||Issue No. 208||13 February 2004|
All The Way With FTA?
Interview: Trading in Principle
Unions: While We Were Away
Politics: Follow the Leader
Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
History: Worker Control Harco Style
Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
State Of Confusion
Give Them A Medal
All The Way With FTA?
While attention this week has focussed on the baseline losers and winners (if they actually exist) under the deal and the alarming lack of economic modelling on its overall impact, more profound questions about Australia's long-term future have slipped under the radar.
One of John Howard's more celebrated wedges has been his assertion that Australia is not part of Asia, a calculated rebuttal of Paul Keating's vision of regional engagement.
At the time, Howard proclaimed we were more a European nation than an Asian one. Now, as Will Hutton's seminal work 'The World We're In' argues, Howard has a new choice - between the conservative American and expansive, if fledgling, European models of capitalism.
While Hutton writes about Britain's predicament, there are telling similarities with the choices Australia currently faces.
He identifies three core European values: the stakeholder view of property (the proposition that with ownership comes responsibility), the belief in the social contract and the commitment to a vital public realm.
In contrast, he argues, the USA was founded on a spiritual belief that the acquisition of private property was a self-evident good, that social rules were the enemy of freedom and that the only legitimate role of the state was the protection of private property rights.
Hutton sees the current US conservative agenda - embodied in the Bush doctrine of unilateral military and economic dominance - as the end point of this philosophy.
Australia's choice to subvert our national interests - and those of a whole range of producers who saw the FTA as a panacea - and sidle up to the neo-cons - is also a choice about where we see our county going.
Hutton argues the emerging European economic unit is the only
avenue to check its ascent, and while similar trade barriers exist for Australian producers - the mecahanisms to address their barriers are multilateral - that is a set of global rules, that looks beyond market access, to labour standards and environmental measures as well.
For Australians, this is a useful analysis because it makes clear that the model of global capital we embrace is a choice and the model we ultimately choose will have a telling impact on the way our society evolves - or doesn't.
For Howard this is a no-brainer - all the way with George W and his discredited potpourri of Freidman economists (still waiting for the trickle down effect to leave the moneyed classes pockets), preferential trading structures and pre-emptive military adventurism.
But in asking questions about the FTA, Mark Latham is not - as Costello asserts being anti-American - he is merely bringing a rigour to the decision-making process.
If the US experience is anything to go by, this is a formula for increased wealth disparity, spiralling corporate welfare and a growing pile of body bags in a divided and hateful world.
Europe has experienced the pain of dislocation and has learnt - the fusion of Rhineland capitalism, the Nordic welfare state and the joui de vivre of the south is a tantalising mix that embraces the possibility of a more caring, peaceful century.
The Australian Labor Party is already seeking elements of this evolving model, and it may prove a useful way of differentiating it from the Tories
In the wake of the ALP National Conference, it is an interesting distinction to make - limits to executive remuneration, investment in public health and education, a commitment to multilateral solutions to the world's problems
What is clear is that there is no one economic model, simply a series of choices, that politicians and the people who elect them have to make.
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