The Deceptive Promise of Free Trade

A Game of No Rules: The Deceptive Promise of Free Trade

DW (2018)

Film Review

Produced in response to the protective tariffs Trump has enacted, this documentary shows the negative side of globalization and free trade. It maintains that most free trade treaties are one sided and significantly increase inequality. According to the filmmakers, the primary purpose of free trade is to give wealthy countries cheap access to the resources of developing countries.

Most of the film focuses on the  protective (aka “punitive”) tariffs Europe has been using for years to protect their domestic industries from cheap imports. In contrast, most US politicians have rejected protective tariffs in favor of free trade. The result has been the failure of many domestic American industries unable to compete with cheap Asian imports.

The film starts with the example of Germany, which charges punitive tariffs (50%) on imported Chinese bicycle frames. In all, the EU imposes punitive tariffs on 53 Chinese products, including steel, porcelain and ironing boards.

At the same time the EU imposes tough “free trade” treaties on African countries, prohibiting them from enacting protective tariffs to protect their farmers. This allows European countries to dump cheap agricultural surpluses on their economies, putting local farmers out of business when they can’t produce food cheaply enough to compete.

A Game of No Rules argues that local food production should be sheltered (by protective tariffs) in both developing and developed countries and that Third World countries should be allowed to enact protective tariffs while they establish local industries. Prohibiting Third World countries from enacting protective tariffs ultimately creates mass unemployment and a flood of economic refugees to the industrial North.

 

 

Patriarchy: The Crucial Role of Women’s Unpaid Labor Under Capitalism

Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour

by Maria Mies

Zed Books (2014 edition)

Book Review

In this 1986 classic, Mies challenges Marx’s description of the unpaid labor of women (childrearing, care of the sick and elderly, housekeeping and subsistence agriculture, handicrafts and firewood and water collecting in the Third World) as part of their “natural” function. In doing so, she provides the first comprehensive economic analysis of patriarchy.

While Marx and Engels readily acknowledge that capitalism oppresses women, they overlook the fact it also exploits them via the massive amount of free labor it makes them provide. According to Mies, it’s only this unpaid labor, which Mies refers to as super-exploitation, that makes wage labor exploitation possible.

Super-exploitation of Women and Colonies Finances Capitalist Expansion and War

She compares the super-exploitation of women under patriarchy to the super-exploitation that occurs under colonization. Both are intimately associated with violence, and both increase during the periods of rapid capital accumulation, which are necessary to finance capitalist expansion and war.

Violence and the Sexual Division of Labor

Based on modern anthropological research, Miles also offers a much clearer explanation of how the sexual division of labor arose, as well as its intimate link with violence. Citing numerous studies, she shows how women’s childrearing role made them them responsible for most food production in primitive societies (80% in hunter gatherer societies). Women also developed the first tools – namely baskets and pots for storing grain.

Popular culture places much more emphasis on the tools invented by men – weapons – and their use in hunting. Current anthropological evidence suggests they played a much bigger role in raiding other tribes to kidnap and enslave women (over time men were also enslaved), both for procreation and their food producing capacity.

Witchcraft Trials, Colonization, Mass Enslavement and the Rise of Capitalism

With the rise of capitalism, violence against both women and colonies (to compel their free labor) significantly increased. The pervasive witchcraft trials (and land confiscations) that began in the late 15th century, accompanied by the violent enslavement of New World colonies and Africans, would create the massive capitalist accumulation required for full scale industrial development.

Why Violence Against Women is Increasing

Mies also provides an eloquent analysis – linked to the intensification of capital accumulation – for the global increase in violence against women and Third World colonies over the last four decades. The onset of global recession in the 1970s forced capitalists to shift their labor intensive work to the Third World, where harsh US- and European-backed puppets use violence to suppress wages..

In the First World, simultaneous cuts in public services, have significantly increased demands on women for free labor (especially in the area of childcare and care of the sick and elderly). The simultaneous increase in violence against women (and the psychic trauma it induces) make it all the more difficult for women to organize and resist this super-exploitation.

 

The Importance of Fascism in End Stage Capitalism

coming-struggle-for-power

The Coming Struggle for Power

by John Strachey

Victor Golancz Limited (1932)

Free download link: The Coming Struggle for Power

Book Review

In The Coming Struggle for Power, British historian makes the prediction (writing in 1932) that capitalism is in its death throes and will end by 1950. He was wrong, obviously. Strachey had no way of predicting the tremendous boost monopoly capitalism would receive from Cold War military spending, nor the “financialization” (the shift from selling products to selling financial instruments) that would happen in the 1970s.

