When George H W Bush first publicly coined the phrase New World Order, a term previously proscribed to conspiracy buffs, it came as both a declaration of unilateral power, and a brash ultimatum to anyone who didn’t like the way America does business. The sentiment was recently echoed in outgoing President Barack Obama’s final sales pitch for his embattled the TiSA, TPP and TTIP trade agreements.
Speaking at the 71st meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Obama used his valedictory address to spruik the importance of globalisation and free trade, calling on the world to “work together to see the benefits of integration are more broadly shared.” After a quarter century of US economic hegemony in which we’ve witnessed the widespread deindustrialisation of Western economies and attendant decline in living standards, his words ring out with the moral authority of a wet fart.
One doesn’t need an economics degree to see that the current round of trade agreements, far from sharing the benefits of integration, represent a decisive effort to isolate the world’s third largest economy and its population of 1.3 billion from the benefits of global trade. In Obama’s own words “The US, not China, should write the rules of the global economy.”
In keeping with this policy directive comes Washington’s Pivot to Asia, announced by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an October 2011 Foreign Policy article titled “America’s Pacific Century”. The initiative aims to bring together Australia and other US allies in a joint naval deployment to encircle China from the Marshall Islands to the Indian subcontinent. With the US dollar under increasing pressure from the Chinese tariffs, and a Sino-American trade war looming, this can only be seen as a desperate ploy to head off China’s imminent rise to superpower status.
The idea of following the US into a hot war with China is not something any of us wants to think about, but the prospect of losing 40% of our GDP to a failed export market isn’t a particularly cheerful one either. As an island nation, Australia is largely reliant on maritime trade, a large part of which involves supplying China, Japan and South Korea with low cost-per-ton ores and agricultural products. We also rely on a strategic partnership with the US to secure our sea lanes. This relationship, perhaps better described as a protection racket, has now become an exceedingly complex issue.
Australia’s regional security has often come at a high price. While we face no direct military threat from any of our neighbours, either now or in the foreseeable future, for over a century we’ve aligned ourselves with great naval powers, firstly Britain, then the US, to protect our sea lanes and safeguard the backbone of our economy. In return we’ve been called on to supply cannon fodder for imperialist wars in Africa, Europe, South-East and Central Asia, and the Middle East.
To fully understand how a largely self-serving political class is happy to send Australian servicemen and women to kill innocent children in faraway lands, but does nothing to prevent the wholesale export of our manufacturing jobs to third world countries, we must examine closely the relationship between geopolitics and global capitalism.
Initially established as a British penal colony, Australia has always remained to a large degree a vassal. Our loyalty to Britain was not so much challenged as usurped by the polarising shift in global power which came about after WWII, when the US formally took the reins of the British Empire.
The post war years saw the transformation of the US into a permanent war economy. Military Keynesianism created jobs and boosted economic output, while social spending decreased proportionately. War as it turns out is not just good for business, it is essential to the American business model, accounting for 54% of all federal discretionary spending. The world’s three biggest arms manufacturers, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman together raked in well in excess of $100bn last year alone.
Australia for its part has committed $24bn to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has been widely described as a lemon; overpriced, too slow, lacking manoeuvrability and highly visible to radar. This comes on top of a $32bn annual defence budget and a further $50bn for 12 new submarines. Meanwhile we are told we must tighten our purse strings and cut social spending in the name of budget repair. It hardly makes sense.
Alas the postcolonial apple never falls far from the tree, and while we’ve been busy fighting America’s wars abroad, at home we’ve seen the rapid transformation of a relatively successful proto-Scandinavian economy into an American-styled fascist oligarchy. When $50bn worth of tax cuts for the rich must come at the cost of slashing already inadequate welfare spending, something is arse about.
The Trans Pacific Partnership is the trade deal to end all trade deals. TPP calls for the elimination of tarrifs and absolute protection of property rights. (No more cheap generic drug substitutes or plain packaged cigarettes.) Add an investor-state arbitration process allowing corporations to sue governments for lost profits and you have a recipe for corporate control over governments and citizens. With the levers of power now firmly in the hands of big business, this deal will be pushed through by hook or by crook.
Some call it neoliberalism, but fascism by any other name would smell as foul. The dislocation of the working classes, dismantling of public institutions and removal of civil liberties we see today are the hallmarks of a corporate coup d’état. That the same agenda was advanced by the corporatist movement in Germany, Italy and France during the 1920s should be cause for consternation.
