Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Chris Hedges weighs in on the Trans-Pacific Partnership's entrenchment of corporate control over mere citizens, while PressProgress highlights just a few of the more obvious dangers it poses. And Blayne Haggart points out that the TPP has nothing at all to do with free trade.
TPP-like agreements are no longer exclusively or even primarily about reducing traditional trade barriers. As Harvard economist Dani Rodrik notes in his 2011 book The Globalization Paradox, with some exceptions (such as Canada’s dairy industry), tariffs have never been lower. Any gains from further reductions would be relatively modest.

Instead, agreements such as the TPP are about implementing policies that have nothing to do with comparative advantage, policies that are often designed to lead to higher consumer costs and concentrated corporate power. Treated as marginal issues, these policies are “free-trade free-riders,” coasting along on an unearned legitimacy.

Today, the free-trade free-riders are central to agreements such as the TPP. Take intellectual property. As Dr. Stiglitz, Dr. Hersh and groups such as Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) have noted, greater drug-patent protection would “limit competition from generic drug manufacturers that reduce drug prices and improve access to treatment, and would accelerate already soaring medicine and vaccine prices.”

This isn’t a bug; it’s the point of the agreement.

The same goes for extended copyright terms. Longer terms are “a windfall for record companies, with little benefit to artists or the public,” as Canadian copyright expert Michael Geist has noted. Economists, including the late Milton Friedman, tend to agree. Prof. Geist also notes that the TPP would increase Canada’s copyright term from life of the author plus 50 years to life plus 70, potentially costing Canadians $100-million a year. Yet the cost of stronger intellectual property protection are played down when analysts sing the praises of agreements such as the TPP, treated like secondary issues.

Investor-state dispute settlement is another free-trade free-rider justified by appeals to comparative advantage. ISDS puts corporations on the same level as states, allowing foreign firms to sue countries, not only for breach of contract or nationalization, but against public policies, such as access to drinking water and environmental protection, that might negatively affect their bottom line.
- CBC reports on Canada's thoroughly unambitious position going into the Paris climate change conference. And Don Pittis comments on our total lack of both coherent emission reduction targets, and plausible plans to meet the targets that do exist.

- Meanwhile, Kate Aronoff discusses how the financial sector is looking to profit from the threat of a climate catastrophe.

- John Tozzi reports on the link between pollution and heart health risks. And Kelly Kenney points out the glaring gap in health education which focuses primarily on individual rather than social factors. 

- Finally, David Macdonald studies how a housing-market correction would affect Canadians, with a particularly alarming impact on young families who have had to borrow extensively to buy in at inflated prices. And Andrew Halata writes about the dangers of prioritizing exclusionary redevelopment of urban areas while ignoring the people who currently make their homes there.

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