No George, sorry, you’re wrong here

Remember that referendum about whether we should create a single market with the United States? You know, the one that asked whether corporations should have the power to strike down our laws? No, I don’t either. Mind you, I spent 10 minutes looking for my watch the other day before I realised I was wearing it. Forgetting about the referendum is another sign of ageing. Because there must have been one, mustn’t there? After all that agonising over whether or not we should stay in the European Union, the government wouldn’t cede our sovereignty to some shadowy, undemocratic body without consulting us. Would it?

The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. But I left out the most important issue: the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing.

The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It’s already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet.

No.

This does not kill regulations at all.

What it does do is hold governments to the same contractual standards as everyone else. Thus if a new regulation is passed that means that someone is about to lose a lot of money then you’ve got to pay them that money they’re going to lose. Because, by passing that regulation you are taking that money from them.

37 comments on “No George, sorry, you’re wrong here

  1. Not sure I really understand this, but surely in a democracy the government should be able to pass what laws it damn well pleases. That kinda encourages people not to vote for governments that write bad laws.

    If for example it turns out that some chemical used in food processing or packaging is bad news (yes, we’ve had plenty of these things – asbestos, phthalates and so on that seemed like a good idea at a time but turned out not to be) and the government decides to ban it, imposing some additional cost on some companies, I don’t see it as the government’s job to compensate for those extra expenses.

    That way lies communism – we will have, ultimately, the collective paying for everything that costs more than the lowest common denominator, and paying for every cost incurred in avoiding externalities.

    So even given that it’s Moonbat doing the arguing, the argument seems, on the surface, quite a good one.

  2. The key question on this one is “would you have supported compensation for slaveholders after Abolition?”. If you’re happy to say ‘yes’, then Tim’s view applies. There is no way it wouldn’t have been covered under the terms of the treaty.

    If you’d prefer to say, “no, some shit is so abhorrent that the people who do it shouldn’t be compulsorily given compo when we ban it (whilst still leaving the option open for compo to be paid when things that are less abhorrent are banned)”, then Moonbat’s view applies.

  3. James,

    As I see it, and I may be wrong, the aim of the TTIP and other trade treaties is to create a level playing field and stop countries or trading blocks favouring their own companies by erecting regulation barriers. The Japanese were very good at these 70s, probably still are.

    In the example you give I would assume that you have to get it banned by all Governments signed up to the treaty.

    As for the examples he gives we don’t know enough about the treaties to make a call, but I can’t see companies wasting their time if their isn’t something in the treaties that gives hem at least some hope.

    Strikes me that this is like Murphy et al complaing about the likes of Vodafone but never looking at EU law.

  4. Shame he’s not as incensed about the extra-judicial activities of the IRS and how they effect British citizens, eh? I must have missed that referendum myself.

  5. Perhaps John B woujld care to enlighten us what “shit is so abhorrent that the people who do it shouldn’t be compulsorily given compo when we ban it (whilst still leaving the option open for compo to be paid when things that are less abhorrent are banned)”. I’ll start off with subsidies to wind farmers, what else is there.

  6. I can’t see what could possibly go wrong with this idea.

    I mean, if you sue the government then it isn’t actually money coming straight from Cameron & Co’s pocket, is it? It’s money taken from every tax payer so we all have to pay for this.

    So, if you’re a cynical sort and you believe that governments and big business sometimes have whispered conversations behind locked doors then the following is probably not going to happen.

    Company invests in something, realises it has made a mistake, government passes a law to make that thing illegal, company sues government because that investment wasn’t a mistake at all… it was going to make millions.

  7. @John b

    Was slave trading specifically legal ie was there a law that said it could be done that was then changed or was it something that just started happening and was later banned?

    If the former, then much as I dislike the idea then some compo is justified. If the latter, then no.

    The same goes for the other stuff in Monbiat’s piece.

  8. Britain compensated slave owners, and Wilberforce is on record as thanking God for this as it enabled a peaceful and successful abolition.

    The American Yankees were adamant that no such compensation would be paid, and they had an enormous and devastating war over it.

  9. Ian Reid: in general, this is done by passing laws. If you can persuade Parliament to criminalise windfarms and have them shut down without compo, then that’s what goes down. Should you want to go down that route.

    Ian B: note that I didn’t express the merits of either position.

  10. Anything that cramps the style of the bansturbators looks good, at least on the surface, but if the fucking Federal tyranny is in on the act then it is likely that the thing will be structured in a manner so as to increase political/bureaucratic oppression not reduce it.
    Camoron is a gobshite who would publicly sign his own dick if the yanks or the eeeuww told him to.

  11. Britain compensated slave owners, and Wilberforce is on record as thanking God for this as it enabled a peaceful and successful abolition.

