I just finished the book Bad Samaritans: The myth of free trade in the secret history of capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang. I consider myself moderately well informed on what the Trans-Pacific Partnership is really about, but I have a lot to learn, and reading this book and talking to Wayne is the beginning of my journey for doing that.
Wayne Lewis was a fellow Bernie Sanders delegate from New Jersey at 2016 Democratic National Convention. We met on Monday morning in the state delegation hotel lobby, waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where in a couple of hours Bernie Sanders would speak to his entire delegation.
He met his wife at the Borgota, where she works. He lives 15 minutes north of Atlantic city, and we are currently at a restaurant about 20 minutes west of there (I live about 50 minutes northwest of the restaurant).
Wayne has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and biophysics and graduate degrees in molecular biology and pure mathematics. He taught mathematics at Penn State University, and for the last 10 years has been a professional poker player. “I’m a systems thinker. I like to think about nonlinear, dynamic systems.”
From our interview on Wednesday early afternoon at the DNC (at the 18 minute mark):
I had very little experience in politics. It was Bernie Sanders who actually showed me the way to go with respect to politics. [This] is the first campaign that I’ve been involved with. I voted basically Democrat, but without giving much thought to it.
There was a period where I was just, like many Americans, wrapped up in my own life. Wrapped up in what I was doing to make money, and the relationship with my family. And just not really paying much attention to what was going on outside of my own little world.
Interestingly, about three years ago, a friend of mine who is pretty conservative, he’s a Republican, said to me–and I used to say the same thing a lot of people say: ‘Why even bother? Your vote doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all rigged. And what’s the point?’.
My friend said to me, “You know, you do an awful lot of complaining about the way the things are. And if you don’t get involved and you don’t vote, you don’t really have a right to complain.
This prompted him to dive into researching many issues, discovering how serious many issues are, and how everything is interconnected. Interrelated systemically.
It was at this point he saw Bernie Sanders, who put all of these pieces together into one coherent narrative, and was swept up into the campaign. Bernie Sanders was not the catalyst for him becoming involved, the issues were the catalyst.
According to Wayne, in a nonlinear, dynamic system, the pieces are interconnected in multiple ways, like computers on the Internet. The characteristics of each piece is not as important as the pattern of the connections between them. While the individual pieces are important, it is critical to balance between focusing on the pieces and on the whole, or connections.
Like at the DNC on Wednesday morning, this once again prompts the discussion on how in Bernie Sanders’ stump speech, every concept he talks about is intricately related to all of the others, And what’s most attractive about him is the narrative that weaves through his entire speech and platform. We agree that he has found the right balance between focusing on the “trees” and the “forest,” and also on how deep he goes into each issue, at a level most conducive to the general public understanding it. Wayne agrees and thinks that Bernie understands a lot more than he lets on.
This is as opposed to Hillary Clinton, who says many interesting and positive things–setting aside whether or not she means it–but there’s not much relationship between each topic. I suggested that Hillary looks too closely at the trees, to which he replied, “No, Hillary is looking at the individual cells of each tree.” He goes on to describe the term “reductionism,” with the analogy of dropping individual grains of sand on to a flat surface, slowly, at a regular pace. After some time, some of the grains will be touching one another, and eventually there will be a pile of sand. By this point, examining individual grains is no longer as important as the relationships between then. Once the pile becomes substantial, each new grain that falls can cause a landslide, affecting anywhere between a single grain and the entire pile. The concepts of chaos theory and fractals briefly come up at this point.
Moving onto free-trade, Wayne says that at its most fundamental level, free-trade is colonialism. It’s “about turning countries into colonies.” While wealth inequality is unfair to the less powerful and wealthy within a country, colonialism takes that to an international scale, with rich countries bullying developing ones. Interestingly, as a result of the New Deal, and especially due the period of the 1940s through the 1970s, while colonialism was active around the world, the strong middle class in the United States made everyone in our country benefit from it. Now our middle class is once again suffering like developing nations.
What used to be done with military might, is now accomplished with the three organizations created in Bretton Woods in 1944: The World Trade Organization, The International Monetary Fund, and The World Bank. According to Wayne, “They are the machinery of neo-liberals.” (Roughly speaking, neo-liberalism is defined as “those who want more free trade.”)