The book is largely historical, tracing the transition all global economies underwent from feudalism to mercantilism (large scale international trade) and from mercantilism to capitalism. In Europe both transformations were violent. Strachey points to the Rebellion of 1640 (during which Charles I was beheaded) and the Revolution of 1688 (in which James II was overthrown) during the feudal-mercantilist transition. The Enclosure Acts of the 18th century marked the mercantilist-capitalist transition. During this period British troops drove tens of thousands of families off lands they had farmed communally for more than 1,000 years – with most ending up in prisons and work houses.

Strachey also stresses that neither the French Revolution nor the American Revolution was really about political freedom or equality. The real purpose of both wars was to end old feudal relationships that interfered with the right of the new capitalist class to freely produce, buy and sell goods at a profit

The Inevitable Decay of Monopoly Capitalism

Strachey takes the Great Depression of the 1930s as evidence that capitalism has reached its final stage of monopoly capitalism. Quoting Lenin, he lists the three telltale signs that monopolistic capitalism has begun to decay:

1. The monopolistic corporations that control finance capital (ie banks) essentially merge with the monopolistic corporations that control production.
2. There’s growing focus on exporting capital (ie moving factories overseas).
3. National governments, which are essentially controlled by their monopolies, are in constant conflict with one another over who will control the resources, markets and cheap labor of the Third World.

Gee, this sounds familiar. The parallels with 2017 are uncanny.

The Inevitable Rise of Fascism

Strachey also writes about the important role of fascism in end stage capitalism. The declining profits and growth (ie stagnation) associated with end stage capitalism inevitably lead to reduced wages, poorer working conditions and a claw back of social welfare benefits enacted during more productive periods. This, in turn, leads to more conflict between workers and capitalists. Ensuring that production continues during a period of heavy stagnation necessitates the rise of fascism, in which the capitalists themselves organize workers into right wing populist movements which enact laws unfavorable to working people.

How Capitalism Stifles Intellectual Life

For me, the most interesting section of The Coming Struggle for Power concerns the stifling effect of corporate capitalism on intellectual life. Emphasizing the narrow ideological framework capitalism imposes on intellectuals, he devotes one chapter each to religion, philosophy and science and two to literature.

Because “capitalist” theologians and philosophers are limited to value systems that support profit taking and wealth accumulation, humankind has made absolutely no progress in 200 years in leading more moral and ethical lives. This stifling effect is also obvious in the areas of renewable energy technology (people forget Carter had a solar panel on the White House in 1979) and health science. At present, the profit motive has distorted health care to the point that many medical interventions actually make people sicker.

Untold History of the US – Johnson, Nixon and Vietnam

Part 7 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States concerns the Johnson and Nixon presidencies.

The Johnson Presidency

Johnson continued Kennedy’s glorious tradition of overthrowing foreign democratic governments. He openly admitted the military aggression he authorized wasn’t about fighting communism – but about fighting third world peoples for their resources. He saw no other way 6% of the world’s population could control 50% of its wealth.

  • In 1963 Johnson reversed Kennedy’s order to draw down US “military advisors” and introduced ground troops to Vietnam.
  • In 1964 he ordered US troops to overthrow the democratically elected government of Brazil.
  • In 1965 he invaded the Dominican Republic to crush a popular insurrection against a CIA-inspired right wing coup.
  • In 1966-67 he authorized a bloody CIA coup to oust President Sukarno in Indonesia and replace him with the right wing dictator Suharto.
  • In 1967, he ordered the CIA to (illegally) spy on anti-Vietnam War protestors through Operation Chaos.
  • In 1967, he fired Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara when he opposed escalating the bombing in Vietnam.

When a bipartisan group of elder statesman called for US troop withdrawal from Vietnam, Johnson decided to focus on Vietnam peace negotiations instead of running for a second term in 1968.

The Nixon Presidency

Robert Kennedy was the clear front runner in the 1968 election prior to his assassination in July 1968.

Despite basing his campaign on a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger (who secretly undermined the Paris peace negotiations to help Nixon win the elections) vastly expanded the war, which would last seven more years. More than half the GI deaths in Vietnam occurred under Nixon.

As president, Nixon made 13 separate threats to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Stone believes it was only the massive anti-war protests (which deeply unnerved Nixon) that prevented their use.

