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A very good point about Trans-Pacific Trade

Eric Raymond, over at his Armed and Dangerous blog, makes this excellent point about the mixed bag that is the Trans-Pacific Trade deal:

The thing about creating political machinery to fuck with free markets is this: you never get to be the last person to control it. No matter how worthy you think your cause is, part of the cost of your behavior is what will be done with it by the next pressure group. And the one after that. And after that.

31 comments to A very good point about Trans-Pacific Trade

  • JohnW

    As part of the EEC we were supposed to have “free trade” with Germany but we still couldn’t sell insurance to the Germans 20 years later.
    Free trade does not come via the wisdom of a regulator – you either get the “boulders in your harbours” point or you don’t.
    “Free trade” agreements are obviously a total con game.

  • Laird

    An excellent article.

    I don’t know all the details of the TPP, although my reflexive, default opinion, until someone conclusively demonstrates otherwise, is “it’s a bad deal”. How could it be otherwise, given the caliber of the people who negotiated it?

    But, for me, a far more fundamental objection is the process. Our Constitution requires that treaties be ratified by a 2/3rds majority in the Senate. That was not done in this case, or for that matter in any of the other trade agreements (“free” or otherwise) we’ve entered into in the last several decades, or even in the recent Iranian nuclear deal. The TPP contains massive, substantive requirements covering everything from environmental rules to the nationality of container ship crews. To argue, as Obama does, that this is merely an “Executive Agreement” (which is supposed to cover mere administrative details for the implementation of real treaties) is legal sophistry of the first order. Yet our Congress goes along with the charade with nary a peep of protest. In fact, in the cases of both the TPP and the Iranian deal Congress devised (under the clever machinations of Obama) a review structure which resulted in the deal going into effect as long as it received the approval of a mere 1/3 minority in either House!*

    Until our Senate grows a spine, and challenges these unconstitutional usurpations of power by the President, these deals will only get worse. Clearly the current Congress has no stomach to challenge anything Obama does; whatever push-back has occurred has been driven by the states. Perhaps if a Republican took office it might have the courage to reclaim some of its proper powers and start to restore a semblance of the political balance intended by our constitutional structure. But I’m not holding my breath.

    * Technically, the Congressional “approval” vote was structured as a “resolution of disapproval”, which is subject to presidential veto. Any such a veto can only be over-ridden by a 2/3rds vote in both Houses. This result was blatantly obvious (to anyone who has read the Constitution), but somehow it escaped the notice of our esteemed solons on Capitol Hill.

  • JohnW

    Free trade is not a treaty or a deal – it is a principle.

  • CaptDMO

    Free Trade is a principal?
    Like the original “on paper” original (us)principals of Affirmative Action, Interstate Commerce Clause, Personal Income Tax, welfare, education, and of course, Socialism/Commune-ism?
    Let’s ask a few award winning economics scientists, and a few Stock Investment mavens, if free trade is “a principal”, which INCLUDES “open boarders” if one is to assume that free trade includes migrant labor force/”market” negotiable wages, workplace protections of ALL sorts, as some do.(for simplicity, HERE, I do NOT)

  • CaptDMO

    “….Any such a veto can only be over-ridden by a 2/3rds vote in both Houses.”
    Or perhaps a minority, in conjunction with The Supreeme Court?

  • Laird

    No CaptDMO, the Supreme Court cannot override a veto. It can invalidate a law, and it has even shown that it can re-write a law to suit its fancy (thanks, John Roberts), but if Congress vetoes one it’s done unless the President overrides.

  • JohnK

    The shade of King George III must be wondering what he did that was so wrong? I mean, a tax on tea? Really? That merits a revolution, but shit like this is no problem? Maybe they didn’t like his wig or something.

  • JohnW

    A principle is a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.
    Affirmative Action, the Interstate Commerce Clause, Personal Income Tax, state welfare, state education, and of course, Socialism/Commune-ism are propositions and systems based and sustained on the principle of coercion.

  • shlomo maistre

    The shade of King George III must be wondering what he did that was so wrong? I mean, a tax on tea? Really? That merits a revolution, but shit like this is no problem? Maybe they didn’t like his wig or something.

    The American Revolutionaries were mostly idealistic fools and self-interested opportunists. It did not take long after its founding for the American federal government to become more oppressive than King George III ever was.

  • Five Daarstens

    Well the same thing applies to “Free Market” trade agreements, they are also subject to the whims of politicians. In reality there is no such thing as “free trade”.

  • Thailover

    Perhaps Obama should be forgiven for his nut-job understanding of free trade. He has a congenital condition that prevents him from understanding what “free” means.

  • Lee Moore

    The thing about creating political machinery to fuck with free markets is this: you never get to be the last person to control it.

