Leaving Democracy to the Experts

Leaving Democracy to the Experts
Leaving Democracy to the Experts

On June 19, the second anniversary of Julian Assange’s confinement to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, WikiLeaks rendered public the secret draft text for the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) Financial Services Annex. The document was classified not only during TISA negotiations, but for five years after it enters into force.

While the TISA negotiations have not been censored outright, they have been barely mentioned in the media— a marginalization and secrecy that are in stark contrast with the world-historical importance of the TISA agreement. TISA would effectively serve as a kind of legal backbone for the restructuring of the world market, binding future governments regardless of who wins elections and what the courts say. It would impose a restrictive framework on public services, making it more difficult both to develop new ones and protect existing ones.

Is this discrepancy between politico-economic importance and secrecy really surprising? Is it not rather a sad but precise indication of where we in Western liberal-democratic countries stand with regard to democracy? A century and half ago, in Das Kapital, Karl Marx characterized the market exchange between worker and capitalist as “a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham.” For Marx, the ironic addition of Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher of egotist utilitarianism, provides the key to what freedom and equality effectively mean in capitalist society. To quote The Communist Manifesto: “By freedom is meant, under the present bourgeois conditions of production, free trade, free selling and buying.” And by equality is meant the legal formal equality of buyer and seller, even if one of them is forced to sell his labor under any conditions, like today’s precarious workers. Today, freedom means the free flow of capital, as well as of the financial and personal data (both flows guaranteed by TISA). But what about democracy?

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on August 12th, 2014. (full text).]

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