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An Introductory Glance at the WTO, Plutocracy's Controlling Political Economic Mechanism

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WTO by World Trade Organization

This is no time to ignore warnings
This is no time to clear the plate
Let's not be sorry after the fact
And let the past become out fate

This is no time for celebration
This is no time for saluting flags
This is no time for inner searchings
The future is ahead

This is no time for phony rhetoric
This is no time for political speech
This is a time for action
Because the future's within reach

This is the time
This is the time
This is the time
Because there is no time - Lou Reed

This is the first of six installments, which will clarify and amplify citizen understanding about World Trade Organization(WTO), which those who favor call a paragon of efficiency and sustainability and those who deplore it call a nefarious enterprise of insidious corruption and inherent oppression. This humble correspondent has a clear proclivity to lean toward the second characterization, but as ever a fair-minded fellow, he suggests that we look at the institutional, political economic, and social economic origins in order to establish the defensibility, or not, of such a case.

Inevitably, doing this entails, again, grappling with matters of   political economics generally. Although this narrator is quite capable of thinking about such matters too elliptically, more theoretically, today he intends to inject some historical, grounded expression of such matters, specifically in relation to the early growth of capitalism.

Henry Magdoff is a grand vizier of Marxist historical analysis. We can listen to him, as he propounds--dispositively so, perhaps--about how the growth of what so many dearly adore and so many others horrifically hate came to produce what we now know as the standard operation procedure of things. This interview, from the definitely pinkish Monthly Review, is worth reading in its entirety.

"(C)apitalism was born in a world economy. However, we need to distinguish between merchant capitalism and industrial capitalism. With the development by the fifteenth century of three-masted, heavily armed sailing ships, capable of carrying substantial crews and cargoes over transoceanic distances, both international commerce and naval warfare were propelled forward. The new European ships spread out to the seven seas in search of profits and plunder. In this way the age of discovery, which was also an age of conquest, began in the fifteenth century and marked the rise of merchant capitalism on a world-economic basis. The wealth of western Europe grew by leaps and bounds: gold and silver were taken from South America to feed the banks, and slaves were acquired to produce the consumer goods and raw materials for the workshops of western Europe. World trade was spurred by acquiring new colonies, expanding old ones, the spread of slavery, and outright robbery. These were the outstanding features of the world markets that evolved in the more than two centuries preceding industrial capitalism. A key feature of this merchant stage of capitalism is that it provided not only the markets but also the wealth that fed the industrial revolution that began in the mid-1700s."

There, careful reader, one can view dialectical development, historical analysis, and a close interrelating of multiple phenomena all at once. Magdoff goes on to note the ever present productive tension in capitalist development of stagnation, of glutted markets and motionless commodities. The results are noteworthy.

"(A)lthough not the only issue, the tendency of stagnation is a major factor leading to imperialism. As I said before, capital investment is the dynamo of growth in a capitalist economy. Since the need for new investment reaches limits, the further pace of capitalist growth depends on new products, new inventions, and large populations for one to conquer."

Phillippine stock market board by Katrina.Tuliao
Thus, over time, finance assumes a larger and larger role in the intermediation of business under the political purview of the bourgeoisie. Moreover, following both internal economic and multiple class and power dialectics in addition, empire comes to predominate in the financial establishment's methodologies for achieving investment and production ways and means.

Speaking directly to this point, Lenin could famously articulate that "imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism," just as a conflict that surpassed even the wildest dreams of mass murdering fiends ripped apart empires and brought his own, quite communistic, party closer to power. One needn't subscribe to Lenin's assessments about political value in order to see the incisiveness of his reasoning.

To all of this background, this humble correspondent would also add the critical role of the state. In various of these essays, dear readers have seen that from the Civil War through the growth of the TVA and the New Deal, and on through time to this very 'Veteran's Day,' governmental instantiation has played an ever more critical socioeconomic role. In a sense, this ultimate intermingling of the social, economic, and political is a key underpinning factor of all such efforts as this--hence its brief statement here.

A Harvard Business School professor states this updated version of Vladimir Illyich as follows. "(F)or a capitalist system to evolve in an effective developmental sense through time, it must have two hands, not one: an invisible hand that is implicit in the pricing mechanism, and a visible hand that is explicitly managed by government through a legislature and a bureaucracy. Inevitably the actions of the visible hand imply a strategy, no matter how implicit, shortsighted, or incoherent that strategy may be."

