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Friday, July 11, 2014

TTIP-Who Will Do the Adjusting?

It is a striking feature of the diverse and in many ways very well thought-out conversation about the "Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership"--opposed by many, supported by some--that none of its opponents, and indeed very few of its supporters even remotely consider the possibility that sharing economic space between the USA and the EU--currently approximately at even in terms of their global economic weight--could result in the USA changing, adjusting, moderating anything in the interest of, or as a consequence of, integration. Instead, the pervasive assumption is that a greater degree of integration will basically mean unilateral adjustment on part of the EU--and, given the the European "free market" works, that would by default have to happen in the cruelest ways in the eastern / southeastern third of the EU--to US practices, requirements, preferences or, more broadly, geopolitical-economic interests.

I am not saying this assumption is "wrong." And, as I am saying this, I'm not sure why I feel that way. Perhaps because it is the United States whose troops, global military technology and espionage systems are 'protecting' Europe from all external (and, as it turns out, internal) "threats," whatever they may be in the current discourse of "threats," in the conventional military sense, and not vice versa. Or, because of the striking differences in these, economically approximately equal-size actors' stocks of the means of coercion. Or because, in comparison to the USA, in spite of the recent decade of reforms, the EU continues to be a truly cumbersome geopolitical actor, with a breathtaking degree of centrifugal forces in its political system and an internal interest structure that resembles a beehive. Or, because, in some very significant way, the EU is in fact an experiment in trying to move the small and diverse national economies of western Europe, historically deeply protectionist vis-a-vis each other and embedded in diverse and rivaling colonial empires, etc., to a more US-like, neoliberal "single market" so that closer integration with the US economy could be expected to just move along the same path a little (or much?) further.

Or perhaps all this is wrong, and we'll see a really interesting political development in the USA as the world's two very large western economies merge. This is something almost nobody is thinking about, except of course for kneejerk nationalists in the US, thinking this will be all nothing but "bad for the US."

There are a number of truly interesting issues here, implicit to the "trade and customs" talks. Consider, for instance, migration. Is there going to be a new, by default unchecked, European influx in the USA (assuming that the merged economic space will evolve, as it did in the case of the EU, into a shared labor market)? EU citizens already have the right to be in the US for 3 months without a visa, but that does not entitle them to the right to work or establish residence. In contrast, the EU essentially gives that right to all of its citizens (except for the 7-year "waiting" period that discriminates against citizens of the new member states). So, is the US ready for a surge in European immigrants? Are European societies ready for a sudden, massive outflow of their citizens? Or, will the flow be in the other direction? Will a new, cosmopolitan "jet set" segment of US society moving  over to the already high-population-density and high-unemployment contexts of the EU? Will the Agreement force Europe to adopt a more normal posture vis-a-vis immigration in general (including from the so-called "third countries"--a term that appears as if created by dropping the world "world" from the middle--)? Or, will this turn out to be a case where integration actually stops at the relatively low-ambition idea of a customs and regulatory union? If so, what will even that, relatively less ambitious outcome do to the capital-society relationship in these two "markets"?

How about their education systems? The Erasmus Program--the within-EU cross-border regime for university student placement--has just passed 270 thousand participants; the total of all US students studying abroad (world-wide) is approximately the same magnitude, with a little over 150 thousand US undergraduates studying in Europe. Meanwhile, some 86 thousand European students study in the US. The Fulbright programs face repeated threats of funding cuts and is subject to a rhetoric of de-funding in Congress. Major US universities are just beginning to think about how to "globalize" themselves.

If the customs union indeed evolves into a single labor market, will there be a "harmonization" of the law across the "trans-atlantic space"? What aspects of the law? Will that mean that the US will have to finally drop the death penalty, eliminate the most egregious remaining forms of discrimination, introduce a genuine health care system and find ways to reduce its scandalous incarceration rate? If not, how will death penalty cases involving European citizens in the US be dealt with?

Last / not least, what will the emergence of such a megamarket(-society) do the rest-of-the-world? How will the states and societies of the BRICS react / adjust, for instance? Is this going to mean yet another cycle of hyper-exploitation for Africa?

Now, those are some real giant questions, and nobody is seriously contemplating them in the context of the TTIP discussions--at least not that I know of. It is clear, however, that, if nothing else, just the last angle--implications for the rest-of-the-world--will change the face of the world as we know it.

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cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta