Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Can treaty power be used to lock away the ladder of upward mobility?

Talk to any Nobel Prize winning economist and you will hear that inequality is a problem in America. While inequality tends to steal the show, upward mobility barely gets a mention.

Prior to the 1980s, upward mobility was much easier. People could more easily start businesses and become rich doing so, and when I say "easily" I acknowledge that starting a business takes hard work and dedication. What I mean is that it was much easier then than it is now.

Consider the 1950s, 60s and 70s. College was either free or very inexpensive. Young adults on their own could afford a small apartment, work part time and still go to school. They weren't being loaded up with debt and could buy a home after finishing college. The minimum wage kept pace with inflation and productivity. People had money to spend and that made the economy grow.

Before the 1980s, we didn't have giant monopolies like we do now. 6 parent corporations own 90% of the media. 10 corporations own 90% of the food we can buy on store shelves. There are 4 really big banks that are too big to fail and control a majority of the assets in America. There are only a couple of oil companies running the show here. That is what can make it so hard to start a new business.

We tend to think of upward mobility as a sort of ladder that everyone could use if they had the talent and skill to use it. Beginning in the 1980s, there was a campaign mounted to hide the ladder, to make it very expensive to use if it was found, and to make it more difficult to discuss. Anyone who talked about the ladder was labeled a socialist, you know, like Bernie Sanders now. The term socialist is not normally a pejorative, but in current political discourse, it is supposed to be bad if you're labeled a socialist. It's almost as if being labeled a capitalist is a good thing.

What happened to the ladder of social mobility? Keen observers will note that many current and former members of Congress used that ladder. Paul Ryan is noted for his desire to cut community college funding, yet in his early adult life, he went to community college on the government dime. Many of our leaders relied upon government help to "lift themselves up by their bootstraps", yet they often maintain that the rest of us should do the same - but without the same help they got from the government.

Allowing minimum wage to track productivity and inflation was another part of the ladder. As economist Dean Baker notes, sometime around 1980, a decision was made to decouple wages from productivity. This is a public policy decision made by men who prospered in an economy when wages were tracking productivity and inflation very well.

Most of the work of hiding the ladder has been done by old men who seemed to believe that whatever riches they had, it wasn't enough, they did it all by themselves and that it didn't seem fair for them to have to compete with younger people. Better to remove all the help and make the following generations really work for it - without getting anywhere. This is what is being done to our younger generations and anyone else who didn't catch the ride like "The Greatest Generation" and older did.

With the rise of Bernie Sanders on the presidential campaign trail, it is becoming clear to the elites that the people are on to them. They are unable to pass ordinary laws in obscurity to do what they want, so they're turning to treaties and trade promotion authority as a way around the public. The treaties are negotiated in secret, and their working drafts are highly classified. Two treaties under current consideration are well publicized. What isn't generally known is that there are 43 treaties in the hopper, ready for consideration by Congress.

All of them are written with one general purpose in mind: the subversion of the free world into one giant privatized profit center for the lucky few who get to sit under the spigot. The thinking is that the treaties are designed to be invulnerable to court rulings and that once they are signed and ratified, we cannot back out. That is what the major media would have us believe.

The treaties that will parade through Congress are being used not just to remove the ladder, but to lock it away and put it up for rent by those who can afford it. As long as we believe that treaties are not subordinate to Constitutions, that is what will happen.

But there is a way out. The Founding Fathers were not comfortable with foreign entanglements and alliances. So they wrote the Supremacy Clause into the Constitution:
"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding."
In Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957), the Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution supersedes international treaties ratified by the U.S. Senate. The Reid Court stated as follows:
"... No agreement with a foreign nation can confer power on the Congress, or any other branch of government, which is free from the restraints of the Constitution. Article VI, the Supremacy clause of the Constitution declares, 'This Constitution and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all the Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land...’
"There is nothing in this language which intimates that treaties and laws enacted pursuant to them do not have to comply with the provisions of the Constitution nor is there anything in the debates which accompanied the drafting and ratification which even suggest such a result...
"It would be manifestly contrary to the objectives of those who created the Constitution, as well as those who were responsible for the Bill of Rights – let alone alien to our entire constitutional history and tradition – to construe Article VI as permitting the United States to exercise power UNDER an international agreement, without observing constitutional prohibitions. (See: Elliot’s Debates 1836 ed. – pgs 500-519).
"In effect, such construction would permit amendment of that document in a manner not sanctioned by Article V. The prohibitions of the Constitution were designed to apply to all branches of the National Government and they cannot be nullified by the Executive or by the Executive and Senate combined."
So all that talk about freeing up trade is really a facade. The US government cannot confer any new power upon itself by means of a treaty. Investor State Dispute Systems? If they are unconstitutional, they are out. The US government cannot confer sovereignty upon a corporation. Period. Privatizing public utilities as personal profit centers for the miscreant CEO? It's out if found unconstitutional. Preventing states from passing laws you don't like? Well, the courts have found that treaties can help with that. But that doesn't mean we have to accept what is said about treaties as truth.

Organizations like Public Citizen, Electronic Frontier Foundation, The American Civil Liberties Union and The Roosevelt Institute are all non-profit organizations that can help us cull the bad laws from these treaties and assert our rights. They have attracted and collected some of the best talent and skill needed to set the most onerous provisions of these treaties aside.

But they cannot do it alone. We need to be there with them, agitating, lobbying, protesting, organizing, doing whatever it takes to ensure that our rights under the Constitution are respected. With enough effort, talent and skill, we can return the ladder of upward mobility to their rightful owners. The people.
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