(1) shift power directly to economic and social interest groups;
(2) push entrepreneurial initiative in areas normally reserved for public bodies;
(3) obliterate the boundaries between public and private interest — that is, challenge the idea of the public interest.
– John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization. (1998)
Today we are witnessing a relentless attack on the welfare state which affects every aspect of our lives. From our early education to the ‘news’ and entertainment we consume, we are hoodwinked into a culture of victim blaming, invited to believe that that merit, rather than exploitation, is the pathway to success; that the rich earn their privileged status, and the peasants deserve their poverty. This normalisation of moral bankruptcy has affected a massive transfer of wealth and power to a predator class commonly referred to as the one percent.
The rich get richer, the poor get the picture, and the only solution offered is more of what got us here in the first place – further deregulation and the wholesale privatisation of public services. Everything from prisons to hospitals to the triple zero emergency service is now for sale. This is capitalism off the chain, doing what it does best; increasing profits and driving down the cost of labour. The social contract is being put through the shredder while our leaders are either bought and paid for, or simply lack the moral courage to imagine a future which benefits anyone but themselves and their crony mates.
“Australia is a lucky country run by second rate people who share its luck”, wrote Donald Horne in 1964. It was meant as a chastisement, not a metaphor for sun, sand and surf. In 1976 he added “In the lucky style we have never ‘earned’ our democracy. We simply went along with some British habits.”
Unfortunately Britain, and more recently the US, have not been the best of role models. Our blind pursuit of Thatcherism and Reaganomics has led us into an economic cul-de-sac. In skilfully unburdening ourselves of a cumbersome manufacturing sector dependent on government handouts, we have become the definition of a third world economy, subsisting on primary production, tourism and a questionable ‘service’ industry. Instead of building a robust and diverse economy, we’ve undermined ourselves at every turn. Rather than learning to stand on our own feet, we’ve become a nation of obsequious sycophants; the trinket consuming white niggers of the antipodes.
Having acquiesced to the US dictum of preferential free trade, manufacturing will now be shipped offshore in pursuit of cheap labour. Ford will make its cars in Thailand for $6 and hour, while our whitegoods will be made in China for $3.50 an hour. Meanwhile garment manufacturers in Bangladesh will continue to be paid 21c an hour. Behold the New World Order which George Bush forespoke.
Australia today finds itself backed into a corner. Hitching our wagon to the greatest military power on earth has shaped our nation in two ways: Able to scratch a modest living digging up rocks in our backyard and flogging them cheaply to our neighbours, we’ve neglected to develop our economy much beyond primary production. Meanwhile with US military power largely unchecked since the end of the cold war, we find ourselves locked into a relentless cycle of military aggression, spending blood and treasure on foreign battlefields to line the pockets of the Bushes, Cheneys, Murdochs, Rothschilds, Exxon-Mobils and Raytheons.
Finally there is the case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who currently resides in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, unlawfully and arbitrarily detained by Sweden and the United Kingdom at the behest of the United States on trumped up allegations of sexual misconduct. (Apparently speaking truth to power has not yet made it into the statute books as an extraditable offence.) What a sad indictment that a small country like Ecuador is prepared to stand up to US bullying and defend the rights of an Australian citizen, when all it would take is the jot of a pen to have the AFP escort him to the nearest airport, put him on a plane, bring him home and grant him diplomatic asylum in his own country. What is the US going to do about it? Withdraw its military bases? Surely we are owed some quid pro quo.
If politics is the art of the possible, then our current strategic alliance may be our only short term option. But what about the future? What happens when US interests directly conflict with our own? Do we really want to be drawn into a regional conflict with a major trading partner? And what of our future economic prosperity? Will we continue to allow free trade agreements to be rammed down our throats at the cost of local jobs? Do we really want a US-style health system? These are all serious questions which must be addressed with long term thinking. Unfortunately our political class seem to have their fingers in the till or their heads in the sand, or both. We talk of being nimble, yet do our utmost to stifle innovation. Instead of putting the welfare of our citizens first, we pander to multinational corporate interests and their rapacious greed. Risk averse, conservative to the core, perennially lazy, blinkered with ignorance, and too short sighted to see the car crash ahead of us, we remain as ever the obedient servants of the empire.
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