    And rightly so. The reason we can’t say that some shit is so abhorrent that the people who do it shouldn’t be compulsorily given compo when we ban it is because we have about as much idea what will be abhorrent tomorrow as they did. I have heard plenty of vegetarians opine that a century from now society will regard eating meat the same way we regard slavery. I disagree, personally (and vehemently), for a number of reasons, but who knows? Sure we can think of a few other things that were regarded at some point in history as EEEEEEVIL that now are regarded as permissable, normal, or even to be encouraged.

    whilst still leaving the option open for compo to be paid when things that are less abhorrent are banned

    Oh, I see. We’ve established the principle, we’re just haggling over the price.

  12. Well with slavery you had legally-established property rights (e.g. you could sue someone who damaged your slaves), that were then abolished.

    I think m’learned friends would look slightly differently on some regulation that stops you from doing something a certain way. You can insulate houses for example, just that you can no longer do it with asbestos. Banning one particular way of doing something because it has bad externalities doesn’t demolish your business model, particularly as your competitors are put in exactly the same position.

  13. John b: I wasn’t implying that you did. I was just offering information 🙂

    James V:

    Banning one particular way of doing something because it has bad externalities doesn’t demolish your business model, particularly as your competitors are put in exactly the same position.

    But it may significantly harm, or even close, your business. Banning some food ingredient (e.g. trans fats) may ruin your product. The silly EU mercury ban destroyed small businesses repairing mercury barometers (famously). And of course anti-tobacco nuttery has destroyed a considerable number of pubs, and ancillary businesses such as ciggie vending machines.

    Compensation should at least be paid in these circumstances. I personally would go further and allow the suing of both the government and campaign groups for both compensatory and punitive damages; which might be one way to reduce the level of bansturbatory activity in our society.

  14. I personally would go further and allow the suing of both the government and campaign groups for both compensatory and punitive damages

    In certain circumstances, I rather like this idea. Making ASH liable for the pubs they closed, for example. Forcing the anti-hunt lot to rehome hounds at their own expense.

  15. Basically the idea used to be that if someone stole an asset he/she should be obliged to return it or recompense the person from whom it was stolen.
    moonbat thinks that we should have “crony capitalism” where bureaucrats can transfer businesses to their family/pals without any recompense for the guy who invested in and built that business.

  16. Wilberforce did not abolish slavery. Slavery was abolished in England so long ago that we don’t have adequate records and I have never seen evidence that it existed in Scotland (apart from areas that were temporarily ruled by non-Scots).
    So trolls discussing Wilberforce are just trolls.

  17. John 77
    “Wilberforce did not abolish slavery. Slavery was abolished in England so long ago that we don’t have adequate records…”

    What was Somerset’s case about then?

  18. The allowing businesses to sue over policy changes does bother me. Say a government introduces a very expensive subsidy, that’s helping drive the state to bankruptcy. This treaty would apparently make it pointless to reverse course as any future government that eliminated the subsidy would just have to pay equal amounts in compensation.

  19. @ Tracy W
    Good point. a prime example being the solar power subsidy that the current government wanted to reduce from a level that was obscene to one that was merely horribly offensive.
    Oh, but they sued using existing legislation…

  20. @ Luke
    “Somerset v Stewart (1772) 98 ER 499 is a famous judgment of the English Court of King’s Bench in 1772 which held that chattel slavery was unsupported by existing law in England and Wales”
    That totally supports my previous comments.
    I expect that there is a branch of specsavers near you

  21. John 77, if there were no slaves
    (or no one was asserting ownership over another) why did they have a trial? Why did it go to the top commercial judge of the time?

    Clue: a judge saying that slavery was “unsupported by existing law” is not the same as “slavery has not started to exist following the expansion of the slave trade.”

    And I think you’ll find Lord Mansfield spent a lot of time trying to persuade the slave owning interests to settle to avoid having to set a precedent.

    If your point is that slavery was rare in England, and was rendered illegal/impractical *in England* before Wilberdorce started campaigning, I’d agree.

  22. I personally would go further and allow the suing of both the government and campaign groups for both compensatory and punitive damages

    Enabling the suing of governments would be problematic, but allowing the suing of campaign groups would be very difficult to square with the principle of freedom of speech.

    One of the biggest problems I have with the TTIP approach is that it would entrench an extreme conservatism; it might prevent the introduction of future protectionist laws, but it would protect existing ones and with some of the most mercantilist of the existing laws, such as copyright and patent, there are attempts to make them even more anti-free trade.

  23. I suggest that the use of emotive claims like having to compensate asbestos installers is rubbish. Asbestos was legal to install for many years, didn’t stop many of the suppliers and installers being sued into oblivion subsequently did it ?

    Health and safety regulations can be (and have been) misused as a tool of trade, but to imply that where a definite health danger is exposed that one couldn’t get agreement to apply regulations to limit exposure or remove products is farcical. What you might get is disputes into the extent or timing between the treaty partners.