Like the Democratic Party in the United States is ostensibly for representing all the people, these three organizations are supposedly for equity among all countries as it relates to trade. And like the Democratic Party, these organizations only allow the rich and powerful nations a full seat at the table, therefore perpetuating this so-called “free” trade worldwide, where the rules are exactly the same for all sides, despite the players having vastly different capabilities, maturity, and resources. Free-trade, specifically, is “extracting wealth” from others in order to make yourself richer–not just getting more wealthy, but doing so at the involuntary expense of others.
Wayne suggests that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will turn all of its member countries, including the United States, into colonies of multinational corporations. “[I]t’s a little bit shortsighted in that, eventually, they’re cannibalizing their own markets. There’s no one left to buy their products.” The odious Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision of the TPP is the super-government that trumps all branches of our own government (not to mention those of all member states), where multinational corporations can sue countries, in secret, in a court that is out of reach of common citizens.
According to Naked Capitalism, the ISDS provision
allows for secret arbitration panels to effectively overrule national regulations by allowing foreign investors to sue governments over lost potential future profits in secret arbitration panels. Those panels have been proved to be conflict-ridden and arbitrary. And the grounds for appeal are limited and technical.
In essence, it means that countries can do nothing without the approval of corporations. But, according to Wayne, regarding the ISDS, “the cat’s out of the bag,” meaning that the public is well aware of the dangers of this provision, making it less likely that it, and potentially even the TPP, will pass.
That President Obama and so many in Congress would allow this loss of sovereignty to happen, rendering their own jobs useless, is mind-boggling (let alone the rest of the horrors in the TPP). Or more precisely, rendering the jobs of their successors as useless. Clearly they are getting something out of it. Wayne suggests that perhaps they are doing the best that they can, in listening to the “experts” and making what they believe is the right decision. To me that is no excuse for ignoring the less powerful, who are clearly against it, all suggesting something more sinister or selfish.
If the TPP takes hold, getting out of it will take decades, superhuman efforts, and tumultuous events. This is evidenced by the European Union and its Brexit and crisis in Greece. Progressives in the United States are currently fighting money in politics, but if the TPP passes, we will have to fight for decades to get rid of that, before we could even consider fighting money in politics again.
Back to colonialism. Where exactly does the motivation for this selfishness come from? Wayne suggests that, like our government’s campaign finance system, the very fabric of our market economy condones unethical behavior, by promoting the needs of the shareholder over the original intention–the spirit–of the company. A corrupt CEO and his direct reports may be removed, but no matter who replaces them, the corrupt system remains.
In the short-term, fixing the system requires all stakeholders–not shareholders–to have a seat at the table (one person one vote, not one dollar one vote). This will either be done by the already powerful granting seats to the less powerful, or by the less powerful demanding it (or by rendering the more powerful irrelevant).
Wayne suggests that the longer-term solution is for communities that are currently dependent on far away multinational conglomerates, such as for power generation and internet access, to join forces with other local communities to become self-reliant. To bring those far away resources and services as close to home as possible (placing it under their control). The goal is not to isolate the community from the outside world, rather to dramatically increase its self-sufficiency should they become disconnected. An example is aggressive installation of solar and smaller scale wind generators. After the interview, he elaborates: Local communities that are
atonomous in terms of food sovereignty, energy sovereignty, mobility sovereignty and basic production. Worker owned coops, farming coops, housing coops, and Commons management all have roles to play.
Other novel ideas are constantly developing. Local sovereignty, and distributed networks of functionality provide resilience to societies. In this, we aim to emulate the resiliance of natural ecosystems of every scale up to and including the living earth. It is distribution of function within and across scales of organization which provides this resiliance, similar to what Nasim Nicholas Taleb calls antifragility.
He ends on an interesting and unrelated note, speculating that the fossil fuel industry may undergo its own “quantitative easing” (giving them about $4 trillion with no strings attached), in an effort to permanently shut down the industry, to once and for all transition to green energy.
After the interview, he shares this with me:
Clouds In Each Paper, by Thich Nhat Hanh
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.
“Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be”, we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.
Below are all of the sources that Wayne recommends during our conversation, plus a few more he gave me after the interview. He says:
All these sites are examples of of systems thinking applied to human society, and involve thinking about synergistic multidisciplinary solutions rather than the traditional, patchwork treatment of symptoms with unidimensional shortsighted solutions which always have unforseen effects downstream.
You can follow Wayne on Twitter at @WayneLForBernie