    If you ever controlled it in the first place.

    I think this is a particular case of a more general principle, which is that institutions, however created, assume a life of their own. They acquire boards and employees, who develop agendas, and enjoy paychecks. They like to spend their budgets and ask for more. Nay, demand more. And if, for example, they are created to investigate the dangers of fieldmice to the harvest, then both fieldmice, and dangers, will be found in battalions. Moreover, the institution will discover that witches too are danger to the harvest and will start investigating them as well. And fieldmice, astonishingly, will turn out to be a major contributor to global warming. The institution must live and grow.

    Institutions are, alas, indispensible to civilisation. But we could certainly do with a lot fewer. The least dangerous are those formed, and sustained, by voluntary association, the most dangerous – obviously – are those formed by the state or sustained by the state, especially those with coercive power.

    The monasteries, once again, need to be dissolved. Fortunately, no great violence is required. It is merely necessary to detach thousands of hungry mouths, and suckers, from the public teat, and they will quietly starve. Ok, not quietly, but loudly and with much hysterical bleating. But starve. Who but a government would pay for an OFSTED ?

  • Thailover

    Actually, the entire article made excellent points. I agree with A. Rand, the ‘founders’ should have seen to it that we have a constitutional separation of economics and state in the same manner that we (more or less) have separation of church and state.

  • Thailover

    “Free Trade is a principal?”


  • Thailover

    shlomo maistre said,
    “The American Revolutionaries were mostly idealistic fools and self-interested opportunists.”

    Yeah, fake god forbid people actually have self-interest.

  • shlomo maistre

    Actually, the entire article made excellent points. I agree with A. Rand, the ‘founders’ should have seen to it that we have a constitutional separation of economics and state in the same manner that we (more or less) have separation of church and state.

    The modern West has an established Church, a state religion. It’s called Progressivism. Progressivism was born of the enlightenment and just because it does not officially call itself a religion does not mean it’s not one – effectively.

    Progressivism’s main tenets are democracy, equality of humankind, and the supremacy of empirical science. Progressives come in many varieties but today they virtually all believe that democracy (which obviously includes so-called “constitutional republics”) is not only the only valid form of government but a genuinely good form. Progressives also believe in (and attach emotional importance to) notions that are demonstrably inconsistent with reality such as “all men are created equal” “the rule of law” “equality before the law” and “human rights”. These are state-sponsored religious beliefs because they are false, taught to us by government-funded schools when we are young and stupid, accepted without any real scrutiny, assumed to be true in public discussion of anything, and used as propaganda to advance harmful political policies by professors, politicians, and journalists.

    Universities are the new Church schools/monastic schools. Check out the history and you’ll find that the Oxfords of the world gradually supplanted monastic schools historically. Professors are priests, promulgating Church doctrine.

    Consider the USA. Some Progressives in the USA are Republicans and hold the opinions on most political issues that Democrats held a few decades ago. Other Progressives in the USA are Democrats and hold opinions Republicans will hold in a few decades time. Democrats and Republicans tend to disagree on such things as marginal tax rates, how much regulation oil companies should face, and whether gays should have a right to marry. They do not disagree that America is a democracy, that democracy is good, that humans are equal (or should have equal rights) and that the American people should decide on these policy matters through democratic machinations.

    It’s not a coincidence that mostly all Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Protestants, atheists, agnostics in the West agree on most things most of the time. 95% of people that fit these descriptions believe in democracy, science, the Enlightenment, and equality in some sense. That they are wrong is besides the point. The point is that they unwittingly all subscribe to the same religious dogma which infuses their perspectives on the world so thoroughly and completely that they are hardly even aware of it.

    Which is why I view people praising America’s supposed separation of Church and state with detached amusement.

  • shlomo maistre

    Yeah, fake god forbid people actually have self-interest.

    Red herring. My comment did not dispute the reality that people are self-interested.

    The problem is when such interests are understood superficially and in a juvenile manner, interpreted in the context of a rudimentary understanding of how those interests interact with other forces in the world, and then acted upon with little discretion and basically zero foresight.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    Apparently, Congress has the power to stop any treaty being passed. But what if it is a good treaty? Why should it interfere then?

  • pete

    One way to stop people messing around with rules and laws you’ve just made is to ‘enshrine’ them.

  • shlomo,
    That is a quite extraordinary statement. My flabber is gasted. We are all created equal if not in physical or mental ability but in rights.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray, April 29, 2016 at 5:28 am: “Apparently, Congress has the power to stop any treaty being passed.” Actually, apparently not, since they never got to vote on the Iran treaty. When is a treaty not a treaty? When the chosen one says it isn’t.

