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The Free Trade Agreement TTIP - New Version of the "Golden Age"

by Christine Wicht Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 at 4:46 AM

Lobbyists and think tanks of transnational corporations dreamt of a global market without limits. With enticing slogans like more economic growth or creation of new jobs, the population should accept the trade-and investment agreement.


By Christine Wicht

[This article published on January 27, 2014 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,]

In 1873 Mark Twain and Dudley Warner wrote the social-critical satire “The Golden Age – A History of Today.” Over 140 years later this history is as current as the so-called “Gilded Age.” In his book “One World,” the American sociologist Charles Derber connected colonialism and globalization and saw the “Gilded Age” as the window to the soul of globalization. For Gerber, the corpse of the “Golden Age” was dredged up again with globalization, an economic epoch during which the riches of several “robber barons” multiplied incredibly on one side and mass poverty and corruption spread on the other side. TTIP could repeat the history of the “Golden Age” and actually become a “history of today.”

The History of Today

For quite a long time, lobbyists and think tanks of transnational corporations dreamt of a global market without limits. Lobby organizations and politics joined together in a free trade fever to maintain and develop their leadership role in the world economy. With enticing slogans like more economic growth or creation of new jobs, the population should accept the trade- and investment agreement (Transnational Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP).

A transatlantic free trade zone free from social and moral obligations, without controls, without an accounting duty and without a political countervailing power promotes an anarchist world economy with unparalleled power. A comparison presses with the power of the “robber barons” in the United States of America at the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century as Mark Twain and Dudley Warner satirically pilloried in the “Golden Age.”

The letter abbreviations “T” and “I” in the agreement stand for “trade and investment” or trade- and investment freedom. Negotiations on the agreement are carried out in secret. It was leaked that lobbyists brought proposals for the negotiation mandate of the European side. The theme of the negotiations is above all demolishing the so-called “non-tariff trade barriers” and not only the removal of (not6 very high) tariffs. The non-tariff barriers make market access difficult for foreign suppliers. For example

• technical norms, standards, environmental clauses and consumer protection provisions

• identification obligations

• lowest import prices, import and export taxes

• controls over foreign investors

• targeted money market controls

• non-public awarding or allocation rights

• anti-dumping regulations

The profiteers of this dismantling of barriers obviously hide the fact that the import pressure of hormone-meat, genetic corn and chlorine-chicken would be allowed in the European Union and so forth as consequences and thus runs counter to the principle of political self-determination in the European Union.

Trade- and Investment Agreements Create an El Dorado for Investors

The “mechanism for settling investor-state disputes” shifts the jurisdiction to the economic plane and creates a special jurisdiction contradicting the principle of separation of powers.

Regarding the free trade agreement, it is important that the competence of the European Union was expanded in relation to the negotiation and acceptance of trade agreements by the Lisbon treaty to the realm of foreign direct investments. This means the Council of Ministers decides with a majority (and without the power of veto of a single member state) over acceptance of trade agreements. EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said in a press announcement of the EU commission in Brussels on December 12, 2012:

“This is a decisive advance for the investment policy of the EU and one of the most fundamental updates of trade policy since the Lisbon treaty. Bilateral investment agreement resolved between EU member states and third parties and gradually replaced by EU-wide investment agreements will be given a more secure legal foundation. In this way the foreign investments of the EUI will be protected and investors will have legal possibilities for defending their interests if necessary…”

This means practically: an Eldorado for investors should be created. These investors do not want to be restrained any more by national environmental regulations, employee rights or consumer protection in conducting their business. This dream could become a nightmare for EU citizens because standards and protective rights gained through political struggle are attacked with investor-state lawsuits. At the moment negotiations on investor-state lawsuits are suspended. However the demand will soon be on the table. (The Attac youth group created an Advent calendar critical of free trade showing the excesses of the investment-protection provisions. See the article by Lori Wallach :TAFTA – The Great Subjugation” in Le Monde diplomatique).

Deja-vu or Everything is the Same

In an 1873 social-critical novel titled “The Golden Age,” Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner denounced the corruption and brutal materialism of the early American capitalists. The Golden Age describes the time of the “Gilded Age” when the so-called “robber barons” led by J. D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie, as the American sociology professor Derber wrote in his study, cooked the little soup of a common America-wide market at the end of steel, banking, railroads and oil.

