While thousands of American manufacturers are slogging along through gut-wrenching lean transformations, overhauling cultures, management processes and factory floors the folks on Wall Street and in Washington are doing their level best to render those efforts moot. Through September of last year special interest groups – mostly investment and banking lobbies – in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have poured some $198 million into the pockets of Congressmen and Congresswomen.
It's important to understand that the real centerpiece of the TPP is free trade with Vietnam. To be sure, there are 16 countries involved, but no one on Wall Street is too interested in shutting down our factories and moving the work to Chile or Brunei. Vietnam, on the other hand, is a big deal.
Like just about every country we have entered into such deals with, China manipulated their currency, ignored intellectual property laws, thumbed its nose at environmental concerns and could care less about worker safety. The net result was ridiculously low costs but all good things must come to an end. You can’t do those things forever without the bottom falling out and the gravy train in China is starting to run out. Costs are going up so the money folks and leaders of ‘manufacturing’ companies that know nothing about manufacturing management need a new place to start the cycle up again. Vietnam has emerged as the destination of choice. Hence, the urgency to get the TPP through.
Lest anyone interpret the Obama administration’s fanatical push for the TPP to mean this is a Democratic initiative, it is important to point out that the TPP effort began under George Bush.
You can see the list of folks who voted in favor of the deal – mostly Republicans, of course, but not exclusively. Just for the record, Vietnam is ranked 119th out of 175 in the Corruption Index – the bottom third; has been flagged by Human Rights Watch as something of a train wreck and getting worse (if you are a Christian you might want to keep that to yourself when you visit Ho Chi Minh City lest you want to find yourself beaten half to death and tossed in the hoosegow); they are 136th out of 178 (bottom third again) in Yale’s environmental quality ranking. In short, Vietnam is a little bit of a hell on earth and American workers and American management will have to go head to head with them.
The TPP is little more than a devil’s bargain between the money grubbers on Wall Street and the criminals running Vietnam, with a wholly unprincipled Washington well paid to look the other way.
Whether the biggest losers are American manufacturing folks, or the Vietnamese people whose lives are being offered up as fodder to be ground up in their sweatshops is open for discussion. But who the winners are can be found in the list above.
And before anyone weighs in on how it will lift the Vietnamese citizenry out of their hell hole, and how there are provisions in the TPP to force them to clean up their act and not manipulate their currency, understand that those claims have been made with every free trade agreement and no one with half a brain buys it any more – never happened – never will happen – and no one is really trying to make it happen.