A curious example of the Hessy Taft prank? Apropos of the WTO 20 years after its inception

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Photo: Roberto Azevêdo, Director General of the WTO – WTO Photo Gallery 2015

Daniel Salamanca Pérez

M.A. (cand.) International Law and the Settlement of Disputes

United Nations mandated University for Peace

Active Member – The Colombian Academy of International Law

In 1935 after the Nazis had risen to power in Germany and during a time when the Jewish population was being already subjected to very serious attacks, Pauline Levinson took her six-month-old daughter Hessy to the shop of Hans Ballin, a well-known Berlin photographer to have a picture of her taken. A few months later, Pauline found herself in terror after finding out that her daughter’s photo was on the front cover of Sonne ins Hause, a major Nazi family magazine.

She decided to contact Herr Ballin probably fearing the consequences of the Nazis finding out the baby’s true identity, only to learn that knowing that the baby was in fact Jewish he had deliberately submitted the photograph to a contest where the most beautiful Aryan baby was being looked for because apparently he wanted to make the Nazis look ridiculous. He succeeded and the child that was considered as the banner for the Aryan infantry was in fact the ultimate irony of subversion.

The case with the World Trade Organization might be just this or at least that is what the libertarian movement and its think tanks have been arguing for a while through the various blog post and websites dedicated to the dissemination of the Libertarian ideas. They denounce the WTO as managed trade that allows little space to the less empowered individuals, a free market and entrepreneurship.

Outside of what are often labeled as right wing circles, it is almost a mortal sin to stand up for laissez faire economics probably because as I have argued elsewhere adversaries of the system exist not only outside but also inside the philosophical realm of all sorts of liberalism. But it can also be explained by the fact that trade is often confused with free trade and capitalism.

There is a tendency to ignore the fact that imperial projects such as the British, the French or the Dutch flourished through a coexistence of mercantilism and free enterprise. In my experience people are often shocked when one resorts to the distinction to attempt to defend a conception of deregulated capitalism where no intervention of the State is needed to contain the ‘evils’ of free trade.

Having such a mindset it also often comes as a surprise that a defender of free trade may stand against institutions like the WTO. The idea that the Most Favoured Nation or National Treatment clauses are devices to advance free trade and capitalism tend to overshadow the fact that provisions like for example Article XX of the GATT and the schedule of concessions resemble more a letter of marque for States to circumvent the proposed free trade agenda towards the liberalization of markets, not to mention the fact that in the matter of international relations the tensions between “the west” and the rest (in which a lot of peoples include themselves) generate additional resistance to the idea of free trade.

“The market” has come to signify an immense singularity that just as the astrophysical phenomenon is absorbing everyday activities by commodifying every aspect of our lives from sex to thirst, to education or even citizenship. The market is often seen as disrupting national identity or values and is often associated with western colonial powers.

This fact has led to different critiques against the liberal philosophy but seems to have withdrawn all the attention by mainstream legal theory from a study of the claims of corporatism and cronyism that the State regulation creates that possibly end up fueling power dynamics of private companies and powerful private citizens to the detriment of economically disenfranchised citizens.

Though this seems to be more of an economic problem, its implications for already granted and proposed human rights such as equality, the right to development and various economic, social and cultural rights could be of a major entity.

In this sense, it is right about time that we stop just focusing on the claims of neocolonialism or imperialism that schools such as the Third World Approaches to International Law have delivered against free trade, and we start looking forward to assert the truthfulness of the claims against the WTO of civil society groups such as the libertarian movement which in turn could reveal that the absence of a proper free trade mechanism is responsible for much of what is currently perceived as an unavoidable conflict between free trade and human rights.

The question then is if the WTO is really an organization which even since its inception has been really designed to achieve a free market or if au contraire it has been devised in a way in which groups of interest within the States, being able to capture the political power for their benefit,  can use their privilege under the disguise of free market for clear crony purposes.

Soundtrack: Ain’t Got No (I Got Life) – Nina Simone

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