Why we need new economic policies before we can fix trade deals
By STAN SORSCHER
(June 10, 2019) — In 2016, Donald Trump’s trade message was very simple: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was the worst trade deal ever negotiated. He has renegotiated NAFTA, rebranding the deal as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). We never quite understood his objection to the original NAFTA, and we don’t understand how USMCA fixes it. You need to squint to see the difference between NAFTA and its replacement.
“I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me,” Trump has said. His gut instinct said NAFTA was bad. Unfortunately, gut instinct is typically simplistic, often impulsive, and by definition not strategic or coherent.
We need to think of our domestic policy and trade policy together. Tariffs, like trade deals, make sense only as tools within a larger coherent strategy. Trade policy should reinforce the principles in our domestic policy. If trade policy is not working, it’s a fair bet that our underlying domestic policies aren’t either.
Since 1980, the prevailing political messagehas been, “Markets will solve all our problems. Government is the problem.”
The term for this is neoliberalism. “Neo” means new. In the language of economics, “liberal” means “liberated” or free from regulation. Neoliberalism “frees” markets by shrinking government, dismantling social programs, and cutting investment in education and research-and-development.
Many of our biggest problems — climate change, growing income inequality, health care, food safety, and workplace safety — are textbook market failures. Neoliberalism responds with its universal prescription — make business succeed and well-being will follow.
Making Sense of NAFTA and Its Replacement.
by Harold Meyerson
In 1916, amid the carnage of World War I, the great German-Polish socialist Rosa Luxemburg wrote that humanity was facing a choice between socialism and barbarism.
Earlier today, speaking at the George Washington University, Bernie Sanders noted that we live in a time of rising authoritarianism, citing the regimes of Putin, Xi, Orban, Duterte and Trump as indices of the growing threat. His speech was billed as offering his definition of socialism, which, a la Rosa, was said to be the alternative to oligarchy and authoritarianism.
Socialism as Sanders proceeded to define it is indeed an alternative to oligarchy and authoritarianism. What his speech left hanging was whether his socialism was in fact socialism.
In 2015, as his campaign was just taking off, Sanders came to a different D.C. university—Georgetown—to deliver what was also then billed as his definition of socialism. Before a crowd of wildly cheering college students, he reeled off a series of social democratic proposals—the universal right to health care, to college education and the like – with constant reference to the great American leader who did indeed lead the successful war against barbarism in the 1940s: Franklin Roosevelt. His speech was so FDR-centric that I wroteat the time:
Throughout the 1930s, Republicans claimed that Franklin Roosevelt was really a socialist. Today, Bernie Sanders said they were right.
Then, as today, Sanders referenced Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union speech – FDR’s last great speech—in which Roosevelt proposed an Economic Bill of Rights. Today, Sanders formally proposed “a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights,” which included a right to a living-wage job, to “quality health care,” to “a complete education,” to “affordable housing,” to “a clean environment” and to “a secure retirement.”
As if citing Roosevelt were not enough, Sanders also cited Harry Truman, whose efforts to create a Medicare for All program in the 1940s were thwarted by conservatives and the medical profession. He quoted Truman, talking about his critics, at length:
Socialism [Truman said] is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.
Nor did Sanders’s talk simply identify socialism with the social democratic reforms of Roosevelt’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal. It also contained two crucial omissions.
First, even as Sanders cited Roosevelt and Truman, but he also did not cite any avowed American democratic socialists, save, in passing, Martin Luther King Jr. He made no mention of his great hero, Eugene V. Debs. Nothing on Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party’s candidate for president in each of FDR’s four elections. Nothing on A. Philip Randolph or Bayard Rustin or Michael Harrington. No reference to Thomas’ line when asked if Roosevelt had actually carried out the Socialist Party’s program. “He carried it out,” Thomas said, “on a stretcher.”
Second, Sanders also omitted his own more socialistic proposals. His speech skipped over some groundbreaking social democratic reforms that Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have both advocated in the course of the campaign, including dividing corporate boards between shareholder and worker representatives. He made no mention of an American version of the Meidner Plan – a 1970s proposal never quite implemented in Sweden that would gradually transfer the ownership of corporations, through the yearly payment of profits in the form of stock to their employees’ organizations, to their workers.
