Sam Lowe https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/16716/all cached version 08/02/2019 17:12:59 en What we talk about when we talk about TTIP https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/sam-lowe/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-ttip <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>B<span style="line-height: 1.5;">oth pro and anti-TTIP camps have pitched their tents, but their respective points of reference are worlds apart. We need to be clear about what exactly we're discussing here.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/TTIP_banner_cropped560with_text2[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/TTIP_banner_cropped560with_text2[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="255" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Part of the anti-TTIP camp. Image from War on Want.</span></span></span><span>The debate about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – a bilateral trade agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and US - has often brought out the worst in people. Opponents have misconstrued and drifted into ad-hominem, proponents have patronised and belittled. Few involved have emerged hands clean, myself included.</span></p> <p>Both camps have pitched their tents upon a unifying acronym, but the respective points of reference are worlds apart. Neither is discussing the same thing. Advocates of TTIP see it as a simple trade agreement; its opponents want to save the world.</p> <p>Yet even the most ardent critic would likely concede that in a globalised world facing global problems it is not possible for national governments to act entirely off their own volition. All international agreements put constraints on governments, almost by definition.</p> <p>But trade agreements stand in a league of their own.</p> <p>Unlike most international agreements - such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or the International Labour Organisation conventions - which have weak enforcement mechanisms, trade policy bites.</p> <p>TTIP’s teeth come embossed with the letters ISDS; an <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/10/obscure-legal-system-lets-corportations-sue-states-ttip-icsid">arbitration mechanism</a> that allows foreign companies to sue national governments for millions if a public policy decision is deemed to impede their ability to profit. Averaging $8 million dollars a case, and with awards rising as high as $50 billion, these lawsuits are known to have a chilling effect on government action.</p> <p>Furthermore, while trade agreements have traditionally sought to reduce import taxes and guard again government discrimination, TTIP intends to go even further. The <a href="http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2013/march/tradoc_150737.pdf">Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> forecast that up to 80% of the potential benefits of TTIP will come from cutting costs imposed by ‘red-tape’, bureaucracy and regulations, known as non-tariff barriers to trade (NTBs). For example, the US and EU regulate food safety very differently, meaning certain US products can’t be sold in the EU and vice versa. If both parties were to agree on one joint standard, the barrier would disappear and food could flow freely across the Atlantic.</p> <p>All this may indeed reduce costs for business. However, any policy that increases the ability of exporters and investors to shape and steer EU and domestic regulation comes laced with risk.</p> <p>To quote Harvard Economist <a href="http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/regional-trade-agreement-corporate-capture-by-dani-rodrik-2015-06">Dani Rodrik</a>:</p> <blockquote><p>“In the TTIP, the reduction of so-called non-tariff barriers to trade between the US and Europe will almost certainly restrict the space for domestic regulatory action. Even if regulatory harmonization does not create a race to the bottom, the interests of investors and exporters will cast a longer shadow than before over social and environmental goals.”</p></blockquote> <p>As the TTIP negotiations have progressed, we have caught glimpses of what increased investor and exporter influence looks like:</p> <p>Using the US Trade Representative as their transmission vessel, and TTIP as leverage, industry groups have already succeeded in undermining EU climate legislation designed to <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9f459ad4-ecc5-11e3-a57e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3ojLRSbpE">reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of transport fuels</a>, and preventing the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/22/eu-dropped-pesticide-laws-due-to-us-pressure-over-ttip-documents-reveal">regulation of endocrine disrupting chemical usage in pesticides</a>.</p> <p>It boils down to a question of perspective.</p> <p>If you approach the issue narrowly. If you believe that the reduction of trade frictions and heavy handed government regulation is an absolute global priority then yes, I can see why TTIP appeals. But please don’t deny that purposefully increasing the influence of self-interested investors and exporters over the regulatory process represents a gamble. And for heaven’s sake, stop with the claims that TTIP can be both massive in scope and minimally disruptive. It can’t.