Such dynamics and interactions, most readers will recollect, yielded disasters not just of the fiscal variety, which elicited 'duck-hunts' for Reserve Banking Bills, but also social and political cataclysms that consigned tens of millions of cousins to brutal graves in cold European mud and other unpleasant places to draw a few agonal gasps before exiting. Thus, this 11/11/10 posting recalls an eleventh hour armistice on the eleventh day of the eleventh month 92 years ago.

More to the point of this article, these interactive percolations of money and class and struggle also bring the narrative to the juncture when far-sighted thinkers who wanted their class perquisites to survive without such mayhem and carnage began to ponder a system. Such a system would manage finance and empire and avoid the messy brutality which, in this case, had yielded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, about which Churchill quipped as a consortium of former friends and foe from the 'Great War' invaded Russian and sought to decimate the 'Reds,' "we must throttle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle." Money was a part of this process.


Marx Monument by motograf
If nothing else, a crisis in liquidity--centering around buying and selling sprees involving gold, and attendant national decisions to hoard the metal--in July, 1914, was a final straw on a heavily laden world financial beast. While a Marxist analysis inevitably notes such correspondences between fiscal and social conflagration, more and more establishment thinkers acknowledge these interrelationships as well.

Niall Ferguson, who teaches economics at Harvard, explicitly rejects Marxism, even as much of his thinking and analysis parallels a died-in-the-wool Leninist. He and his counterpart do diverge, of course, when the matter of meaning and direction come up, but the background of agreement is noteworthy.

Recently, Dr. Ferguson wrote that just as unexpected incapacity of currency to move commodities--freight and other trade indexes plummeted--sent armies wheeling into action, so too today, forces of illiquidity and reactions to it might sink current trends toward open markets and 'free-enterprise' that are well-loved among those who follow the economics trade.

"Then, between 1914 and 1918, a horrendous war stopped all of this, sinking globalization. Nearly 13 million tons of shipping were sent to the bottom of the ocean by German submarine attacks. International trade, investment, and migration all collapsed. Moreover, the attempt to resuscitate the world economy after the war's end failed. The global economy effectively disintegrated with the onset of the Great Depression and, after that, with an even bigger world war."

Similarly, William Silber, at NYU's Stern School of Business, explicates the background and responses to the war's four-month closing of the New York Stock Exchange. "What happened" is the point of Professor Silber's work, not why, but the relationships among trade and empire and war are nonetheless as starkly apparent, unstated, as they are in the explicit digest that Dr. Ferguson provides from across the Charles River in Cambridge.

Annalists make much of the supposed 'pro-German' sentiment among many workers and on the part of media owners. Often, such screeds are nothing more than anti-semitic ferocity, though facts are facts, if evidence is available.
More nuanced tellings suggest that propaganda efforts among both Germany and its allies and among England and its allies utilized sophisticated techniques to influence U.S. policy. The increasing potency of methods in such efforts meant that citizens might be in thrall to either side.

Though politically anglophilic, events and interests moved Woodrow Wilson both ways at the outset of WWI. After all, he had run on the duplicitous platform that "He kept us out of war," even though he had the specific intention of involving the U.S. on England's side.

For the most part, in any event, given the real financial and commercial relations among the most elevated representatives of business and money, no doubt ever existed that the U.S. would both aid Britain and France, and benefit from providing that assistance. The Nye Committee Hearings, which became equivalent with the phrase "merchants of death," clearly demonstrated the ties among empire and industry and war-making that impelled Wilson's choices, both prior to and after U.S. entry into the war.

Antoine Capet's collection, The Special Relationship, begins with a chapter about when things were "not so special," although the author primarily shows the close alignment of interests and opportunity right up to the financing of WWI, from which the U.S. emerged as the world's banker, to "a period of transition" between the wars before the U.S. consciously sat atop the world's high throne of capital.

Given that the multiple sources of this massive mutual annihilation all had close connections to matters such as the class and imperial divisions within Europe, and furthermore that these ties inherently connected finance and armaments with the proclivity to war, a student of this situation basically has no choice but to acknowledge the fiscal-political roots of the social mayhem of this particular form of mass murder.

Recent tussles among erstwhile 'liberals' and the followers of Glenn Beck, in which Beck shows much greater insight and intellectual openness than his critics, is instructive in this regard. Beck is talking about the causes of war with Japan and basically insists on putting front-and-center the U.S.'s isolation of Japan and cut-off of oil. His naysayers thereby impugn his patriotism: thus, love-of-country equates to willful ignorance and lies.

