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Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Clinton is far enough ahead to begin to put together her transition team.  This story tells us all we need to know.  It is a team straight out of the old Bill Clinton Democratic Leadership Committee, the folks who brought us NAFTA and mass incarceration and Don't Ask Don't Tell and are on board with fracking and TTP.  In short, a Clinton presidency will be exactly what we anticipated.  Which makes all the more important a vibrant progressive movement to elect as many leftie Senators and Representatives as possible and to keep the pressure on the White House.

Donald Trump must be defeated, but that will be the beginning of our efforts, not the end.

I am weary.  If I may quote the Bible, as is my wont, "if it be possible, let this cup pass from me."  [Matthew 26:39.]


Chris said...

The transition team further justifies the claim that the party platform was subterfuge for Bernie's endorsement.

Anonymous said...

Professor Wolff, I was wondering if you had any thoughts (good or bad) about Jill Stein, aside from general worries about the effects of third party candidates on swing states. Does Stein strike you as an opportunist or as someone with genuinely good ideas about where the country should be headed? There has been a lot of rumor mill generated comments about her being supposedly anti-vax/anti-science (although, from what I gather, this appears to be a pretty major misunderstanding of her views). She is definitely a lot less politically experienced than anyone else who is running, so given that fact (along with makeup of congress and senate) it is unlikely that she could ever really effect real change. Moreover, in her interviews (such as with The Intercept), she comes across as pretty naive about minds and wills of the general electorate. I have no doubt she'll only end up with at most 2-3% of the popular vote. But all that said, is she someone progressives should look to as at least ideologically interesting? If one doesn't live in a swing state, does she merit a vote from someone who is already becoming frustrated at the prospects of a clinton presidency, just to make a statement?

David Palmeter said...

Progressives (among whom I include myself) are kidding themselves if they believe that renegotiating NAFTA or the WTO agreements will reverse the decline of manufacturing jobs in the US. They certainly have contributed—at the same time they were offering consumers lower prices and other US producers of goods and services foreign markets. I, for one, would not want to give up fresh fruits and vegetables the year round, nor give up my Volvo.

The big driver of the decline in manufacturing is technology—the same force that a century or so ago wiped out thousands and thousands of agricultural jobs. For example, US production and imports of steel have been relatively stable for several decades. The major change has been the rise of the “mini-mill” since the 1970s. Mini-mills recycle scrap as their raw material—skipping the entire “integrated” process which begins with coal and iron ore. From practically nothing in the 1970s, mini-mills today account for more than 70% of US steel production—with far, far fewer workers. All the renegotiated or terminated trade agreements in the world won’t bring those thousands of traditional steel jobs back.

Nor should we ignore the benefits these agreements have brought to the poor in other countries. They have been enormous. Balancing the interests of US workers, US consumers, and foreign workers is not an easy task, but I don’t think that a blind “America First” approach is necessarily the right way to go.

Chris said...

Jill Stein was at my university about a month ago and I went to listen to her. She's 100% NOT ANTI-VAX, that's a just a bullshit rumor started by god knows who, and perpetuated all over the net.

(she also addressed that concern on the young turks and the cnn town hall this month).

She's totally genuine, and been fighting for progressive change for over 2 decades. You can disagree with her strategy, but she's an authentic human being.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

As usual, I find David Palmeter's comments insightful and useful. His last paragraph raises a question of the very greatest difficulty about which I really do not know how to think. Inasmuch as the United States is the richest country in the world, virtually any transfer of jobs from the US to poorer nations will result in an increase of net utility, assuming only universal declining marginal utility for money. So if we adopt a univseralist moral stance, it would seem that we ought always to prefer such transfers, as well as punitive taxes on all of us for the benefit of the world's poor. Is that really what we ought to believe and work folr, as opposed for example to economikc justice and equality here in the United States? I do not intend this as a rhetorical question.

Tom Cathcart said...

I've always winced when people on the left (and now the right, if that's where we situate the Trump supporters) condemn the trade deals on the basis of US job loss with the unstated parenthesis ("and the creation of thousands of third world jobs.") It's complicated for sure, with the race to the bottom, unregulated pollution, etc., but progressives shouldn't allow US jobs to be the sole factor. I watched in Nicaragua in the '80s as lack of a trade relationship with the US practically brought them to their knees. Thank God for Soviet aid (a sentence I don't often utter.)