    A key element of the checks&balances theory is that each part of the constitution will defend its prerogatives – thus human ambition is harnessed to defending restraints on ambition. Apparently Congress has not the will to defend its prerogatives, and can be deprived of them by the most trivial (ab)use of words.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Schlomo, you don’t believe in equality before the law?

    Equality before the law isn’t the same as egalitarianism, which is about equality of outcome. Maybe that’s what you mean.

  • shlomo maistre

    Schlomo, you don’t believe in equality before the law?

    Equality before the law isn’t the same as egalitarianism, which is about equality of outcome. Maybe that’s what you mean.

    The question can be interpreted in either a normative or positive sense (should it exist or does/can it exist). There are many layers to this.

    TLDR: Equality before the law does not exist, cannot exist in any material sense; the widespread belief that it can/does exist causes many harmful unintended consequences and is symptomatic of an unstable society.

    1. I don’t think that equality before the law exists in any material sense in the USA or in the West generally. There are many different sorts of examples. Police overlook rich white kids smoking pot far more often than poor black kids smoking pot. Hillary Clinton can violate all kinds of laws (email server is just one of many scandals) that others would be thrown in jail for but Hillary has connections – this is just an emblematic example, as many nameless wealthy/powerful people are generally able to get away with a lot more than poor people can but you don’t read about it in the newspapers. In addition, rich people can afford better lawyers than poor people. Rich people can afford drawn out legal cases while poor people are compelled to settle earlier & more often & for less. You get the justice you can afford in democracy.

    2. Because the belief that America gives equality before the law to all its citizens is a) false and b) very, very widely held this belief is a meme that is used unintentionally and sometimes intentionally towards harmful ends. As a result, for example, people either overlook/ignore many facts about society that are unfair/inefficient or they justify such facts about society in ignorant and/or misleading ways.

    3. Equality before the law MIGHT be desirable in some sense, but like most Enlightenment ideals it is not something that is possible in the real world. I don’t mean that it cannot be PERFECTLY produced in a country overtime 100% – its more significant that just that. I mean that there are aspects of all societies in all times and all places that very substantially hinder any efforts towards achieving equality before the law (powerful people will always get away with more for instance) and that, therefore, by spreading the false meme that a certain country actually HAS equality before the law people become blinded to certain realities – the understanding of which might not only change their opinions about the efficacy of striving for equality before the law but their opinions on many other related matters as well. This (unknowingly believing in false religious dogma) is one of the key symptoms that indicate (and processes that explain how it came to be) that Americans and peoples living in democracies become so absurdly misguided about, well, everything related to political philosophy.

    4. A government that is genuinely stable & secure is more likely to achieve favorable and fair outcomes for the masses than a government that is unstable because a stable secure government need not appease special interests as often as unstable ones. Modern liberal democracy is very unstable & insecure in a variety of ways that I have gone over in Samizdata threads many times. In democracy, police departments are special interests. In democracy, lawyers who want more laws are special interests. In democracy, Professors who want to justify their positions by getting funding to urgently study trends in criminal behavior are special interests. The prison-industrial complex is a special interest in democracy.

    5. The idea of equality before the law is yet another way in which sovereignty is (by religious meme!) fragmented in democracy. The truth is that sovereignty must rule – there is no escaping this fact. But by advancing the proposition that we can have equality before the law we are impairing the abilities of those who actually rule to rule efficiently. There are many facets to this, but one example is how absurdly slow, bureaucratic, expensive, and tedious the American court system is. There’s such an obsession with rights that overall the quality of justice meted out is very, very poor.

    6. Sovereignty must be obeyed. There is no escaping this fact – it is reality of human affairs in democracy, monarchy, dictatorship, plutocracy, etc. Sovereignty is obeyed either by submission or by belief (belief is almost always either false or irrational – irrational is generally better than false). Inevitably. Generally speaking, false dogma that justifies the sovereign power is believed with religious passion commensurate with the extent to which sovereignty is not obeyed by submission or by blind irrational belief. There’s not much in the way of blind belief in democracy because it’s so unstable (everyone is threatened by everyone’s vote) that we tend to constantly have to chat in public about those wonderful, beautiful ideals that legitimize our great constitutional republic. We have to constantly remind ourselves what keeps us together in a peaceful, mostly harmonious society out of fear that things could go off the rails. In more stable societies such sacred cows need not be discussed with such alarming frequency AND the objects of sacred cows in monarchies are more often fixed & irrational (Bob has the right to rule because he IS Bob) whereas in democracy the object of sacred cows AKA religious dogma is false & evolves because, well, in a word: instability. And indeed we see that it is true that equality before the law can be defined in sundry ways.

