Monday, December 6, 2010

Human freedom and Corporporation Freedom Don't Go Together

The US Supreme Court recnetly ruled that corporations ae people. As people, they have the rights and the freedom to donate as much as they like to any political parties - just as people do. The same sort of thinking lies behind free trade. And that's strange.

Modern industry in both Canada and the US was based on a high tariff to keep out foreign competition. That gave a captive market to companies like Massey Farm Machinery that couldn't possibly compete against foreign manufacturers without a tariff to raise the price of foreign goods. In the US, the drive against a free market and for high tariffs pitted the industrializing north against a cotton-growing south which feared, rightly, that a high tariff would cut off cheaper manufactured goods from outside the US.

That's what the America civil war was about. Abraham Lincoln had no great sympathy for Blacks, and no particular desire to end slavery. The issue was whether there would be a protective tariff for northern industry. And the north won.

High tariffs were the gospel for American and Canadian industry for over a century. In Canada, the Conservative Party was well financed by industry to keep the tariff high. Indeed, the Liberal Party, which began as a free trade party, had to adopt a high tariff policy to get elected.

Then, quite suddenly, there was a change to hallelujahs for free trade as the only possible way to go for righteous and God-fearing people. Why the change?

The change came because Canadian and American industry had not only matured and could now beat other countries' prices, but also had such manufacturing output that they had to get access to other markets.  As well, free trade would open up investments in other countries which had cheaper labour than Canada and the US did. Though Free Trade has been put forward as an economic and almost religious cause, it's really just old-fashioned oppotunism.

What it has done has, as the "crackpots" warned us, transferred jobs from Canada and the US to cheap labour markets, helping to hold salaries below even the rate of inflation at home, while pushing American and Canadian goods into countries whose industries are not ready to compete - and won't be allowed to get ready.

Once a nation is caught in a free trade agreement, it loses the power to control its own economic policy. All have to accept much the same social and economic policies as the big powers in the agreement. Government, and the people who vote for it become irrelevant.

We will learn, but probably slowly and too late, that if corporations are people and have the freedoms of people, then real people can have no freedoom at all. Giving human rights to corporations means taking human rights away from humans.

Any society, to survive as a democracy, has to find a balance between social and economic elements, with each complementing the other.  We've thrown the social part of that balance out. What we're left with is using free capitalism as if it were a magic wand that can solve all problems. It can't. We need rights and freedoms and power for people, too. Freedom and human rights for corporations won't work. And it will also destroy democracy. Indeed, given the political influence of corporations in both Canada the the US, it may already has done so.

1 comment:

  1. In the Middle Ages, charging interest could get your hands lopped off in Europe. (Is that why we talk about 'the good old days'?) Islamic banks have a "partnership" approach to circumvent the evils of usury. Now, in the West, freedom seems to quite specifically mean economic/financial freedom...