Globalisation and Constitutionality
The former USSR had a great and admirable constitution. Constitutions are supposed to be the “law of the land”. Unfortunately, the Soviet constitution was mostly symbolic and pro forma, because the real constitution and the law of the land was contained in the regular economic “Five Year Plans”. These rotating Five Year Plans were the equivalent of terms of government in the electoral democracies, after which they were likewise, reviewed, or amended, or scrapped and replaced with another cycle of Five Year Plans.
Very much the same thing seems to be occurring with so-called “Free Trade Agreements”. These FTAs are taking the form of global political and economic constitutions which supersede national ones, much as the Soviet Five Year Plans superseded the Soviet Constitution. This was the “Trojan Horse” in the CETA deal that bothered Mr. Magnette and his Walloon government. These FTAs have served, in effect, as a usurpation of constitutional government — the equivalent of the Soviet Five Year Plans.
This logic follows from Karl Polanyi’s interpretations of market economy in his essay “Our Obsolete Market Mentality: Civilization Must Find a New Thought Pattern“. It follows from the logic of embedding society in economy and the universal market rather than vice versa. Political constitutions are subordinated to the economic and market logic, enshrined as these FTAs. This is what is meant by “economic society” or by “economism”.
Very few of the pundits commenting in the press see this essential inversion of the relationship between society and economy or society and the market. Mr. Magnette, however, did see it. But to a great extent this is connected with Sheldon Wolin’s observations about “inverted totalitiarianism” in his book Democracy, Inc. That’s because these FTAs function very much like the Soviet Five Year Plans — as the real constitution. The constitutions of political states, democratic or not, are simply expected to “harmonise” with the economic orthodoxy encoded in the FTAs, which effectively means their subordination.
There is virtually no transparency in the design and negotiation of these deals, which are largely conducted and concluded in secret by armies of special interests and technocrats. We are, however, expected to accept on faith that they are being conducted and concluded in the public interest, mainly to “grow the middle class” or are being sold as being “on behalf of the middle class”. This is the “brand benefit” presently being promoted to sell the economic orthodoxy to the public, although much of this is just twaddle and public relations, as much as “a rising tide lifts all boats” was just twaddle and public relations.
In effect, political constitutions become largely symbolic or subsidiary, more like corporate “mission statements” than effective statements of the law of the land. Like the Soviet Five Year Plans, the effective constitution becomes the economic one, not the political one, that rules over and regulates the “universal civilisation of commerce”, which must eventually consume and devour itself as well, just because “the pursuit of the self-interest”, rational or otherwise, knows no limit.
Basically, Mr. Magnette stated “this far, and no further” in resisting the implications of the CETA for its infringement on constitutionality and the right of the public authority to regulate economic activity in the public interest. For this, he was largely vilified by the pundits. But Mr. Magnette is a modern day Laocoön, the man who warned the Trojans about the wooden horse and to “beware Greeks bearing gifts”, and especially where they come bearing appealing promises of global “prosperity” and of “growing the middle class,” or proclaiming “a rising tide that lifts all boats”.
More likely the boat is a Trojan Horse.