Trade agreements hurt middle class

Published 11:17 am Friday, January 31, 2014

It is an oddity in America that corporations are created explicitly to protect the liabilities of individuals in their business ventures, yet corporations are as Mitt Romney says and the Supreme Court seems to agree “people”.

That actually makes a corporation sort of a “super Person” with the advantages of personhood but not the liabilities, a structure of privilege rare in any society but symbolic in our society of the worship-like understanding many have of capitalism and its handmaiden, the corporation.

If you fail to appreciate the superiority of the American corporation as a social religion, consider its accepted advantages; many Americans think corporations should not pay taxes at all; huge international corporations with great wealth are granted tax abatements; free construction of infrastructure for development; free training of workforces; and even taxpayer contributions to re-locate, all for the promise of potential development in a community.

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These same corporation profits, when ownership is shared in equities, their equity investors are taxed at about half the rate of Americans who work for a living. And, these crafty corporations often make huge profits only to, like GE, pay no tax whatsoever ever on those profits and their untaxed offshore profits, all quite legally.

And lest we forget, these corporations have developed a very successful history of abandoning their work sites with polluted land and water. The corporations have also, all too often, used our bankruptcy courts to reward investment liquidators while underfunding and walking away from their pension obligations.

But none of these faults rises to the level of the corporate influence on our state and federal legislators and the outcomes they have received as a result of their longstanding, and now unlimited, efforts.

After nearly 30 years of a decline in our middle class, and while American worker productivity remains the best on the planet, the corporations that once were American are now global and that means the longstanding relationship between workers and owners is dissolved. Workers in America are no longer partners in corporate success, they are utilities replaceable with .28 cent per our workers anywhere on the planet.

How did this happen?

It is the confluence of events that include the rise of technology, the creation of mega-banks for funding sources for corporations, and the trade agreements that have reduced the income growth of all but a few citizens around the globe.

The rise of technology, a chapter of our history about to increase by multiples, has resulted in more computer functions and robotic applications, and fewer human jobs.

The investment structures added to banks during the same time as international trade treaties have become the funding sources for virtually any corporate entity to borrow to set up shop around the globe. What once would have been risks not acceptable to banks are now gambles made legal.

But beyond all the above, it is the trade agreements that have broken the backs of workers around the planet, including in America.

Trade agreements intended to elevate the wages of workers in developing countries while reducing the costs on goods everywhere have instead increased corporate profits and made labor the lowest common denominator of production.

This is not to blame the corporations, for their goal is profit.

But if, as a society, America is to prosper we must undertake to end, amend, and change these agreements or our middle class will only be seen in history books.

And yet, neither political party has even suggested voiding trade agreements. Quite the contrary, the Obama administration is considering a new agreement, the TTP.

America Incorporated is not about protecting living wage jobs.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.