By Kiran Shivalingam
There are few things which progressives and Trump supporters seem to agree on. However, when President Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific partnership, the left hailed it as a victory for the people over corporations and Trump supporters saw it as the first step in reviving American manufacturing. But both of these arguments neglect important points about the TPP.
For example, anti-globalists miss the broader point of how the decline in manufacturing is inevitable, simply the next stage in the economic evolution of capitalist economies across the globe. Millennia ago, the advent of agriculture resulted in job losses in hunting and gathering. Then, the domestication of the horse caused losses in jobs that involved dragging heavy objects. Finally, the invention of steam driven weaving caused job losses in home craftwork. Viewed from this long-term perspective, the decline of manufacturing is merely the next phase in an endless cycle of new technology finding more efficient ways of producing goods. It doesn’t matter how many trade deals Trump signs or repeals, the jobs in manufacturing are gone and aren’t coming back.
Likewise, progressives seem to ignore the transformative impact it will have on the environment and the lives of impoverished workers across Asia. In addition to banning child labour and imposing higher health standards, the TPP also requires member states to adopt minimum wages, shift to a low-emissions economy and allow workers to form independent unions. Surely these are laudable liberal goals.
However, perhaps the most salient argument in its favour was that it was designed to kerb China’s growing regional influence. By withdrawing from the agreement, a leadership vacuum has emerged enabling Beijing to dictate regional economic policy. It also undermines pro-Western leaders across Asia who took serious political risks amidst strong domestic opposition to build support for the deal. A situation once unthinkable has become economic reality – China has become the country championing free trade whilst America continues its march into protectionism.
Ironically, for a country determined on maintaining its position as global hegemon, America has taken yet another giant leap into isolationism.
Image by Gage Skidmore via flickr.