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The myth of 'free trade'.

THE corporate state and its stooges in major political parties and the commentariat are heavily invested in passing off neo-liberal globalisation as "free trade".

Their interest in doing so is understandable. The global corporate economy is a system of power resulting from massive government intervention in the market and involves the use of force to promote some interests at the expense of others.

It's entirely in the interest of the beneficiaries of this system of power to use language like "free trade" to conceal its origins and grant it ideological legitimacy.

But by taking their enemies' terminology at face value, opponents of corporate globalisation enter combat with one hand already tied behind their backs.

For example, writing in the New York Times Jeff Madrick identifies "free trade" with more trade, international free trade agreements and globalisation, attributing the negative effects of these things to "free trade".

In fact, free trade is none of these things. Corporate globalisation and so-called "free trade" deals actually involve gross violations of the genuine principles of free trade.

The centrepiece of the neo-liberal agenda is not "free trade" -- that is, voluntary exchange of goods and services in which all parties operate on their own nickel and nobody has access to coercive power to set the rules in their favour -- but the age-old ruling class agenda of "privatisation", or enclosure, of the lower classes as a source of rents.

The increased volume of international trade under the neo-liberal policy regime results from direct state subsidies to long-distance trade and state intervention to reduce the transaction costs of trade -- in both cases socialising the operating costs of transnational corporations.

To the extent that peasants were evicted and transformed into wage labourers working land that was previously theirs, or Western capitalists and White settlers seized mineral resources in the global south over the past few centuries of imperialism and neo-colonialism, neo-liberal "protection of private property rights" actually amounts to protecting the "haves" at the expense of the "have nots".

Globalisation guarantees the income of those who engage in cash crop production on Latin American haciendas and other large-scale capitalist farming operations around the world -- and those who extract the mineral wealth of Africa and the oil of Nigeria and Indonesia.

The "intellectual property" regime enforced under assorted "free trade" agreements enables Western-owned companies to outsource actual production of goods to Third World countries, while maintaining a legal monopoly over disposal of the product.

Likewise, "intellectual property" in software, entertainment and biotech enables corporations to make profits not from actually producing anything, but from controlling the circumstances under which others are allowed to produce.

The majority of global trade is not, as the term suggests to most people, the free exchange of goods between actual producers.

It involves the importation of goods produced under contract to be sold with the logos of Nike, Apple and other well-known companies, or the movement of raw materials and unfinished goods between local subsidiaries of transnational corporations.

It's about as entitled to the "free trade" label as the movement of materials between state factories in the Soviet planned economy.

By accepting the term "free trade" at face value, we allow protectionist, mercantilist global corporations to appropriate the positive aura attached to genuine free trade.

The global corporations that talk the most about "free trade" are basically arms of state. Genuine free trade would destroy them. It's time to call things by their correct names.

l Kevin Carson is a senior fellow at the Centre for a Stateless Society

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Oct 18, 2014
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