Saturday, November 07, 2015

the democratic principle can only survive where life seriously imitates art


monbiot |  What have governments learnt from the financial crisis? I could write a column spelling it out. Or I could do the same job with one word. Nothing.

Actually, that’s too generous. The lessons learned are counter-lessons, anti-knowledge, new policies that could scarcely be better designed to ensure the crisis recurs, this time with added momentum and fewer remedies. And the financial crisis is just one of multiple crises – in tax collection, public spending, public health, above all ecology – that the same counter-lessons accelerate.

Step back a pace and you see that all these crises arise from the same cause. Players with huge power and global reach are released from democratic restraint. This happens because of a fundamental corruption at the core of politics. In almost every nation, the interests of economic elites tend to weigh more heavily with governments than those of the electorate. Banks, corporations and land owners wield an unaccountable power, that works with a nod and a wink within the political class. Global governance is beginning to look like a never-ending Bilderburg meeting.

As a paper by the law professor Joel Bakan in the Cornell International Law Journal argues, two dire shifts have been happening simultaneously. On one hand, governments have been removing the laws that restrict banks and corporations, arguing that globalisation makes states weak and effective legislation impossible. Instead, they say, we should trust those who wield economic power to regulate themselves.

On the other hand, the same governments devise draconian new laws to reinforce elite power. Corporations are given the rights of legal persons. Their property rights are enhanced. Those who protest against them are subject to policing and surveillance of the kind that’s more appropriate to dictatorships than democracies. Oh, state power still exists all right – when it’s wanted.

Many of you have heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These are supposed to be trade treaties, but they have little to do with trade, and much to do with power. They enhance the power of corporations while reducing the power of parliaments and the rule of law. They could scarcely be better designed to exacerbate and universalise our multiple crises: financial, social and environmental. But something even worse is coming, the result of negotiations conducted, once more, in secret: a Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), covering North America, the EU, Japan, Australia and many other nations.

Only through WikiLeaks do we have any idea of what is being planned. It could be used to force nations to accept new financial products and services, to approve the privatisation of public services and to reduce the standards of care and provision. It looks like the greatest international assault on democracy devised in the past two decades. Which is saying quite a lot.