New trade era will require pro-labor policies, green manufacturing
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
For those scratching their heads over the fate of U.S. manufacturing, recent global economic developments don't halt the confusion, but do offer guidelines for any Green New Deal-type initiatives in the works.
The Dec. 12 U.K. general election confirmed pro-Brexit Boris Johnson as Prime Minister just as the U.S. finalized talks with China in a deal to be signed at a later date.
Key provisions in the U.S.-China agreement cover strengthened intellectual property protection, currency manipulation avoidance, and financial service access. Additionally, the U.S. will export $200 billion in energy and agricultural and manufactured products while lifting tariffs on Chinese goods.
This is good news for U.S. manufacturing, as November's Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) increases slightly to 52.6: slow growth, but growth nonetheless.
The U.S.-China trade deal was announced as Brexit triumphed, which helped avoid market disruptions. Brexit alters the U.K.'s relationship to the EU, with unclear visions of what to expect.
The globalization trade era didn't produce enough trickled-down wealth to avoid angry right-wing electoral victories, coups, and genocidal actions in Haiti and Rohingya, to name a few examples. This includes public opinion manipulation via social media ads, Cambridge Analytica-style cyber and ground interventions, electoral fraud, and voter intimidation/poll violence throughout the world.
In the past few decades, prevailing neoliberal ideology assumed World Trade Organization-facilitated globalization could transcend provincial national interests for seemingly more enlightened and more cosmopolitan regional- and transnational-based trade. This never panned out, and now we see the fallout collectively, but disagree about causes and solutions.
The naive pro-globalization script of inclusion always ignored the class war underbelly of transnational wealth acquisition that impoverishes developing countries through military actions and structural adjustment/austerity measures.
The lesson? False nostalgia for a former trade era can't substitute for a serious examination of how global capitalism set the stage for the right's ascendancy and accompanying extremist violence. The nostalgic tone should be avoided because it obscures how exploitation of labor and nature is the source of profit regardless if the WTO or national governments run the trade deals.
In a recent piece, titled “Brexit's Advance Opens a New Trade Era,” Peter S. Goodman of The New York Times describes the Brexit era as “economic nationalism” mixed with “nativism.” Going one step further is the clarification of not only nativism, but explicit racism found in WTO-style globalization and Brexit-style nationalist chauvinism. As this new trade era evolves, economic interests will still combine with racial/ethnic, religious and gender/sexuality dynamics: these social tensions lead to conservative, even violent, backlashes.
Let's include women's reproductive rights here, as conservative governments view anti-abortion policies as a form of value-laden security. Historically, women's bodies have functioned as a stabilizing element for destabilized economic climates, although policies vary from country to country, interacting with many other factors.
Accessing cheap natural resources is another stabilizing element, and the ecological crisis demands more localized manufacturing (i.e., sustainably powered additive manufacturing), and more rational transportation (i.e., hybrid and electric vehicles). U.S. continental trade with Mexico and Canada, while supporting fair unionization, is an (albeit incomplete) part of this process.
The omission of climate change language from the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is no accident. The USMCA's climate concession proves the value formula suggested by ecological socialists like the late Teresa Brennan. She argues capitalism relies on a “law of substitution” whereby one energetic source of profit, guaranteed cheap natural resources, substitutes for the other energetic source of profit, labor power, if manufacturing/production gets too costly with higher wages and union benefits.
Climate change isn't included in USMCA negotiations because independent Mexican unionization is.
Moving forward, U.S. manufacturing and international labor can glean guidelines from the failings of the as yet unratified USMCA. Pro-labor deals that centralize environmentally scaled manufacturing and more sane transportation practices can reduce emissions and immiseration if done correctly.
One major manufacturing challenge lies in workers' ability to overcome prevailing social divisions, creating a united front against the rising tide of chaos, precarity, austerity, and violence embodied in governmental and nongovernmental institutions and organizations.
Nostalgia may be tempting in months and years ahead, but global politics remind us that previous decades of trade liberalization, delivered with structural adjustment and austerity, paved the reactionary path of today’s contemporary economic inequalities and the crisis of rising social violence.
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