    What this treaty is intended to do is to make it far harder for governments to use specious self interest arguments to attempt to gain political advantage (I say political because in general it never leads to economic advantage, at least not outside the ring of cronies who the government wishes to reward) from unilateral changes to rules and regulations surrounding various markets.

  24. @IanB, you can still make barometers, just not using mercury. You could do it both ways before the ban, only one way after it. You and your competitors are put in exactly the same position – of having to fulfil the demand for barometers some slightly different way that’s less likely to poison the customer. Why is compensation due?

  25. JamesV-

    I am too lazy to look up the details, but there was a small industry in the maintenance of antique mercury barometers which was destroyed by the EU regulation. Initially IIRC it was claimed that they would get an exemption of some kind, but they didn’t.

    I don’t know of any example of somebody being poisoned by their barometer. The actual EU reg was an articulation of the environmentalist wheeze of declaring certain chemical elements evil- mercury, chlorine, lead, and of course carbon- and thus trying to eradicate their usage at all, regardless of actual harm. For instance the Green orgs have a persistent low level campaign against PVC, because it contains chlorine, which is on the evil list.

    But anyway, the point is, the repairers of mercury barometers were put out of business by the government and as such have IMV a right to compensation for loss of current and future earnings. It is not enough to say that they should shift to some other barometer-related industry, since they were not in the business of manufacturing modern barometers and it is highly unlikely that such a transition would be successful, any more than a small business repairing antique carriage clocks would be able to transition to manufacturing modern digital ones.

  26. Another example of this kind of crap is the ludicrous ban on lead in solder, forcing everyone to suffer an inferior product.

  27. Or the recent entirely ideologically driven classification of e-cigarettes as medical products, imposing a huge and unnecessary regulatory burden upon them.

  28. IanB
    ‘The actual EU reg was an articulation of the environmentalist wheeze of declaring certain chemical elements evil- mercury, chlorine, lead, and of course carbon- and thus trying to eradicate their usage at all, regardless of actual harm.’
    Oddly enough mercury became perfectly safe when it was used in manufacturing light bulbs.

  29. IanB, you have picked a really weird example. It is perfectly possible to make perfectly functional barometers without mercury, it is not significantly more expensive to do so, and mercury is actually seriously nasty stuff, not merely a victim of overzealous environmentalism.

    Therefore not making barometers with mercury is a pretty fucking obvious way to go.

    I suspect mercury’s use in light bulbs will also be banned when there is a technologically satisfactory alternative.

    I confess to having a dwindling supply of traditional lead solder in my man cave.

  30. Not fixing them either. Throw the fuckers out. If you really have to have an antique barometer and it breaks, your cottage industry can still make money fitting a modern mechanism in the antique casing.

  31. JamesV, that’s the point. You might not like antique mercury barometers, but other people do, and want to keep them working. They are objects of interest to some people, the same as antique clocks or antique cars. Take that last one; nobody “needs” a motor car from 1920, but many people take pleasure in owning them and maintaining them in their original state.

    So, there was a small industry satisfying that interest, and the EU obliterated it for ideological reasons.

    I guess this is why I’m a libertarian and want makes people, at a gut level, libertarian. It’s understanding that other people have different values. I don’t want an antique motor car, barometer or clock, but other people do. Either you get that or you don’t. If you don’t, you get on a high horse and tell them their antiques are stupid and they don’t have any special right to have them, and so on.

    So anyway back with the point. The EU destroyed a small industry, and that industry should in terms of natural justice be entitled at least to compensation. It should be entitled to go and give the EU commission a good and thorough violent kicking as well; but in practical terms compensation at the very least.

  32. So anyway back with the point. The EU destroyed a small industry, and that industry should in terms of natural justice be entitled at least to compensation.

    Instinctively, it sounds reasonable, but no.

    I think you have to work on the basis that there are some laws which might legitimately be introduced or removed due to improved understanding or technological advancements. Abolition of slavery was one example. As an advocate of free trade, I’d like to see patents and copyright go the same way.

    Now, you might argue that compensating slaveholders was justified on utilitarian grounds (smooth transition, etc.), but I don’t think you can say they were entitled to it on the grounds of natural justice.

    What you’re left with is the concept that compensation is required if the change in law is not justified in some sense, but who is to define what is justified?

  33. @ Luke
    Wilberforce did not abolish slavery outside England because he had no power to do so. He did not abolish slavery in England because the Saxons had done so in the previous millennium. What he successfully campaigned against was the slave trade where shipowners bought slaves in Africa and sold them in America.

  34. The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 abolished slavery in most of the Empire. It was abolished in India by the 1843 Indian Slavery Act.

    Talking about what Wilberforce as an individual had the power to do is something of a straw man. It’s what the political authorities had the power to do, and did with it.

    I really don’t understand what you’re trying to claim, John77. That slavery never existed? That it was never abolished? That Wilberforce’s campaigning had nothing to do with the non-existent slavery that was never abolished? What?

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