Of course, as both Lenin and Harvard professors testify, among others, no 'patriotic' view about the mechanized four-year annihilation that swept over Europe beginning in 1914 is tenable. But the war did end, and folks were certainly in a reflective mood.

As a result of all the death and destruction, and the actually revolutionary upheavals that were sweeping Europe at the time--from Moscow to Berlin, basically, a lot of powerful citizens began to think about figuring out how to preclude the rebellion that seemed ready to upend the rule of capital. In this context, of course, Woodrow Wilson delivered his ideas about "Fourteen Points" that would promise peace.

These testaments to both idealism and the long standing 'open-door' attitude of United States manufacturing interests toward trade, is an essential document to read and put into perspective. The insults of empire and the attacks on capital emanating from the Soviets 'leak through' again and again. Wilson closes with a call for a League of Nations, which represents a direct lineal descendant of what THC and his readers will soon be probing.

John Maynard Keynes(JMK) stated, in his still monumentally intelligent, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, the following summation of the 'realpolitick' behind the League of Nations(LoN), from the point of view of a Clemenceau or other imperial leader. Those who would gain a measure of savvy about international institutions today would do very well to listed to and study Master Keynes carefully.

"Prudence required some lip service to the 'ideals' of foolish Americans and hypocritical Englishmen; but it would be stupid to believe that there is much room in the world, as it really is, for affairs such as the LoN, or any sense in the principle of self-determination except as an ingenious formula for rearranging the balance of power in one's own interest."

In leading up to this clear expression of power politics on parade, Keynes is adamant. The imperial contradictions and economic crises characteristic of Europe half a decade before had been paramount causative factors in the utter evisceration of an entire generation of young workers.

Nikolai Bukarin, meanwhile, he of the anarcho-syndicalist and Bolshevik leanings, he who so powerfully contributed to and influenced The Call, states Keynes' case more graphically. Some readers might shift in discomfiture to read even more 'Red' propaganda, but this humble correspondent promises, 'It will do ya good, kiddo.' Comrade B. was breaking down the political-economic and structural dynamics underpinning the war.

"There were two coalitions. ... (which), by their organisation, "unity of command," general economic conferences, political plans in common... may be likened to syndicates. One of the two coalitions was conquered in the struggle for supremacy. This has transformed international rivalry. New conflicts are approaching: England-America, Japan-America; France-Italy, etc. What will be the next grouping of the Powers? Compromises between opponents are generally concluded when there is relative equilibrium between their forces. When one combatant party has the upper hand there is no reason whatever to compromise, for it can take by force without granting any share to its adversaries. From such a point of view, it must seem that there can be no compromises. The colossal superiority of the United States, which is strengthened no less economically and financially than militarily does not admit of doubt. Nevertheless... .(i)t is clear that the favourable position of America will immediately create a bloc of all the Powers, including Japan, against America. ...it is just with Japan that its relations are most strained. Besides, the growth of war industry in America, which was the purveyor of arms to the whole world, has threatened the economic life of the United States."

This is the setting in which "14 Points" and LoN talk come to the fore. Folks in command want to continue in command. Bukharin continues, noting the propagandistic elements of the effort at hand.

"In the moment of an uprising of the mass, the like of which has never been seen before, it is impossible for Capitalism to restrain them with bayonets alone. It must also deceive them systematically, otherwise the domination of capitalism is broken. Therefore the creators of the League of Nations, from the very beginning, took care to prepare an agreeable sauce for their stew. The very name of League of Nations is a deceit. And the same fraud turns up in the other resounding names given to the League: 'Alliance of the Peoples,' 'League of Peace,' 'Universal League,'etc."

To see the potential veracity in such charges, the student may turn again to the outpouring of words from that master debater among America's President's, Sir Woodrow. In the book, The New Freedom, compiled by an aide from speeches and other sources in which Wilson presented his ideas persuasively, the President repeatedly indulges in social dissimulation, in the form of fantasy and an appeal to 'values' that have never been commonly shared.

"Why is it that we have a labor question at all? It is for the simple and very sufficient reason that the laboring man and the employer are not intimate associates now as they used to be in time past. Most of our laws were formed in the age when employer and employees knew each other, knew each other's characters, were associates with each other, dealt with each other as man with man." The nonsensical nature of such thinking, given such generations-past eventualities as the Draft Riots in NYC, the butchering of the Molly McGuires in the coal fields and elsewhere, the entire unheralded but clearly extant amping of class-conflict from the Civil War on, belies this sweetly disingenuous foolishness.