David Palmeter said...

The Canadian political scientist, Joseph Carens, has noted that, “Being born a citizen of a rich country in North America or Europe is a lot like being born into the nobility in the Middle Ages. It greatly enhances one’s life prospects (even if there are lesser and greater nobles). And being born a citizen of a poor country in Asia or Africa is a lot like being born into the peasantry in the Middle Ages. It greatly limits one’s life chances (even if there are some rich peasants and a few gain access to the nobility),"

Carens deals mainly with normative issues surrounding immigration, but the point applies to trade as well.

s. wallerstein said...

I live in Chile, a country which provides you with lots of fruits and vegetables.

It's obviously better, from a consequentialist point of view, that people have jobs in Chile harvesting grapes that than they don't. Still, those jobs are low-paying, with zero job stability, and the workers are generally exposed to pesticides and are not protected against on the job accidents, etc.

The saying goes, "workers of the world unite", and it seems that unless some kind of international solidarity movement among workers arises, we're not going to get far.

It's great that everyone gets to eat fruit year round. It's great that everyone has a job in Chile and in the U.S., but really, the quality of those jobs is very important.

Anonymous said...

Is it really the case, as others here seem to me to assume, that the sole criteria by which the old trade regimes, such as NAFTA and the WTO, and the ones now being proposed, such as TTiP and TPP, are to be judged comes down solely to matters of economics? Perhaps it’s because I spend too much time these days reading Sheldon Wolin, Pierre Bourdieu, David Harvey and Karl Polanyi, but I am under the impression that these are not merely economic regimes but political regimes as well, delimiting what governments and populations are permitted and will be permitted to do. (The EU has, I think, become another case of the same. But that is another story.) In other words, they are—and are likely intended by their proponents to be—yet further steps down the road towards the global elimination (except in the rhetoric of the politocrats) of whatever democracy still remains.

David Palmeter said...


It is not accurate to say that these agreements “delimit” what governments are “permitted” to do. They simply reflect agreed terms of trade. Sovereign governments do what they wish to do. Member governments agree not to exercise some of their sovereign powers (e.g., the power to impose any trade restrictions they may wish) in exchange for comparable agreements from others.

The agreements are implemented by the national parties, not by the WTO or NAFTA. Those organizations no power to enforce anything.

It certainly is true that these agreements have a political as well as economic purpose. The rationale of GATT post-WWII was very much to avoid the trade wars that had characterized the 1930s that contributed to the Great Depression. After Canada and the US formed a free trade agreement in the early 80s, Mexico, whose presidents at the time were trying to reform a very corrupt system, asked to belong. Mexican reform was something both Canada and the US wished to encourage—thus NAFTA. It was very much a political decision.

Anonymous said...

David Palmeter:

A rather anodyne take on the matter, perhaps? How about, e.g.:

David Palmeter said...


I was unable to open the second link. The first, by Crouch, seems to me to be long on fears—what could happen—and short on specifics. He does not appear to point to either NAFTA or the WTO as an example of the kind of thing he fears.

One point he makes, which I believe has merit, concerns ISDS—investor/state dispute settlement. My objection is not because they are composed of “corporate lawyers” but on a more economic policy point.

Multinationals often experienced action by foreign governments that adversely affected their economic interests in a given country. Appeals to the courts of the country often proved futile because, in the view of many, the courts were corrupt. ISDS agreements were the solution and many have been entered into bilaterally. It is worth noting that they often are offered to potential investors by foreign governments to entice the investment—so it isn’t just the case of the multinationals forcing these on sovereign governments. They are looked at as an assurance against corruption.

That said, the fact that the government and the courts of a country are corrupt is simply a cost of doing business in that country, a risk that capitalists should be willing to take or leave on its merits. I don’t see why the US government should provide a vehicle for removing that risk, thereby making the investment more attractive at the expense of a domestic investment.

As to environmental and labor standards, I believe the TPP provides a floor, not a ceiling—minimum standards that must be met. These are aimed at the developing countries that would be parties—Thailand, Viet Nam et al—who either don’t have or don’t enforce the standards they do have. NAFTA itself does not have either labor or environmental standards (they’re the subject a post-agreement side letter). Mexico’s standards in these areas certainly are not up to those of Canada or the US, but I’m not aware of either Canada or the US lowering its standards to meet Mexico’s. What evidence is there that this would happen under TPP?

