Trans-Pacific Partnership?

A cardinal rule in our medium is that you shouldn’t do a post that says you are undecided. What’s the point? It’s like voting “no opinion” in an internet poll. Why does anyone bother to do that?

Nevertheless, I confess that I haven’t made up my mind about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the full text of which–thousands of pages–has now been delivered. Senator Jeff Sessions, generally the most reliable bellwether in Washington, is a skeptic. He tweeted this photo earlier today:

It isn’t a bad rule that if you can’t possibly read and understand a law, treaty or regulation, you shouldn’t vote for it.

If the issue were as simple as free trade vs. protectionism, of course I would favor TPP. Free trade is, almost without exception, a good thing. But, as a Canadian critic writes: “TPP is about many things, but free trade? Not so much.” What makes TPP controversial is that it “will set common standards on issues ranging from workers’ rights to intellectual property protection.” Further, it establishes an international tribunal that will rule on various issues–including, I take it, not just trade but workers’ rights, environmental protection and so on, into the indefinite future.

Some, like the Canadian critic linked to above, think the deal will be good for the United States:

What, then, is the TPP? In short, it is a new global economic framework, driven primarily by U.S. interests and U.S. power.

We can only hope. It is easy to argue, of course, that establishing uniform standards on issues like protections for labor and the environment will help U.S. producers by requiring foreign competition to comply with standards that we already take for granted. On the other hand, what may really happen is that America’s irrational inefficiencies may be imposed on other countries, thereby depriving American consumers of the benefits of competition. I assume that both of these characterizations will, at times, come to pass if the pact is implemented.

All of that said, my biggest concern about TPP is that it may erode American sovereignty. To the Obama administration and many liberals, that would be a feature, not a bug. What they can’t win in Congress, maybe they can win on a vote in an obscure international tribunal in which Vietnam and Indonesia have votes equal to ours.

So I am still undecided, and need to know a great deal more before I can either support or oppose TPP. The problem is, I will never know enough to make an informed decision, since I can’t possibly take the time necessary to read and understand the agreement. That in itself raises a further concern: the reality is that no one will ever read and understand the thousands of pages that have been negotiated, which suggests that the international tribunal to be established under TPP will not be much constrained by the actual text of the agreement. If no one knows what TPP says, how will anyone know whether a decision of the tribunal departs from its text? In practice, an incomprehensible maze of regulations empowers bureaucrats. And if we think American bureaucrats are bad, the international bureaucrat class is even worse.

More to come as the debate proceeds.

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