TPP Panic: Playing the China Card

Stung by the sudden derailment in the House of Representatives of their rush to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Washington establishment has wasted no time in warning us of the terrifying menace of a rising China, should the trade deal not be put back on track next week.

Echoing previous remarks by the president, House Speaker John Boehner warned “we’re allowing and inviting China to go right on setting the rules of the world economy.” Pro-TPP Democratic Congressman Jim Hines (D-Conn.) said that Friday’s vote, “told the world that we prefer that China set the rules and values that govern trade in the Pacific.”

These remarks are both fatuous and revealing of how weak the case for the TPP is, even among its own promoters.

As a matter of obvious fact, the rules of the world economy within which the Chinese have been taking the United States to the economic cleaners were not set in China. They were set in Washington, DC by our own American policymakers and fixers who in one way or another were, and still are, are in the pay of multinational corporate investors.

Under Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama the United States government designed and imposed the global model of  “free trade” which promoted the shift of investment from the United States to parts of the world where labor is cheap, the environment is unprotected, and the public interest is even more up for sale than it is here.

Not surprisingly, the result has been shrinking job opportunities, lower wages, and a large chronic trade deficit that Americans have to finance by borrowing from the countries like China that have earned surplus dollars by selling us their goods. You don’t have to be an economist to know that this cannot go on forever.

Playing the China card is also revealing because it shows the desperation of the TPP promoters. Their claim to members of Congress that the deal will not harm their constituencies has been been discredited. So the pro-TPP faction has increasingly tried to use fear of China’s growing influence in Asia to round up congressional support. But it is precisely the made-in-USA trade rules that have allowed China to become an economic powerhouse. To argue now that U.S. workers should further sacrifice their living standards in order to diminish China’s resistance to the “rules and values” of America’s corporate elite reflects the intellectual and political bankruptcy of the case for the TPP.

Indeed, from the perspective of the average American worker, letting the Chinese set the rules for the global economy may not be so bad an idea. They could hardly do worse.