  • shlomo maistre

    We are all created equal if not in physical or mental ability but in rights.

    So… long story short much/most of my reply to Johnathan Pearce WRT equality before the law is similar in essence to how I’d reply to the religious meme that we all are born with equal rights.

    Basically: it’s not true in any material sense in the real world and the widespread belief that it is true both has unintended consequences that are harmful and is indicative of an unstable society. There never has been a libertarian society and there never will be one. An interesting question is why.

    Natural rights to life, liberty and property are better preserved over the long run insofar as the government is unified, stable and secure. The meme equality of rights has been used in history many times to overthrow governments and replace them (usually unintentionally) with governments that are less unified, less stable and less secure. This is an extremely harmful unintended consequence of this belief.

    Libertarianism is of the same intellectual genesis as Progressivism in a certain sense. Richard Weaver is quite informative on how and why this is. Basically: Progressivism and libertarianism extend primarily from the philosophical stream of thought of Porphyry, Peter Abelard, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, etc. As I’ve said before at Samizdata: implicit egalitarianism inform both Libertarianism and Progressivism, albeit in different ways.

    Equal rights to life, liberty and property is the original and everlasting formulation of political and philosophical equality. It is beautiful – and I don’t mean that sarcastically – but it’s also not true in reality.

    I think that the protection of individual liberties is a favorable consequence of government that is secure and stable and sovereignty that is unified. Individual rights are not a destination to be achieved (revolutionaries and rebels throughout history have almost uniformly failed on this count) but rather a consequence to be enjoyed (insofar as one can these days!)

  • shlomo maistre

    In a certain sense the essence of the Right is understanding (recognizing the unseen/even unseeable) while the essence of the Left is communication. The Left degrades social order with discord, dissent, and dissonance. The Right conserves social order with inaction (and occasionally action when they want to preserve particularist order in the midst of more widespread disorder like the Nazis did). The truth is that communication is an inherently leftwing practice/behavior (yes, the Nazis had to employ leftist tactics – it comes with the democratic territory). Plato, after all, is the original right-winger in Western philosophy and he did not put his most sacred idea (“One”) in writing – this ain’t a coincidence.

    I say all that to say this.

    ‘All men are created equal’ can be interpreted in a million ways. I’m aware the founding fathers of the USA intended it to mean equality of individual rights to life, liberty property (at least for white men) and not equal outcomes. But just having to enunciate rights (merely communicating) is a symptom and cause of social disorder. Even good statements are eventually & inevitably interpreted in more harmful ways. Hence Americans have “equal rights” to Obamacare now. Had Jefferson only known!

    My understanding of the world is that rebellion/revolution is always in some ultimate sense doomed to render more harm than good because the law of entropy in thermodynamics is also true in social affairs. Rebellion just accelerates the degradation of order that is endemic to the social fabric of mortality. Original sin may not be literally true, but it is metaphysically true and that metaphysical truth does come with real consequences in our world. “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards [disorder]”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    ” Had Jefferson only known!”

    Jefferson did know:

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.

    (Citation: http://www.bartleby.com/73/1065.html )

  • shlomo maistre

    Oh he did say that. He clearly saw Obamacare coming. And we Americans will be fine because he said that. Phew!

  • JohnW

    It is very interesting that Ayn Rand should define the absence of a clause separating the state and economy as the cause of the constitution’s meltdown:

    “No, justice has not ceased to exist. How could it? It is possible for men to abandon their sight of it, and then it is justice that destroys them. But it is not possible for justice to go out of existence, because one is an attribute of the other, because justice is the act of acknowledging that which exists…Yes, I am continuing in my profession. I am writing a treatise on the philosophy of law, I shall demonstrate that humanity’s darkest evil, the most destructive horror machine among all the devices of men, is non-objective law…”

    The rectangle of light in the acres of a farm was the window of the library of Judge Narragansett. He sat at a table, and the light of his lamp fell on the copy of an ancient document. He had marked and crossed out the contradictions in its statements that had once been the cause of its destruction. He was now adding a new clause to its pages: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade…” -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.

  • A most appropriate quotation from a most appropriate novel. I saw a protestor’s sign at the Trump rally in Burlingame, Calif. It said, “Capitalism kills.” But, if you want to know how thick are the heads of the leftists, the fact is that all the clothing worn by the protestors, all their cell phones to take thousands of “selfies,” all the cardboard and ink that went into making the “Dump Trump” signs, the baseball caps, the water bottles, even the cement the protestors are standing on, all came from…capitalism. Were it not for capitalism, these brutes would be shivering in the cold. In fact, they probably would not even exist. Thank you, JohnW, for your post.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post.

    Good point to remember.

  • JohnW

    The problem of “the deal.”