WTO: The World BeTrade Organization
Date: Thursday, February 08 2007
WTO: The World BeTrade Organization
No better sign exists of economics gone wild and a thug class in power globally than the presence on the planet of the World Trade Organization. Carefully constructed over decades, it is everything perverted of the original “grand vision” made in the war-weary (and sincerely hopeful) years of the 1940s.
No falsehood has been so imperiously and unrelentingly forced upon the world’s population than the claim that the WTO works to make the lives of all humanity better, happier, healthier, and more just. No falsehood has been more insisted upon than that the perverted system of oppression we now have is the “development” of the vision of the founder in the early 1940s.
The original vision was of an international trade structure that would be created to respect the small, to encourage the needy and aspiring, to share responsibility democratically, and to guarantee high standards for the already rich and powerful countries. The movement from the initial vision to the present gargantuan machinery of oppression can be traced without fear of error. But the trail of events isn’t readily found – for very obvious reasons.
Powerful governments (especially the USA), powerful media organizations, powerful corporate interests, powerful military establishments, the majority of “professional” economists and political scientists – need we go on? – support the Big Lie about world trade. They support the Big Lie to assure and to increase their positions of power in the world. The fact that doing so guarantees the suffering, sickness, death, disunity, destabilization, and economic depravity of huge portions of the world’s population doesn’t cause the oppressive forces a moment’s thought or loss of sleep. The fact that their support of the Big Lie assures the degeneration of the planet for the rich (as well as for all others) and for the future of their own children doesn’t cause the oppressive forces a moment’s thought or loss of sleep.
Is that possible to believe? It has to be believed because it’s the present case. Why it is so is not the subject of this column. Nevertheless, the reasons are important and should be seriously considered because they are directly relevant to action that must be taken to change direction. Certainly, greed, fear, the herd instinct, and the highly dangerous tendency of classes, cohorts, and interest groups of all kinds to close ranks in order to carry out the most heinous acts should be debated and discussed, analysed and tested, broadcast and advertised, taught and argued. That to begin…to begin to know how to turn back the tide….
At the same time, the story of the workable and eminently reasonable grand vision and its desecration should become the common knowledge of all. A person might begin by reading the third volume of Robert Skidelsky’s three volume biography of John Maynard Keynes. Known as the father of Keynesian economics he is considered by many to be at least one of the reasons the world began to pull itself out of The Great Depression of the 1930s. Keynesianism is known as the economic theory that teaches the benefits of active state intervention and participation in the economy and the serious role for government spending in times of Depression/Recession.
The “mad” Major Douglas of Social Credit had some of the same ideas. In the Depression he told governments to pay everyone a fixed monthly sum. With the money received people would create “demand” for products. Demand would encourage “supply”, which would require an increased work force. People would be put back to work. Employment would increase the flow of money even more, and society would lift up and out of Depression. Douglas was scorned, largely. John Maynard Keynes was not so much – that is until he came up with his ideas for a just system of international trade and commerce.
Keynes is hard to see in our time because the power in corporations, press and media, most think-tanks, and almost all academic institutions rails against him, writes false biographies of him, misrepresents his ideas, and falsifies the intent of his work. That is why I write that falsehood has been “imperiously and relentlessly forced upon the world’s population”.
An interesting, clear, and mostly astute consideration of the importance (and the perversion) of the Keynes vision of a just and balanced system of international trade appears in the January 2007 Le Monde diplomatique. It is written by the able U.S./French writer and thinker, Susan George.
For one who expects very, very few U.S.-indoctrinated thinkers to get free of their primary indoctrination, I believe George’s piece is a useful, instructive, valuable work. Where she slips (if she slips) is in her description of the (world) forces that perverted the vision of Keynes into an imperial system, created and operated to deny fairness, to deny justice, and to wring out the defenseless and vulnerable in the world in order to further the enrichment of corporations in the dominant North and to assure their political and military hegemony.
When she slips (if she slips), I think of every school child in the USA, every day, for years and years, standing in his or her classroom and swearing allegiance to the US flag. Every day. For years and years. It reminds one of the Roman Catholic pope who is reported to have said, “Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will have it for life”. Try (as the US does) having that child until the age of seventeen and see the result. We, alas, see it.
So Susan George is heroic. Growing up in an atmosphere of perpetual US indoctrination, she took her B.A. degree at Smith College, the largest privately endowed women’s university in the USA (in Massachusetts). Then she left, did more study, married (little is reported of this on her web biography) and ended up a French citizen. And – remarkably – she also became a serious critic of the (in fact, US dominated) World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank system of massive oppression and exploitation. When she slips (if she slips) in her critical position, she may do so because of all that Smith College implies. Graduates of that school are frequently self-recognized as U.S. “aristocrats” – an interesting breed of human being. Three others from Smith are, for instance, Nancy Reagan, Gloria Steinem, and Barbara Bush. Susan George appears to have died to the world of such people – and by choice. As the saying used to be: “when a good US person dies, he or she goes to Paris”. Susan George did.