Anonymous said...

Nor should we ignore the benefits these agreements have brought to the poor in other countries. They have been enormous. Balancing the interests of US workers, US consumers, and foreign workers is not an easy task, but I don’t think that a blind 'America First' approach is necessarily the right way to go.

I find it interesting that in this kind of discussions among people well above blue-collar level, one sees the word "we" used very often, but in practice things work this way: the discussants (the real "we") present arguments, about "they" (American grunts) who are made losers, so that "they" (foreign grunts) are made better off.

What one never sees in those discussions is whether the losers have any say on that or how the discussants (who lose nothing and gain cheap stuff) plan how to compensate the losers.

And the icing on the cake is that those discussants are the left.

Another anonymous

Anonymous said...

Now, I'm just a grunt and I'm sure I'm mistaken and in to time the readers will prove me wrong quoting a bunch of authors. But when I read this

Balancing the interests of US workers, US consumers, and foreign workers is not an easy task

I cannot but say you guys have already balanced the interest of US workers, US consumers, and foreign workers: your philanthropy, paid by us.

Give me a break.

David Palmeter said...

"Balancing the interests of US workers, US consumers, and foreign workers is not an easy task"

Apart from these and foreign policy considerations, how else should a government establish a trade policy?

Anonymous said...

"Apart from these and foreign policy considerations, how else should a government establish a trade policy?"

Foreign policy considerations (plus the interests of the three parties involved) are neither the limits of a government's responsibilities, neither they override those other responsibilities.

You know that, don't you?

Take what has become fashionable to refer as "safety net". Displaced workers no longer capable of finding jobs could be given a pension, similar to age pension.

I guess your objection would be that those people should move on and find work somewhere else. Am I wrong?

Fine. The government can hire them and provide them training for their new duties. This is part of fiscal policy. They will provide social services for people on low incomes/disabled/ethnic minorities. This has the added benefit of exposing -- and hopefully approaching -- them to those group.

But maybe you'll object that those people are too macho/racists/stupid and will not enjoy that work.

Fine, hire them to do public works, given that public infrastructure is falling apart. There's plenty to do and once done, they can be offered the chance of doing that overseas, as part of international help programmes.

Don't say it. Let me guess: your objection now is that there is no money. The goverment is running out of money, oh my god! Federal prints have no ink or paper. Who will pay for that?

The lack of money is not really a problem, for reasons it would be too long to explain. Let's, for the sake of the argument, accept your position: there's no money.

Well, tax the rich and the middle class (like yourself). I am sure you -- as a leftist -- are anxious to contribute, yes?

Ah, but if one taxes the rich and the middle class, the economy will suffer, you'll counter. There will be no more trickle down.

Well, the trickle down stopped a long time ago, and tax levels are low historically. But fine. Expropriate them!

But... that's COMMUNISM!!!

If there's no way around within capitalism, then the solution begins with C.

Probably that doesn't appeal to you. So, what's your solution? To let them rot, or write them off, like another commenter suggested in a slightly different context?

Anonymous said...


Laziness and a reluctance to get a google account led me to do it. I plead guilty to being the anonymous of 23 August at 8:14 pm and of 24 August at 5:10 pm. None of the other anonymous contributions apart from this present one are mine. rm

LFC said...

David Palmeter writes upthread:
Nor should we ignore the benefits these agreements have brought to the poor in other countries. They have been enormous.

The picture I think is more mixed. Some trade agreements have resulted in the creation of jobs in poorer countries, and the people who hold them make more money than they could in subsistence farming (in some cases). China of course has lifted a lot of people out of poverty via its export industries, albeit in some cases by engaging in what are arguably unfair trade practices. (And China could have lifted even more out of poverty had it followed a more egalitarian growth path.)

On the other hand, global supply chains, often lubricated or facilitated or encouraged by trade agreements, have produced very bad working conditions in some sectors and countries, e.g. the Bangladesh garment industry and the mining/extraction sector in others. (E. Loomis regularly covers this topic in his posts at Lawyers Guns & Money.)

I don't think there need necessarily be a conflict between working for economic justice in the U.S. and advocating for better working conditions and wages in the global supply chains.

There are also of course steps that can be taken to address/reduce global poverty and inequality that don't involve trade (or at least not directly), and about which there is a fairly big literature by social scientists and also some philosophers.