Nixon and Kissinger were also responsible for secretly and illegally bombing Cambodia and Laos, the 1973 coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government, and Operation Condor, a secret dirty war against pro-democracy movements in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Part 7:  Johnson, Nixon and Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune – Cataclysm in Vietnam

Third World Mental Health Initiatives Put US to Shame

People and Power – Out of the Shadows

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

Out of the Shadows celebrates the hard work of third world activists who have dedicated their lives to bringing mental health care to their countries. It presents a striking contrast to the neglect and abuse the mentally ill experience in the US.

Globally half a billion people suffer from mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar illness and schizophrenia – more than all AIDS, malaria and TB cases combined. Yet owing to profound stigma, publicly funded mental health services are virtually non-existent in many third world countries. India, for example, spends less than 1% of their health budget on mental health. And in Togo, mentally ill men and women are chained to trees.

The documentary highlights activist-created programs providing free mental health services (funded by private European and Canadian donors) in India, Benin, Ivory Cost, Burkina Faso and Jordan.

Open Source and Sustainability

open source

As strange as it may sound, switching to Open Source operating systems and software can save a lot more carbon emissions than changing your lightbulbs.

I myself have switched to Firefox (instead of Microsoft Explorer) and Open Office (instead of Microscoft Word) and plan to download Linux soon to replace Windows. As a community organizer for 30+ years, Microsoft has been the bane of my existence. Most of the activists I work with use MS Word (and before that MS Works) to create documents. Predictably Microsoft has come out with a new version of Word that is unreadable by older versions. Clearly this is a calculated maneuver to force customers to continually purchase new upgrades.

Opening Pesky Docx Files

This time, however, I followed the advice of a fellow Green Party member and downloaded Open Office, provided free by Sun Microsystems Open Source software. Thanks to the Open Source movement, every time Microsoft comes out with a new word processing program, Open Office offers upgrades to translate the new program to either Open Office or an older version of Word. Not only does it open those pesky docx files, but it creates spreadsheets and slideshows and allows you to save graphics as either PDF or JPG files. It probably does lots of other things I haven’t discovered yet.

The other great thing about Open Office is that, like other Open Source software, it runs faster than Microsoft programs, crashes less and is less much likely to have security problems. This is because Sun Microsystems makes Open Office code freely available for other programmers to improve and build on. Computers aren’t like soup. By involving more people in creating code, you make it far more likely someone will find all the bugs and security problems.

Download Open Office Free at https://www.openoffice.org/

New Zealand residents have their own Open Office site: http://www.openoffice.org.nz/

How Open Source Reduces Carbon Emissions

So, people ask me, how does this reduce carbon emissions? There are obviously small energy savings (related to DVD production, packaging, transportation, etc) when an individual downloads software instead of buying it off the shelf. However the big emissions savings occur when large companies that maintain vast amounts of data switch to Open Source. Recently the Bank of New Zealand vastly reduced their energy costs and carbon emissions by converting their front end systems to Open Source.

They save money and energy by  speeding up and simplifying their data processes with a single (Red Hat Linux) program, instead of relying on three or four programs for different functions.

Companies Going Open Source

In response to the global recession, the immense cost savings is leading many government agencies and Fortune 500 companies to switch to Open Source for part or all of their data processing. The best known are BART (Bay Area Transit System), Burlington Coats, CISCO, Conoco, the Mobil Travel Guide (Exxon’s consumer website), Royal Dutch Shell, Panasonic, Hilfiger, Toyota Motor Sales USA, US Army, US federal courts, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the US Post Office.

Countries Going Open Source

Third world countries are also benefiting from Open Source cost savings. Brazil was the  first to mandate Open Soft systems for all their government offices.  In 2013, 16 third world countries (Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, India, Kenya, Guatemala, Botswana, Rwanda, Togo, Lesotho, Mali, Ghana, Namibia and Chad) saved over $100 million dollars by installing Open Soft software to track their health care workforce.

Open Source Design: Reclaiming the Commons

Engineers, architects and climate change activists in the Open Sustainability movement are expanding Open Source Design beyond its computer applications to ensure the rapid spread of ideas and technologies that reduce energy use and carbon emissions.

Examples include

    1. Open Source green architecture and renewable energy technologies
    2. The Creative Commons – a nonprofit California organization devoted to expanding the range of inventions and creative works available for others to share and build on.
    3. Singularity University – “a grand scheme to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies to address Humanity’s Grand Challenges.”
    4. Public Library of Science – a nonprofit open access scientific publishing project aimed at creating a library of open access journals, with the eventual goal of making all scientific medical research freely available to the public.
    5. Wikipedia – a free open source encyclopedia (which I discuss in my next post).

photo credit: guccio@文房具社 via photopin cc