved American investors would call on the Navy to protect their interests—thus the phrase “gunboat diplomacy.” How much better that now they just call their lawyers.
But these days signing such agreements is risky for countries. I.S.D.S. lawsuits used to be rare, but they’re becoming a growth industry. Nearly a hundred have been filed in the past two years, as against some five hundred in the quarter century before that. Investor protection, previously a sideshow in corporate law, is now a regular part of law-school curricula. “We’ve also seen an expansion in the types of claims that have been brought,” Lise Johnson, the head of investment law and policy at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, told me. I.S.D.S. was originally meant to protect investors against seizure of their assets by foreign governments. Now I.S.D.S. lawsuits go after things like cancelled licenses, unapproved permits, and unwelcome regulations.
A new project from Econ4’s Gar Alperovitz and many more:
Learn more about the Next System Project here.
The powerful film (with English subtitles) on pollution – initially hailed, then banned, by Chinese officialdom:
From New York Times story on the ban:
On Friday evening [the day the film was banned], Xinhua, the state news agency, posted on Twitter, which is also blocked here, that “President Xi Jinping vows to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions.” That night, the United States Embassy air monitor in Beijing rated the air “hazardous.”
Read more here.
POSTSCRIPT: Chinese officials are not the alone in trying to suppress bad news on the environment. Check out the latest from Florida, here.
Peter Barnes writes in Yes! magazine:
THERE’S LONG been a notion that, because money is a prerequisite for survival and security, everyone should be assured some income just for being alive. The notion has been advanced by liberals such as James Tobin, John Kenneth Galbraith, and George McGovern, and by conservatives like Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Richard Nixon. It’s embedded in the board game Monopoly, in which all players get equal payments when they pass Go. And yet, with one exception, Americans have been unable to agree on any plan that guarantees some income to everyone. The reasons lie mostly in the stories that surround such income. Is it welfare? Is it redistribution? Does it require higher taxes and bigger government? Americans think dimly of all these things.
But then, there’s the exception.
Read all about it here.
From Peter Barnes on PBS Newshour, discussing his new book With Liberty and Dividends for All:
Dividends from common wealth, by contrast, unite society by putting all its members in the same boat. The income everyone receives is a right, not a handout. This changes the story, the psychology and the politics.
Read more here.
Econ4’s James Boyce writes on newly introduced climate legislation:
A major obstacle to climate policy in the United States has been the perception that the government is telling us how to live today in the name of those who will live tomorrow. Present-day pain for future gain is never an easy sell. And many Americans have a deep aversion to anything that smells like bigger government.
What if we could find a way to put more money in the pockets of families and less carbon in the atmosphere without expanding government? If the combination sounds too good to be true, read on.
Quiz for the day: Who said this?
The 85 richest people in the world, who could fit into a single London double-decker, control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population– that is 3.5 billion people….
A greater concentration of wealth could—if unchecked—even undermine the principles of meritocracy and democracy. It could undermine the principle of equal rights proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Pope Francis recently put this in stark terms when he called increasing inequality “the root of social evil”.
Some of the greatest problems, still outstanding today, lay with the so-called too-big-to-fail firms. In the decade prior to the crisis, the balance sheets of the world’s largest banks increased by two to four-fold. With rising size came rising risk—in the form of lower capital, less stable funding, greater complexity, and more trading.
This kind of capitalism was more extractive than inclusive. The size and complexity of the megabanks meant that, in some ways, they could hold policymakers to ransom. The implicit subsidy they derived from being too-big-too-fail came from their ability to borrow more cheaply than smaller banks—magnifying risk and undercutting competition.
Answer: IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, in a speech to a conference on “inclusive capitalism” on May 27. See the transcript of her speech here. For more on changing spirits of the times, see here.
Quiz for today: who said this?
The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power.
Answer: Teddy Roosevelt in a 1910 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. Paul Krugman quotes Roosevelt to make the case that taxing the rich to safeguard democracy is as American as apple pie. Krugman also quotes Irving Fisher’s 1919 presidential address to the American Economics Association, warning of the dangers of “an undemocratic concentration of wealth.”
“How,” Krugman asks,” did such views not only get pushed out of the mainstream, but come to be considered illegitimate?”
Good question. Krugman’s conclusion is right on the money:
[T]he demonization of anyone who talks about the dangers of concentrated wealth is based on a misreading of both the past and the present. Such talk isn’t un-American; it’s very much in the American tradition.
Read his column here.
From a description of the upcoming New Economies Conference in Jackson:
Jackson, Mississippi like most of the metropolitan centers throughout the country needs to broaden its economy to confront the challenge of globalization, address its social ills, and revitalize itself. To address the growing crises of economic collapse, social inequality and environmental degradation, the broadened economy must diversify itself to include various forms of ownership and wealth creation models that fully include the vast majority of the population. The broadened economy must include economic democracy, worker ownership, food sovereignty, new models of home ownership, and sustainable production and distribution.
The New Economies Conference will focus on how the City of Jackson can and will start building the city of the future today through the inclusion of cooperatives and other forms of wealth creation based on the principles of solidarity, participatory democracy, and economic and social equity.
Read more here.
For a profile of Jackson mayor Chokwe Lumumaba, who passed away this week, see here.
Read about the connections Lumumba drew between civil rights and immigrant rights here.
See Democracy Now!’s portrait of Lumamba here.
Sam Bowles and Arjun Jayadev reveal a dubious distinction of the American economy:
Another dubious first for America: We now employ as many private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or nearly double their number in 1980.
And that’s just a small fraction of what we call “guard labor.” In addition to private security guards, that means police officers, members of the armed forces, prison and court officials, civilian employees of the military, and those producing weapons: a total of 5.2 million workers in 2011. That is a far larger number than we have of teachers at all levels.
Read more here.