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October 30, 2003

What is your Foreign Policy Position?

A new site called e.thePeople : American Choices is trying to get people to think about the spectrum of beliefs that go into foreign policy opinions-- backed by some heavy duty foundation support.

The heart of the site currently is a 12-question quiz that generates a cute media flash dial locating your foreign policy views on a four-dimensional spectrum:

  • Diplomacy versus Military action
  • Respect for Sovereignty versus Human Rights
  • National Interests versus Cooperation
  • Protecting local industry and labor versus promoting Global Markets

    It's a cute and possibly useful exercise, but the last dial shows how bankrupt most free traders are on dealing with criticisms of the WTO and elite trade deals.

    False Choices: Opposing protectionism to global markets as the key global economic choice just is intellectually clueless after years of post-Seattle debate. That's just not how anyone in the global justice movement talks about the issue. The questionaire doesn't ask a single question about enforcing uniform labor or environmental standards in trade agreements, instead just asking about protecting "local industry."

    Uniform global regulation of labor and environmental rights is not in opposition to global trade, but is the key to creating global markets that are anything other than an excuse for corporate looting.

    The quiz also talks about "national interests" versus "cooperation", but that is merely in nation-state to nation-state terms with no discussion of tensions between groups WITHIN countries over the shape of global decisions. They don't talk about options in foreign policy of promoting global economic equality versus just favoring US corporate interests at the expense of other US citizens, the way which is most globalist progressives frame the choice.

    Stronger protections are not in opposition to expanding trade-- I'm personally for zero tariffs and zero border controls, for ending cross-border government enforced patent monopolies and so on, but I'm also for the same labor rights being enforced everywhere.

    There's no place on their dial of foreign policy visions for folks like me and most global justice advocates, a serious problem if they really want to engage most progressive globalists in their project.

    No Place in Debate for Progressives Globalists: Most people in both the developing world and the US see massive costs to global markets, yet if elites insist that the only alternative is protectionism, well protectionism is what people may choose if that's seen as the only other option.

    I don't buy it-- I'm vehemently anti-protectionism and "anti-free trade", as "free trade" gets defined currently as unregulated corporate looting combined with massive global pro-corporate regulation of patent rights, enforcement of investment rights, and punitive restrictions of labor migration. There are other alternatives, namely vibrant trade, the end of restrictive agricultural subsidies in developed nations, and global enforcement of labor rights to organize.

    For some balance to these kinds of "free trade" false choices, you might look at these alternative views on trade and global rights:

    International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) on trade issues

    Global Exchange on Global Economic Rights

    Global Policy Forum on Social and Economic Issues

    Public Citizen Global Trade Watch

    Update: (see extended entry for more)

    Based on email with the folks at the site, they somewhat argue that they mean "protections" to be about "regulations" but that still simplifies things in perverse ways.

    They are equating "free trade" with "corporate rights" in their formulation. Is enforcing patent barriers to trade in cheap AIDS drugs "protectionism" or "regulatory"? Then the WTO is protectionist and regulatory. The WTO is by nature a regulatory structure, so are all the corporate leaders who support the WTO for "protections" and regulations?

    This opposition of protections or regulations to "global markets" feeds the ridiculous doublespeak that corporations, who manipulate domestic and global regulations for their own advantage, are for "free markets" when they are for markets that enforce regulations to their advantage (see investment rules, patent rules, and a host of other WTO rules). Using the opposition of "regulations" to "free markets" is an even worse formulation, in my opinion. It promotes the worst, most base ideological propaganda that exists in discussions of trade deals.

    And how about immigration rules? Where do they fit in?

    And where do you place actual "protectionists", those who want to protect domestic industry (see Bush's steel tariffs) and keep out immigrants versus those like myself who are anti-protectionist?

    "Human rights" should include economic rights, but don't in most discussions. Many conservatives may want to punish a country for violations of religious freedoms or maybe free speech, but would never punish a country for violating labor union rights. And many countries are nominally "democratic" (allowing voting and free speech) while allowing the complete violation of labor rights.

    And they miss the fact that top economists like Joe Stiglitz see broad labor rights as the key to "improving living standards" globally, so positing an opposition (as one question does) between punishing human rights violations versus "improving living standards" through trade is ridiculous. The fact that China is brutally suppressing wages and labor rights in their country is hurting living standards there and abroad in favor of enriching Chinese elites-- enforcing labor rights in trade deals with China is the key to raising labor standards and living standards.

    You ultimately need a standard for trade that includes at least these four different positions:
    1) Corporate/Wall Street Journal position -- lots of immigration, no labor rights, corporate rights regulated and enforced globally through WTO
    2) Progressive protectionists-- global foreign aid for AIDS and local development, autarkic trade rules, favor local production/consumption, no WTO at all
    3) Buchanite protectionist- unilateral foreign policy, little foreign aid, anti-immigration, protection of domestic industry, anti-WTO
    4) Progressive globalist- anti-tariff, anti-patent rules in WTO, pro-global standards for labor and environment in trade deals, pro-immigration. Global keynesian investments to lift living standards around the world.

    They also have to refine the "national interest" versus "cooperation" standard since it begs the question of whether there is a single "national interest" and who is cooperating with whom. Talking abour singular nation-state "interests" may work on military issues (although I don't think it does) -- the main framework for their discussion-- but hopelessly confuses how trade and labor rights discussions are made.

    At the least they need to divide their current "protections" versus "global markets" into two bars, one that is actual protectionism-- meaning opposing trade and favoring domestic production/consumption with high tariffs and custom barriers-- versus increasing the volume of global trade, and a second spectrum around issues of enforcing labor rights and economic equality versus favoring a corporate-led model of development and trade.

    Posted by Nathan at October 30, 2003 11:02 AM