Responding to Paul Krugman on Trust and the #TPP

I was relieved after a very long period of mostly silence, interspersed with a few non-committal statements on the TPP, to read Professor Krugman’s blog post curated below.  But that relief is tempered by the timing and temperature of this position statement. It comes too late for what has been the professor’s superpower: influence on policy-makers, and it is too incomplete to influence one way or another.  Were Paul to vociferate, at this point, the process already in place wouldn’t deviate much from the course it is already on, but some things, at least, could be salvaged. My hopes were dashed when I saw that today’s op-ed is another Jeb Bush piece. The TPP will end up being signed. The question is how bad the TPP terms will remain.

This bring me to the more difficult part of the discussion. It has as much to do with the TPP as it does the position the Obama administration has been in over the last four years with respect to the obstruction of congressional Republicans, and the behavior of Democrats all throughout his presidency. If the first four years of commentary and activism by public intellectuals was instrumental in ensuring that a complete collapse of the economy was averted, the last three years of erecting a hermetically-sealed wall around the president and his legacy have been detrimental in keeping his presidency and congressional democrats centered around core policies and core principles. Instead of continuing to discuss policies as they are proposed and made, there has been complete silence.

The heavy losses suffered by Democrats in 2014 should have been a big red flag for public intellectuals to rethink their strategy, especially as it became evident that the Democratic party is fully under the control of the neoliberal wing, and polling has consistently shown the electorate wants progressive policies and voter trust in government is at all time low levels.

Whether the terms of the TPP agreement reflect the President’s personal views is irrelevant. What is relevant and makes for a very strange day is when Mitch McConnell says “The president has done an excellent job on this,” of President Obama, and “this” is something Senate Democrats are going along with. While it appeared last week that Senate Democrats were revolting against the TPP, it turned out they were grandstanding.

So, what part have public intellectuals played in getting us to this point? Many public intellectuals, including Professor Krugman, pretty much remained silent or were dismissive as details on who was negotiating the TPP and what some of its terms were, came up on WikiLeaks. Sure, Dean Baker was very vocal, but Professor Krugman was dismissive at the time and has pretty much kept silent since, except for a few short post mentions on his blog over the past months as the issue started coming up in the news again.

We still have two years to go before the Obamas leave the White House. The leadership of the Democratic party has no interest in attempting to make good on some of the policy misses it allowed. With the help and amplification from public intellectuals in academia, think tanks, and in the media, pressure could be placed on congressional Republicans to do some things to improve the lot of low-wage workers and the long-term unemployed.

Housing and student debt are burning fires ready to explode. For example, in Los Angeles, homelessness is currently spiking at 12%. The lack of affordable housing, wages that are not in line with the cost of living, and unemployment that is still high, are the causes in this uptick in homelessness. I can’t imagine that very many metropolitan areas aren’t seeing the same phenomenon. Reporting on this in the mainstream press has been muted.

Public intellectuals, clamoring in unison, might be able to influence policy-makers and legislators to improve the disaster that is the TPP. In the absence of effective democratic leadership in Congress, public intellectuals should push the administration towards the center-left on many of the social issues that are now boiling just beneath the surface.

This wall of silence that has been erected around President Obama is hurting, not helping him or his legacy. NAFTA isn’t remembered fondly. In the shape our economy is still in, the TPP won’t be remembered kindly, either.  It is the duty of public intellectuals, in the face of lack of leadership and the deterioration of public institutions, to be the clarion call for change.

Trade and Trust

The Conscience of a Liberal

Paul Krugman
May 17, 2015

I’m getting increasingly unhappy with the way the Obama administration is handling the dispute over TPP. I understand the case for the deal, and while I still lean negative I’m not one of those who believes that it would be an utter disaster.

But the administration — and the president himself — don’t help their position by being dismissive of the complaints and lecturing the critics (Elizabeth Warren in particular) about how they just have no idea what they’re talking about. That would not be a smart strategy even if the administration had its facts completely straight — and it doesn’t. Instead, assurances about what is and isn’t in the deal keep turning out to be untrue. We were assured that the dispute settlement procedure couldn’t be used to force changes in domestic laws; actually, it apparently could. […]

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