TRICKLE-down economics. It’s a catchy phrase. Revived, I gather, by Democrats in the States to slate Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts for the rich, it’s come to mean the idea that if you make big business more profitable and give wealthy individuals more cash in their pockets somehow the rest of society will enjoy a commensurate boost. Of course, we know only too well that this kind of economic thinking hasn’t delivered. For too long governments have been pushing the trickle-down button and all the while inequality has been growing.
It’s therefore alarming to see it being pursued by the European Union and United States by way of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a deal being negotiated behind closed doors. The clearly stated purpose of the TTIP agreement is to enable the free market to its fullest possible extent.
A rising tide does not lift more boats, and TTIP is a flood that will simply submerge us. Promoters claim it will produce jobs and growth, but when questioned about who will benefit from this growth, they resort to a belief in workers eventually sharing in bigger profits from increased trade.
Campaigners concerned at the effect on the NHS from TTIP have done a great job in recent months to raise awareness of this dodgy deal. It opens the door to private firms running public services, and if private firms are denied these opportunities they could sue the government for compensation. It’s understandable that such an outrageous suggestion has sparked public anger, with our health service rightly deserving protection. But for me, and a growing number of others, TTIP is about much more.
If we look across the Atlantic, to Canada, we can see the direction that TTIP would take us in. Currently, Canada faces nine legal claims from big businesses, challenging government measures that allegedly interfere with the firms’ profits. These include a challenge to a ban on fracking and a challenge against a decision to block a mega-quarry.
TTIP poses a danger to all areas of government, not just health. Take renationalisation of the railways for example. It’s a consistently popular policy and just imagine if we managed to build the political will to make it happen only to be prevented from implementing it because of the profit motive of major corporations.
Another area where we should be seriously concerned is animal welfare. The TTIP deal recognises governments’ rights to protect animal health but this is countered by an emphasis that each and every regulation should not restrict trade. It is proposed that a country’s right to inspect food imports will be limited to exceptional cases, carried out by the exporting country with no right for the importing country to re-inspect.
We could also see a loss of sovereignty with decisions on food quality removed from national governments to a joint EU-US committee, potentially including representatives of the very industry being regulated.
I’ve heard from businesses in Scotland concerned that the deal will undermine efforts here to raise food and animal welfare standards. It is proposed that any new standards would apply across the EU. Let’s face it; that makes it much more likely we’ll see standards lowered rather than raised. Our food producers, particularly small-scale farmers, are already under pressure from cheap imports, particularly products such as bacon. Is a race to the bottom on animal welfare what we want, when consumers are increasingly interested in the social, economic and environmental impact of their purchases?
While it’s understandable that the EU and the UK government want to reassure us that TTIP won’t harm public services, it’s worrying that the Scottish Government and the Labour Party don’t appear to take seriously the threat beyond the NHS.
This is a matter of trust. We’re being asked to place our trust in a backroom deal that gives big investors the prospect of multi-million pound compensation claims if governments do things they don’t like. And what do we, the people, get? Just another promise of trickle-down economics.
Scotland may not have a seat at the negotiating table, but we can make a noise about it.
• Alison Johnstone is Scottish Green MSP for the Lothians