Working in the trade policy space has really made me question my thoughts about nationalism and my own feelings about how I care about my home country, the United States.
So, some people have tried to get me say I hate America. Whether I’d expatriate and move somewhere else. Or question why I even bother fighting for democracy here when it’s seems so far gone into the depths of corporate depravity. Any one of my friends or family can tell you that in conversation, I can quickly slip into a various kinds of lamentations about the state of the U.S.—sad, angry, sarcastic—depending on my mood. I never restrain my disgust for its policies that seem ass backward to me.
But I complain about the U.S. because I love it. I want it to be better. I KNOW it could be better…
Before I go on, let me get one thing straight: I don’t think the U.S. is “the best,” I don’t think it ever was, nor will it ever be. Our culture or ideals (whatever that constitutes) aren’t inherently better or more enlightened than any other nation’s. The U.S. is to blame for some of the WORST atrocities of the last couple centuries. Like any world power, we have justified invading and slaughtering people for all kinds of horrific reasons, and continue to do so to this day. Americans have collectively acted like we’re entitled somehow in a way that no other country isn’t. That we know better than others.
Despite this, I have to admit that my cultural pride of being American is probably never going away. There’s something collectively raw about us. We’re stupid honest and don’t really care about formalities. I’m fascinated by, and myself a victim to, our ideological addiction to “freedom”…which may or may not be what undermines our own ability to ever create good common services (“How dare you make me contribute to something that we can all commonly enjoy!”). It’s like we’re united in our desire to have the right to say fuck you to each other.
We’re idiots. But it’s MY group of idiots. I can’t deny that I culturally identify with people here in a way that I don’t in other places…just for the simple reason that I grew up here. I recognize that we are flawed. Deeply deeply flawed. But what country isn’t? In terms of our bullying of the rest of the world, I’d like to remind everyone that any country with any power turns into a big asshole: England, France, Russia, China, Japan, and the countless other ego tripping countries/societies/tribes that have invaded and attacked anyone else weaker than them.
Anyway, I think the sense of entitlement U.S. has is the problem. Our leaders, along with some many millions of people who elect them, still believe that the U.S. has something the rest of the world doesn’t. Sure, we’re MUCH more armed with weapons and have multiple thousands more in the military than other nations. But that’s really not something to brag about. There are dozens of other countries that provide more economic stability for its people. Our educational system is falling behind, and our healthcare system lags big time. The amount of national resources we spend on the military is INSANE. It’s like we’re building a huge wall around us with weapons pointed at every direction, while our society inside becomes more feeble and unstable as we neglect to put resources towards basic infrastructural necessities.
So, how does this relate to trade policy?
Well I can only speak to the portions of the TPP that I know about: the digital policy provisions. Based upon that, and the little I know about the medicine patent provisions, it seems to confirm the idea that “free trade” policies that have been classically pushed forth by England, and now, the U.S., are really there to undermine economic development. It’s the basic premise of Ha-Joon Chang’s book Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective, the title of which refers to how these already develoPED countries try to deny the currently develoPING countries the protectionist policies they used themselves to bolster its own industries.
Recently, I realized that my work in TPP partially consisted of fighting this attempt by the U.S. to kick away the “technological” ladder for other countries. Like other things on the U.S. “free trade” agenda, it seem very likely to me that the U.S. is purposefully exporting bad digital policy to try to stunt other nations’ growth in the tech sector. This great article by Jonathan Band on the gross inconsistencies between U.S. domestic vs. foreign copyright policy made this point, although I’m not as optimistic as him that this inconsistency “gap” is closing.
The goal of the U.S. may be to give its own tech and content industries an advantage by making other copyright frameworks shit in other countries through the horrible, secretive trade policy process. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to fail for two reasons:
1) The Internet’s a force to be reckoned with. Seriously. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I really do think that the trade policy debate has gotten WAY more attention since they’ve included provisions that threaten Internet users. A big reason I think is that the Internet transcends national borders. We use the Internet to save the Internet…our ability to share intel and anger with each other about what’s going on in real time across the world really puts a damper on those closed-door, secretive corporate negotiation parties. I will guarantee (and will continue to work to exacerbate) users freaking out when state policies challenge what we have, and try to stifle our dream of an Internet that continues to thrive as the beautiful nebulous mess that it is.
2) The U.S. just isn’t as intimidating as it once was. I can’t imagine that countries that have signed trade agreements with the U.S. and got a bad deal out of it, weren’t aware about what was happening. But they probably felt pressured into agreeing to most of the terms. The way the U.S. is pretty much alone in pushing the worst copyright provisions in the leaked TPP chapter shows how other countries are a bit emboldened and unwilling to cave to them. When I went to the TPP negotiations, one of the main things we did was tell other negotiators how BAD the U.S. “Intellectual Property” proposals were. It’s looking like they get it. Chile and Canada even have better systems than the U.S., so they’re trying to hold strong against their demands.
I mean, I think it’s great that the U.S. is in less of a position to bully other countries. That doesn’t make me anti-U.S. though. I just want what’s best for us, and by extension, everyone else who then won’t have to deal with our bullshit as much. The pressure to be THE BEST MOST POWERFUL NATION OF ALL is what makes U.S. so horrible. If we’re not the most powerful, some American patriots may say, god forbid it’s going to be someone ELSE. Okay, if that’s the case then we clearly have a bigger problem on our hands. No concentrated power, whether in a government or in the global geopolitical system, should ever maintain hegemonic control.
Maybe this whole “I’m not here to make friends” approach to foreign policy is just an inevitable symptom of the nation-state system. I have all kinds of thoughts on that…but I gotta go pack to go to LA early tomorrow.