I used to believe in trade agreements. That was before the wages of most Americans stagnated and a relative few at the top captured just about all the economic gains.
The old-style trade agreements of the 1960s and 1970s increased worldwide demand for products made by American workers and thereby helped push up American wages.
The new-style agreements increase worldwide demand for products made by American corporations all over the world, enhancing corporate and financial profits but keeping American wages down.
The fact is, recent trade deals are less about trade and more about global investment.
Big American corporations no longer make many products in the U.S. for export abroad. Most of what they sell abroad they make abroad.
The biggest things they “export" are ideas, designs, franchises, brands, engineering solutions, instructions and software, coming from a relatively small group of managers, designers and researchers in the U.S.
The Apple iPhone is assembled in China from components made in Japan, Singapore and a half-dozen other locales. The only things coming from the U.S. are designs and instructions from a handful of engineers and managers in California.
Apple even stows most of its profits outside the U.S. so it doesn't have to pay American taxes on them.
Recent “trade" deals have been wins for big corporations and Wall Street, along with their executives and major shareholders, because they get better direct access to foreign markets and billions of consumers.
They also get better protection for their intellectual property—patents, trademarks and copyrights—and for their overseas factories, equipment and financial assets.
That's why big corporations and Wall Street are so enthusiastic about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)—the giant deal among countries responsible for 40 percent of the global economy.
That deal would give giant corporations even more patent protection overseas. And it would allow them to challenge any nation's health, safety and environmental laws that stand in the way of their profits—including our own.
But recent trade deals haven't been wins for most Americans.
By making it easier for American corporations to make things abroad, the deals have reduced the bargaining power of American workers to get better wages here.
The Trans Pacific Trade Partnership's investor protections will make it safer for firms to relocate abroad—the Cato Institute describes such protections as “lowering the risk premium" on offshoring—thereby further reducing corporate incentives to make and do things in the U.S., using and upgrading the skills of Americans.
Proponents say giant deals like the TPP are good for the growth of the U.S. economy. But that argument begs the question of whose growth they're talking about.
Almost all the growth goes to the richest one percent. The rest of us can buy some products cheaper than before, but most of those gains would are offset by wage losses.
In theory, the winners could fully compensate the losers and still come out ahead. But the winners don't compensate the losers.
For example, it's ironic that the administration is teaming up with congressional Republicans to enact the TPP, when congressional Republicans have done just about everything they can to keep down the wages of most Americans.
They've refused to raise the minimum wage (whose inflation-adjusted value is now almost 25 percent lower than it was in 1968), expand unemployment benefits, invest in job training, enlarge the Earned Income Tax Credit, improve the nation's infrastructure or expand access to public higher education.
They've embraced budget austerity that has slowed job and wage growth. And they've continued to push “trickle-down" economics—keeping tax rates low for America's richest, protecting their tax loopholes and fighting off any attempt to raise taxes on wealthy inheritances to their level before 2000.
I've seen first-hand how effective Wall Street and big corporations are at wielding influence—using lobbyists, campaign donations and subtle promises of future jobs to get the global deals they want.
Global deals like the TPP will boost the profits of Wall Street and big corporations and make the richest one percent even richer. But they'll contribute to the steady shrinkage of the American middle class.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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