Trade agreements in our age are eroding the power of democracy. How? By claiming to be depoliticizing economics, trade, regulations, and making them a technical matter.

I must begin this review with a confession. I had no idea that many of the chickens sold in supermarkets in the United States have been bathed in chlorine. I know all about hormone-enhanced beef and genetically tricked veggies. But somehow I missed the memo on the chlorinated chickens, many of which I have eaten, and many more I'm condemned to bake and braise in the future.

Sponsored
THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP – A Penny Dreadful, playing Feb. 8-26 at Intiman Theatre
Laugh till it hurts at this outrageous camp comedy the NYTimes calls “Wickedly funny!”

Europeans find the idea of American-style "chicken in chlorine sauce" disgusting, and they fear that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would end up putting such chickens on their dinner table. TTIP is a huge trade agreement that's been under negotiation by Europe and the United States since 2013. TTIP should not be confused with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is an agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries including the United States. The left in the US (Bernie Sanders and many others) are far more worried about TPP, and the left in Europe are far more worried about TTIP. With the former, the main concerns that make the headlines relate to the negative impact on American jobs and environmental standards. With the latter, it is Europe's worry about eating the kinds of things that make Americans unhealthy and as stupid as cows.

The proponents of the trade agreements claim that they will generate more jobs than you can throw a stick at and will stimulate the economy. Indeed, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, has gone as far as to call TTIP a cheap stimulus package for an economy that has been slowed by his own austerity policies. President Obama is telling American citizens much the same thing: There is nothing but lots of money for all when TPP goes online. Also, in both agreements, China is framed as a threat that can be checked only by the synchronization and integration of like-minded markets. In the case of TTIP, the argument is that if Europe and the United States set the standards for regulations, China and other countries will emulate those labor and environmental standards.

If you find this anti-China argument uninspiring, and also see the promises of job growth to be a bit unrealistic, then you are in the same boat as the authors Ferdi De Ville and Gabriel Siles-Brugge of TTIP: The Truth About the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. But the point of their short book is to stop talking about those chlorinated chickens and to focus on exactly why these and other trade agreements are bad for everyone except those who manage or own businesses.

One important thing that must be understood about the TTIP: It will not make that much of an economic impact on the lives of ordinary Americans and Europeans. Trade in itself does not excite money out of pure air, out of nothingness. What do I mean by this? In capitalist economics there's a belief that regulations set by the government prevent poverty from becoming wealth. And so all that's needed for money to gush into the world are trade agreements and market deregulations that stimulate this vibrant void of poverty.

The promised universal prosperity of the TTIP will most likely amount to "an extra cup of coffee per person per week." Trade has always been about gains and losses. If you're importing too much, you're losing; if you're exporting a lot, you're winning.

So if the gains are small, what is really going on? Why are so many powerful people in politics and economics pushing for this and other agreements?

It is here that De Ville and Siles-Brugge's book is a success. It says it clearly and logically. It says it without heat or poetry. They explain that trade agreements in our age are about eroding the power of democracy. How? By claiming to be depoliticizing economics, trade, regulations, and making them a technical matter.

"TTIP... resembles key characteristics and trends in the EU and US politics. It shares a depoliticizing nature with recent trends in European integration, where decisions are also increasingly delegated to non-elected bodies and away from democratic institutions." This process has a name. It's called neoliberalism or market fundamentalism. And though many who support this kind of economics claim it is about decreasing government involvement in the market, it is really about transforming the state and its priorities. It's not about less regulation—indeed, it often increases it—but about establishing a social environment that is consistently favorable to the interests of business leaders. "This is our main conclusion about TTIP... it seeks to minimize the constraints imposed by democratic decision-making in public policy." This conclusion can also be drawn about TPP.