</p> <p>The public debate has never been about whether TTIP will result in a relatively small increase in the number of goods and services traded across the Atlantic. It is about something much bigger. It is about what kind of world we want to live in, what our economy is actually for, and whether TTIP will hinder, or help.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ultimately, people on both sides may aspire to similar things. But aspiration is not enough. So long as those standing behind TTIP continue to treat trade policy as distinct from all other global concerns, and ignore the wider implications, the debate will only become more toxic.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ournhs/gus-fagan/lipstick-on-ttip-pig">Lipstick on the TTIP pig</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ournhs/molly-scottcato/meps%27-mounting-ttip-opposition-scandalously-silenced-ahead-of-knifeedge-us-vo">MEPs&#039; mounting TTIP opposition scandalously silenced ahead of knife-edge US vote</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/virginia-l-pez-calvo/great-rebranding-how-eu-tried-to-fool-us-into-thinking-it-ha">The great rebranding: how the EU tried to fool us into thinking it has removed ISDS from TTIP</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Sam Lowe TTIP Thu, 05 Nov 2015 19:40:15 +0000 Sam Lowe 97416 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why every environmentalist should care about inequality https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/sam-lowe/why-every-environmentalist-should-care-about-inequality-0 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Thomas Picketty's work shows us that growth is not the solution to the world's problems, and is further confirmation that the system is broken.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>With the (English) publication of ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ Thomas Piketty has burst from relative obscurity onto the main stage. Crowned by the Financial Times as the new <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/0421d04e-cb42-11e3-ba95-00144feabdc0.html#axzz30BDoFE7z">‘rockstar’ economist</a> he has seen his book sell out on Amazon, presented to crammed auditoriums across the globe (I experienced this, pushed up against a red hot light bulb at King’s College last Wednesday), and been interviewed by <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dusbw6q0NBw">Paxman on Newsnight</a>.&nbsp; </p><p>So, who is he? What has he got to say? And what lessons might it have for environmental campaigners?</p> <p><strong>Who is Piketty?</strong></p> <p>Thomas Piketty is a French economist, renowned for his work on inequality. As far as economists go he is now a pretty big deal (low bar, I know).</p> <p><strong>What has he got to say?</strong></p> <p>In a sentence:</p> <p>In a market-capitalist system, inequality doesn’t decrease as the world gets richer, it gets worse (and he has centuries of data to prove it).</p> <p>In a little more detail:</p> <ol><li><p>The already wealthy predominantly rely on capital returns (money earned from their ownership of financial assets, property, land, etc.) to increase their fortune; the not so wealthy and poor are more reliant on incomes paid to them by their employer. </p> </li><li><p>In market-capitalist societies the rate of return on so called ‘capital’ has on average been higher than the growth rate of the economy. </p> </li><li><p>This has led to wealth growing at a faster rate than incomes, leading to increased inequality. </p> </li><li><p>There is nothing in the historical trends to suggest (non-withstanding anomalous extreme social shocks such as the cumulative period of WW1, WW2 and the Great Depression) that inequality will not continue to increase indefinitely, heralding the return of an 18th century style economy, where those with wealth are for the most part those lucky enough to inherit it. </p> </li></ol> <p>If you are still scratching your head, I would heartily recommend watching the following Newsnight explanatory video:</p> <object width="460" height="259"><param name="movie" value="//www.youtube.com/v/HL-YUTFqtuI?hl=en_GB&amp;version=3&amp;rel=0" /><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /><embed src="//www.youtube.com/v/HL-YUTFqtuI?hl=en_GB&amp;version=3&amp;rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="460" height="259" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Why, as environmentalists, should we care?</strong></p> <p>One pretty big reason:</p> <p><a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/4/18/5624310/martin-gilens-testing-theories-of-american-politics-explained/in/5397209">The wealthier you are, the more disproportionate your hold over the political process</a>. This is something that Ezra Klein has referred to as the <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/4/11/5581272/doom-loop-oligarchy">‘doom loop of oligarchy’</a>: more wealth buys you more political power, which buys you more wealth, which buys you more political power, and so on.