In his book “One World,” Derber draws connecting lines between colonialism and globalization and sees the “Gilded Age” as the window to the soul of globalization. For Gerber, the corpse of the “Gilded Age” was dredged up again with globalization, a “Golden Age” that on one side multiplied riches in an incredible way and on the other side mass poverty and corruption spread (p.55). The “robber barons” operated sweatshops that were a sad anticipation of today’s factories in developing countries (p.34). 80 percent of the workers of the “Gilded Age” who slaved away 12-16 hours daily remained poor all their lives. The reason for that was the low wage level that the “robber barons” maintained through exploitation of the local worker pools among the immigrants at that time, above all through prevention of unions.

The “robber barons” were “globalizers of a nation.” The new gigantic US market that they created was greater than any European colonial empire. Their figurehead was John D. Rockefeller and they were famous through the formation of Standard Oil, US Steel and the Morgan banks and on account of the gigantic profits gained in an unscrupulous way against unions and with the exploitation of immigrants (p.59).

In their “integration” of the economy from New York to California, the “robber barons” demolished democracy and unhinged the existing social order. Derber emphasizes that “robber barons” sold off society and politics and did not only carry out an economic crusade. They took over the supporting pillars of society, the government, schools, press and the church. “In a word, the economy began to devour the whole society” (p.58).

For Derber, the protective wall between big businesses and government had fallen. Economy and government formed an intimate partnership within the nation states and in the world system. In the new system the government still formally had the power to exercise control but that power was transferred to a partnership that increasingly dominates the world in peacetimes (p.68). In the incestuous fusion of the economy and constitutional government, governments seem to act like economic enterprises and businesses act more and more government authorities (p.69). Derber grapples with the so-called market democracy that suggests participants in the market, consumers and investors, vote on their likings and this vote is more important than the election ballot. Market democracy provides t6he illusion of a power claim. While based on the principle “one dollar, one vote,” market democracy is extremely undemocratic and enlarges t6he chasm between poor and rich since it gives the rich a much greater political representation (p.85).

“Free trade,” Derber explains, the mantra of present days, was almost always determined by rules and conditions defined by the more powerful partner (p.49). For Derber, the harsh rejection of unions is characteristic for global free trade zones (p.52).

Taming the “robber barons” succeeded through the resistance of unions and democratic counter-movements. The government6s of the “progressive era” and the “New Deal” ensured more social balance and general prosperity (p.85).

Dirk Juergensen edited the book “The Golden Age – a History of Today.” In the Foreword, he wrote that the novel by Charles Dudley Warner and Mark Twain is still current and burning today.

“Technological progress in general and the absolute freedom of the unbridled market in particular, the development to an economic imperialism brought a new nobility, the money a4ristocracy or “high society” to the United States organized basically democratically. Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Carnegie are only several names of the top capitalists who are described as “robber barons”… Increasing corruption, the ruthless suspension of basic democratic rights, lobbyism, cronyism, the arrogance of the uncoupled world of the upper class and speculation with fictional assets without a real demonstrable foundation should demonstrate the unending upswing and the epoch of infinite chances. The poverty and discontent of the numerically dominant social circles increased who did not profit from the entire upswing or suffered amid the side effects of the all too free market… In 1893 a financial bubble burst. Building the railroads went beyond what was really required and became the largest industrial branch. Construction projects were financed through expected future profits. Businesses began to remove rivals without having real financial foundations…

Then as today economic power, media and politics form an alliance against the interests of a large majority of the population with the goal of subjecting the social market economy to a modern feudalism. The interest of global conglomerates is opening more markets, creating a favorable investment climate and dismantling worker rights, social rights and ecological standards. This development leads increasingly to a subordination of the conduct of individuals under the will of the economy..

These are characteristics of a totalitarian regime. The state as guardian of the economic and social system loses its significance and power since global conglomerates declare their own rules as general rules or universally valid. That competition needs a sense of distance and social responsibility is ignored. If the planned free trade zone TTIP is created, this will be a novel attempt, as Derber writes, to unhinge democracy and the social order.

Environmental organizations, global justice movements, unions and anti-lobby networks must join forces on the European plane and fight together as an alliance against a new “Golden Age.” A network alone will not get the better of the superior strength of the conglomerates. The possibility for a sustainable, social and democratic globalization from below only exists when citizens with their social, environmental and consumer-political demands stand up for political achievements and rise up against a corporate-contr4olled economic system and from an effective counter-pole.


“Alternative Trade Mandate,” 20pp, 2013

Noam Chomsky, VIDEO: “How to Ruin an Economy,” 35 min, February 12, 2014:

Public Citizen Report, “NAFTA at 20,” December 2013

Lori Wallach, “Corporate Invasion,” December 2013

Lori Wallach, “TAFTA – The Great Subjugation” in Le Monde diplomatique, 11/8/2013,a0003.idx,0

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