When she slips, it has been, in her work, to believe that big capitalism might see the light, or that some capitalists may join the constructive opposition to the rape and pillage in which the World Trade Organization engages. She even pushes for the democratization of the WTO, a development specifically denied by the U.S. in order to gain predominance in it.
Democratic structure was, in fact, what John Maynard Keynes designed as a fundamental base of an international trade organization in the first place. In 1942, time of war and change and hope, he recommended a top to bottom renovation of world trade. That required – Keynes argued – an Organization of International Commerce linked to an international central bank. It was to be a kind of central bank of all the central banks, and it would serve the whole world, eventually.
That bank would, in effect, end the era of huge trade deficits and huge trade surpluses. No country – as the USA does today – could parasite the world with trade deficits in the trillions of dollars. Nor could one – as China does today – grow perilously immense trade surpluses. Simply, both exports and imports would be paid for in a specially named money through the international central bank. Annually, the books would have “to balance”. “Overdrafts” would be carefully monitored. Using a fair and open system, countries moving to continuous deficit or surplus would pay a tax on the amounts. In addition, countries in deficit would be forced to lower the price of their export goods in order to find a market for them. Countries in surplus would be forced (think of China) to raise the price of their export goods in order to even out the distribution of world trade. The worse a deficit or surplus became, the higher would be the tax upon the offending country.
In addition, the John Maynard Keynes design intended the structure to assure the sharing of administrative authority and technologies. The structure was intended to protect countries from invasive foreign economic takeover. It provided for recognition of the need – from time to time – of structured protectionism in order to allow small economies to develop. It was to provide for active involvement in guaranties of employment and the well-being of workers. It was to engage itself in the preservation of limited and expendable resources. It was – Canadians take note – even to assure that films not made in the USA got part of the whole film market! It was to recognize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to work for social progress, just development and full employment. Voting in the organization was to be based upon democratic equality, as was the carefully balanced choice of council members.
The USA – most powerful nation in the world (and pushing imperial power) - was going to have none of that. Read Robert Skidelsky’s third volume of the biography of Keynes to see how the US worked the destruction of the Keynes vision. The system which has developed, under US sponsorship, has rejected all the Keynesian goals, and it pays lip service to a few of them only when pressed by criticism of its rapacious ways.
The triumvirate of WTO, IMF, and World Bank operate, in fact, to pry open victim countries, to force them into accepting invasive foreign ownership, to force them into indebtedness that makes them lackeys of Northern countries (especially the USA), and to force them to debase the lives and working conditions of their populations. At present, George Monbiot believes the “South” owes the exploiting Northern countries
twenty-six thousand billion dollars. As Susan George remarks, “the enormous debt of the third world will never be repaid”. She goes on to remark that Wall Street decides the policy of democratically elected governments and (understatement of the decade) that the rules of world trade do not profit the most poor states.
That sum of the debt and those conditions of foreign (mostly US) interference underscore the brutal perversion of everything the Keynes vision presented as possible for the self-respect and dignity of humanity in our time.
Repeating the mantra that free trade frees all, the triumvirate works to erase trade barriers that provide a measure of independence and self-reliance for weaker countries. Relentlessly, the forces in the WTO have worked to flood countries possessing fragile economies with agricultural products from the exploiting countries. The triumvirate is at the point of demanding that “free trade” means private Northern based corporations must have the right to take over public services in developing and economically weaker countries.
Read Susan George in Le Monde diplomatique, even though in that article she slips a little, and perhaps falls into the role of the standard Smith College graduate. George uses lots of space to excuse (or “explain”) the US. Yes, she writes, Keynes’ vision was killed because “les Americans n’en ont pas voulu” – “the Americans didn’t want it”. But she, then, uses much space to explain all the complications of the time, especially in US power. We are used to that – to US people, in the face of US brutality, saying “if you only understood our system, you’d…” George, perhaps, does a little of that special pleading. For instance, she makes the point that Keynes died in 1946 and that another partisan of the Keynesian ideas, US secretary of state Cordell Hull, departed the scene because of ill health before the war ended, complicating the fight for the Keynesian idea. Okay. But that is essentially a personalist view of history. If the US had wanted the Keynesian system, the absence of those two men wouldn’t have made a scrap of difference.
Nevertheless, she presents – all in all – a sad, clear picture of the world economy gone berserk, uncontrolled in its destructive power and brutality as a WTO, IMF, World Bank, US-dominated system of pillage and exploitation, purposefully and perversely fashioned as a vehicle of greed-driven enrichment and debasement. Though she doesn’t finally say it, the lesson is that the present system must be pulled down, dismantled, destroyed, trodden underfoot - then reconstructed. And – as she does say – the design of John Maynard Keynes is still there, still workable (with, perhaps, tinkering here and there), and waiting to be put into place.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on February 9, 2007]