</p> <p>The sad, and ironic, thing is&nbsp;that one of the possible exogenous shocks&nbsp;that could halt the general trend of increasing disparity between those reliant on wealth and those reliant on income&nbsp;is some form of climate disaster. This would wipe out a large amount of the wealth in a manner similar to WW1 and 2 (and potentially a load of people with it).</p> <p><strong>Why is this ironic?</strong></p> <p>Well, a significant proportion of this wealth, or capital, is held in stocks or bonds of extractive companies and known contributors to climate change. This means that any push to combat climate change, and to encourage divestment from fossil fuels, is also a push against inequality where we are asking the wealthy to give up (or at least reallocate) some of their wealth. In both cases we are asking elites, and the politicians they unduly influence, to abandon their myopia and act for the greater good of everyone.</p> <p><strong>What can be done?</strong></p> <p>Piketty himself has proposed one ambitious policy solution: a global progressive tax on net wealth. Whilst this may feel far removed from the standard playing field of the environmental campaigner it is certainly something to think about. So long as inequality of wealth (often with a vested interest in maintaining the fossil fuel dependent status quo, at least in the short term) equates to inequality of power, it remains difficult to get the change we so urgently need, delivered in a timeframe the planet requires.</p> <p>Now his solution may seem improbable; if the elite already have a disproportionate hold over our politics, why would they ever consent to a law being passed weakening that hold? But what other solutions are there?</p> <p>The classic liberal answer would be that we just need more growth (surprise!). If everyone’s incomes rise more quickly, relative to the returns on invested wealth, then the gap closes and the problem is solved, right? In practice, probably not. Piketty demonstrates that high levels of growth are a historical anomaly, largely driven by the relatively recent massive increase in world population, and should in no way be considered the norm. Additionally, from a sustainability perspective, the quest for more growth at any cost is a really great way to knacker the planet. We need better growth, not more growth (if any at all).</p> <p>As is Piketty’s central point, wealth is largely concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of elites (<a href="http://scroll.in/article/662365/Ten-questions-for-Thomas-Piketty,-the-economist-who-exposed-capitalism’s-fatal-flaw">Pension Funds only hold ~20% of total capital</a>). So maybe the answer is to improve access to capital. Higher rates of return (relative to growth) wouldn’t be a problem if the benefits were spread more widely across the population. This is notoriously difficult to achieve (<a href="http://www.rsablogs.org.uk/2014/adam-lent/thatcher-pikkety-similar-views-similar-policy-failings/">Thatcher’s ‘ownership society’ being a case in point</a>), yet policies that promote community energy ownership and food sovereignty would certainly go some way towards addressing the imbalances (as well as being great from a sustainability perspective).</p> <p>I want to finish by referencing a recent article by <a href="http://m.thenation.com/article/179460-change-within-obstacles-we-face-are-not-just-external">Naomi Klein</a>, in which she eloquently sets out the thesis that just maybe the capitalist system that we live in has left us ill-equipped to deal with the perils of climate change. The changes we need are drastic, off trend and in-essence countercultural. Piketty’s work taken in this context is timely, it is further confirmation that the system is broken and that it is not enough to continue the way we have. The challenge now is not to fix it, it is to reinvent it entirely.</p> <p><strong><em>&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">Liked this piece? Please donate to OurKingdom </span><a style="text-decoration: none;" href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; color: #1155cc; background-color: transparent; font-variant: normal; vertical-align: baseline; text-decoration: underline;">here </span></a><span style="font-size: 15px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.</span></em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/my-environmentalism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit">My environmentalism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> uk uk UK Sam Lowe Wed, 28 May 2014 10:01:08 +0000 Sam Lowe 83177 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sam Lowe https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/sam-lowe <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Sam Lowe </div> </div> </div> <p>Sam Lowe is Campaigner in the Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland Food, Land and Water Security Programme and tweets as <a href="https://twitter.com/SamuelMarcLowe">@SamuelMarcLowe</a></p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Sam is Campaigner in the Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland Food, Land and Water Security Programme and tweets as @SamuelMarcLowe </div> </div> </div> Sam Lowe Tue, 27 May 2014 13:02:48 +0000 Sam Lowe 83178 at https://www.opendemocracy.net