Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday, the specter of doing anything to enable Donald Trump to get the keys to the White House wearing down Sanders' resistance faster than any negotiations over the party platform. At their first joint campaign event, Clinton vowed to pursue several of the policies Sanders supported during their primary battle, and she specifically mentioned opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (
We have that pledge on film, and unless Mrs. Clinton wishes to begin her presidency by giving the American people an additional reason to question her trustworthiness, she had better keep that pledge. But, then what? Trump opposes
In his opening speech,
The Brexit vote sent a message that was pretty loud and pretty clear -- that we have to make democratic societies work for working people. You can't let Wall Street and the city of London run everything and then expect voters to say well it's okay. We face this issue over and over and over again -- with austerity, with tax policy and yes, with trade deals. From Brussels to Washington, policymakers must understand that if we want to defend democracy from both the radical right and the out of touch elites, working people must help write the economic rules.
This is key. A democratic society cannot long ignore the desires of its people. It is the elites who do the ignoring who bring on the pitchforks. People who are moved to desperation do desperate things. Those of us who wish to change the way trade is conducted are not the radicals. Just as FDR was not the enemy of capitalism but the man who saved capitalism from its own excesses (and its own champions!), those like Trumka who warn against the ugly consequences of our current trade practices are the real defenders of economic freedom, no matter what the Koch Brothers and their allies say to the contrary.
In calling for a new approach to trade, Trumka was seconded by the speakers on the first panel which examined trade and the economy. Thea Lee, deputy chief-of-staff at the
Dean Baker, from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, discussed how the issue of trade has been shaped by "Big Pharma," the large pharmaceutical companies that dominate the manufacture of new drugs. "Patents expire for a reason," Baker asserted, noting that trade agreements keep them alive, sometimes producing a 10,000 percent tariff. Doesn't sound like free trade to me? Baker pointed out that the U.S. spends $430 billion per year on drugs and that we could spend one-tenth of that but for trade deals extending the patent protection of big drug companies. The next time you hear someone say we can't afford to invest in infrastructure or in more affordable college or in new vocational training, remember that these trade deals are leaving about $390 billion on the table.
Baker also noted that U.S. proponents of
Robert Scott from the Economic Policy Institute discussed currency manipulation and the models used to evaluate trade deals. China currently holds $5 trillion in U.S. assets, which "keeps the dollar up and tilts the playing field." Scott called currency manipulation the "single biggest cause of the trade deficit" and argued that it depresses the wages of the average U.S. non-college worker by some $1,800 per year. Still think free trade is free? And China is not the only country that tries to manipulate currency rates: Japan, Singapore and Malaysia all do the same, and unlike China, they are signatories of
Michigan State University's Joseph Guzman had the unenviable task of defending
Thomas Palley, senior economic policy adviser at the
Perhaps Palley's most important point to Catholic ears was his concern that the neoliberal free trade agenda is a framework that "masquerades as a trade agenda but is in fact a global governance agenda." This is not all about abstract economic theory, which would be bad enough if the abstractions are clung to so tightly we ignore the reality on the ground. It is about power. "It is exploitation by global arbitrage," Palley said, a phrase that got almost all heads nodding.
What usually strikes me when I go to one of the conferences downtown is how starkly different is the language of most policy experts from the language of Catholic social doctrine. But, when you go to an event with organized labor, that difference shrinks. They may not use the same language, but the language they use is deeply moral, suspicious of abstractions at the expense of real world consequences, focused on the human person more than on the "laws of the market" or, for that matter, the laws of the state. There is a more honest admission of what we would call original sin and they call power, greed and self-interest, than you find in other progressive circles. I feel at home. And, the hope is that if Hillary Clinton meant what she said yesterday at her rally in New Hampshire with Sen. Sanders, she will increasingly feel at home questioning what was once a key tenet of orthodoxy for the New Democrats her husband championed. As I have written previously, in the early 1990s, there were reasons to hope the effects of globalization would be benign. But, she needs to show that she understands the downside of globalization and put forward a vision, a paradigm to use the word most cited at the Trading Up conference, that makes non-college workers know that there is a place of them in the future of the American economy too.
[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]