This humble correspondent goes into a mere smattering of detail here, yet for many readers it will still be too much, far too much. THC can only say that, short of assigning one's rights to some consortium of plutocrats or demagogues, coming to some sort of terms with such historical cases is the only way to have a semblance of sayso, let alone a stake, in such matters as trade policy, monetary affairs, and so on.

In any event, having laid the basis for asserting persuasively that the institutionalization of a scheme for capital to mange its conflicts was the primary basis for LoN's development, one cannot help but recognize analogous interconnections in such matters as the inauguration of the World Bank and its more recent spawning of the WTO. Before moving on to that period, however, three much briefer diversions are still essential, at least to mention briefly.

First comes what Bukharin and all stout-hearted Reds had, over and over and over, already said. 'This entire mess revolves around a popular desire, albeit inchoate and intermittent, for a measure of greater fairness, equity, and justice than has been the fate of working people under capitalism.' Much more than passionate words attest to this, and these attestations show clear connections to the formal arrangements of commercial interests in forms like LoN, etc.

The proof of such cases as these is ubiquitous, however, one might begin with the estimable Howard Zinn's Peoples History of the United States. There and elsewhere, one may view such brutal surges of civil unrest, revolving around class, as the following: the invasion of the nascent Soviet Union by a coalition of all the major antagonists from WWI; the cretinous and murderous Palmer Raids against 'radicals' and 'anarchists' and so forth; the attacks on the developing strength of the coal miners; and, folks may believe, THC could continue.

Another source for this interwar interregnum's evolution appears in all manner of Marxist and 'liberal' economic writing. The classic exemplification of such critique that dystopic and dysfunctional political-economic approaches are certain to wreck the ship of state and any hope of social succor once again taps J.M. Keynes.

Keynes' General Theory voluminously demonstrates the unavoidable contradictions of classical economics' Gold Standard nostrums, predicting their actual back-pedalling to protectionism and doom. He also lays out the case for deficit spending, which is now a national religion, which involves a very important and detailed understanding of money that will not be part of the discussion here, except to say that the general labor content of a money unit, times its capacity for circulation, forms the basis for an expansion of money through credit. For the most part, it works too.

Finally, as the devolution of money and society seemed to go spiraling beyond the control of capital's systems to control it, new political forms--particularly those that counterbalanced the increasingly active and appealing communists--began to have extensive cachet. Thus, Henry Ford and the King of England, and capital quite generally, as Smedley Butler warned contributed massive sums--by 1930's standards--to fascist impresarios such as Adolf Hitler, whose Mein Kampf is largely a reformulation of Ford's tome on 'international Jews.'

Furthermore, finance, having entered the first global conflagration unwittingly and chaotically, much more astutely and cold-bloodedly calculated the coming of conflict in the late 1930's. A general 'hedging of bets' went hand-in-glove with the most amazingly bizarre sorts of confabulations(some business 'royalty' shacking up with Hitler, while Armand Hammer was beating a path to 'Uncle Joe's' door, much to the mortification of GOP stalwarts everywhere.

A historian of investing summarizes one aspect of this greater consciousness. "Investors learned from the searing experiences of 1914-23, which saw a wide range of European currencies and securities drastically reduced in value as a result of inflation and outright default. They therefore sought to adjust their portfolios defensively as soon as they saw a renewed risk of world war. Indeed, to judge by securities price data, the City of London (like other markets, notably those in Scandinavia) began positioning itself for another major conflict some years before it actually began. If 1914 was a bolt from the blue, 1939 seemed long overdue."

Indeed, the political- economic and managerial components of war-making and peace policies repeatedly confront class-contradictions and systemic breakdowns among the bourgeoisie. But lessons-learned did not stop at investment strategies. As the inevitable leap in butchery drew nigh, many folks, from FDR and his advisers to plutocrats and bankers round the globe, came to the conclusion that new methodologies would have to come out of this mayhem, or capitalism--if not the human race itself, would surely come to pieces.
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The original 'odd bird,' my stint as head of High School ROTC included my wearing MFS's black armband just before I turned down an appointment to West Point to go to Harvard. There, majoring in bridge, backgammon, and poker for my middle years as (more...)
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