In short, Sanders’s socialism, as he defined it, is an expansion of America’s semi-demi-welfare state to include more economic rights. It’s an effort to make us a more functional social democracy—which, of course, is no small proposal and by American standards, a great leap forward. But he could have made the same proposals and labeled them neo-Rooseveltian liberalism without straining historical accuracy.
By Max B. Sawicky
One way the liberal/radical divide manifests itself is in what might be called the distinction of outcomes from process. Radicals, for instance, tended to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq because we simply rejected the rationale for the policy. Liberals tended to criticize the process under which the invasion was launched – the failure of Congress to declare war, the inability to secure support from the United Nations, the aborted search for “weapons of mass destruction.”
So too in the current political situation, liberals tend to focus on the high crimes and misdemeanors of the president, while radicals prefer to center their appeals on behalf of concrete ‘meat-and-potatoes’ demands for Medicare For All, the Fight for 15, or they emphasize foundational social-justice demands in the fights against racism, sexism, and gender-identity bigotry.
There is really no reason for this divide. Liberals can be won to democratic socialist goals in health care and the like. The question is whether democratic socialists can wrap our heads around impeachment.
The likelihood of continued disenfranchisement of Democratic-leaning voting constituencies, and the increasing extent to which a minority of mostly white, older voters in rural states can outvote a majority of the nation in the Electoral College, not to mention the U.S. Senate, is a grave threat to any elected Democratic president, not to mention to his or her prospects for a fair election.
Imagine that a genuinely progressive Democrat wins the White House in 2020. The chances of a Democratic Senate right now look slim. Of the Democrats’ xxx seats in the House, over a hundred have identified with the so-called “New Democrat” label that was mainstreamed by William J. Clinton. Not a few Democratic senators are of a similar ilk. Relatedly, the prospects for a liberal majority on the Supreme Court are also dim.
The Socialist Majority Caucus of DSA is proposing the following national convention resolution:
This is the North Star Caucus's proposed resolution on the same subject:
Here is one view:
There is nothing objectionable in the Socialist Majority Caucus resolution, but there is something crucially important missing – the necessity of defeating Trump and Trumpism in the 2020 elections. This makes the resolution radically incomplete, an ahistorical discussion of electoral politics that avoids the most central issue of electoral politics of this moment. There is a deference to the political fundamentalism of Momentum/Spring/Bread and Roses and its rhetoric of class struggle electoral politics, even as that caucus absents itself from the decisive class struggle election battles of our day, that leads Socialist Majority to duck the question. And yet there is no more important question for the future of American democracy, the left, and all of the popular forces. The debate over this issue will only take place if we take the lead in making it happen. Leo Casey.
A second view.
I favor Leo’s view above on Trump and Trumpism, It is difficult to imagin how much damage the Trump cartel has already caused, See, for example, Paul Krugman’s opinion piece in the NYT today on how starting many trade wars: Iran, India, China, Russia, Mexico, the EU has set back our global system. (That avoids the question of how our global system was used to further neoliberalism). And see Michael Lewis, the Fifth Risk, on how the Trump brigades have set back science and the feeding of children, among other items,
I do, however, see a reasonable middle ground.
We can put all of our efforts in Defeating Trump and Trumpism and electing Democratic Socialists and Progressives. However if Sanders or Warren do not get the nomination, DSA as a national organization does not need to endorse a neoliberal. - like Biden. That does not mean we will not be active in the elections.
Today Warren posted a platform on trade that criticizes Trump’s trade wars, argues for fair trade, and critiques neoliberal trade. This is a step ahead on trade.
DSA can encourage political participation along a broad spectrum of electoral campaigns. For example, here in California there will be an initiative _ Schools and Communities First- to tax the rich to fund schools and community development, . There will be various Medicare for All campaigns. DSA can engage electorally and lead politically to defeat Trumpism without endorsing a neoliberal Democrat.
What do others think?
DSA’s top three priorities for political work over the next two years, until our next national convention in 2021, will be:
Proposed amendment to the DSA Constitution re Number of NPC Members
These resolutions have each received the required number of supporters and have been submitted to the appropriate convention committees. Delegates. Please support these resolutions.
Rather than submitting a resolution on number 2 climate change, we chose to support the forthcoming resolution from the Eco Socialist Committee.
The opinions expressed here are those of members and allies of DSA North Star Caucus meant to educate, inspire discussion and encourage comradely debate.