Isn’t it great to live in a democracy?!
In the global west – whatever that means – we laud our various forms of government as being democratic.
We pat ourselves on our figurative backs for having a system we claim to be fully representative of our societies. Inclusive decision-making led by an informed body citizenry with representatives driven by the pure reward of public service.
By the people, for the people.
But, such superficial gloss does a disservice to our reality. More and more we see today examples of the true nature of our western systems in denying collective decision-making.
Trickle up politics.
A clear example of this will be the impact of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Yes, the recent round of talks in Hawaii reached an impasse, but don’t count on the TPPA dying out just yet. There is too much invested in this agreement by the economic elites to let it simply just fall away.
The TPPA is supposed to represent a “free trade” agreement. The inherent problem with “free trade” is that it really isn’t “free”. Traditionally, countries with greater leverage continue to insist on free access to other markets while maintaining a protectionist stance to their own market. The TPPA is no different and the protracted length of negotiations must surely be a testament to this.
Whispers that our dairy farmers will not gain significantly greater access to US or Japanese markets illustrate that this is far from any plain meaning of the term “free trade”. The claimed windfall to our economy may not be so great, especially given the concerns around the lack of diversity in our economy.
But, this agreement is more than just the inequity of “free trade”. Consistent with that theme of inequity, it is also about the further impact it will have on our ability to make our own decisions.
In short, the TPPA is being used as a run around to prevent states having the ability to regulate in the interests of the people against corporate interests.
The TPPA represents hegemony in its pure form. But, it is able to do so without any genuine scrutiny – there is no robust public debate, media analysis is thin and relatively uncritical, while any parliamentary oversight will be on the other side of the Rubicon.
A key component of this oppressive exertion of hegemonic power by the financial elites is that the text of the TPPA remains hidden from view. Well, as I have often heard from one proponent of the TPPA (but in another context), if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.
Clearly, they have a lot to hide with “transparency” being a term conveniently applied to others.
We already know about the impact the TPPA will have on Pharmac. The pharmaceutical companies want you to pay more for your medicines. They won’t allow governments to set up market mechanisms to produce better prices for consumers, and they sure won’t allow generic substitutes into the market at significantly lower cost.
This is a big problem for us. It is an even bigger problem for other countries also part of the TPPA whose people need access to cheaper medicine. Shouldn’t other countries have the benefit of a similar mechanism to Pharmac?
To me, it is utterly crazy that the pharmaceutical companies are so easily able to achieve the beginning of global regulation geared in their interests through the backdoor like this.
This is not an engaged decision-making process. The pharmaceutical companies, through the political access their financial power guarantees, are gaming the system leading to decisions that are ultimately against the interests of the consumer.
The consumers, meanwhile, have no one fighting in their corner. The fix is in.
Similarly, the investor state dispute resolution system allows corporations to ultimately dictate internal state policy. This is entirely absent any collective decision-making process normally reflected within in a democracy and is singularly only in the interests of corporations.
Traditionally, the financial elite has been against the encroachment of international law into domestic decision-making. From one perspective, this is because that law has primarily been about improving access to individual human rights.
But, more recently, including items such as the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement with extensions around copyright law), the financial elites have worked out how these multi-lateral agreements can work in their interests. They have worked out how to use these agreements as a backdoor to countries, without having to confront any genuine scrutiny knowing that most countries have very weak parliamentary oversight.
The result? Our democracy is diluted. But, hey, at the end of the day, what is real democracy anyway?