Sunday, November 21, 2010

THE DEATH SPIRAL OF THE U.S.A.

We don't talk about the big elephant in the room - and no, I don't mean the G.O.P. We do talk a lot about the situation in America that has been vexing us for a few years now - the Great Recession. We talk about the lack of jobs, the poor condition of our educational system, expensive health care and insurance. We bitch and moan about the wealthy Wall Streeters whose greed has no bounds. We argue about taxing the rich, or not. And the revolution du jour is about BIG GOVERNMENT and the need to cut it down to size and limit spending. Oh brother!

This is all talk about the symptoms, not the causes. As long as we limit our discussions to the above topics, following the lead of the so-called news media like FOX, CNN and MSNBC, we'll continue to fight each other while our country spirals ever downward.

The USA is a post-developed nation. We're not Numero Uno any more, except as the world's largest arms dealer. We don't place anywhere near the top on lists of countries rated by hunger, health care, and education. We've become a debtor nation running way below empty economically.

And we're trapped in this death spiral. Here's how I see it: with the exception of the top 1 percent of American earners, American wages have declined over the past few decades. This has led to the Walmartization of America under which we shop where we can get the lowest price. these low prices are a result of importing consumer goods from countries where the costs of production, both direct and indirect costs, are much, much lower than they are here. Millions of American jobs have been shipped overseas by corporations in order to cut the costs of producing goods, thus increasing profits (for those 1-percenters, above). The result is fewer jobs and lower wages for American workers, thus continuing the spiral.

How about an example? General Motors (note: I'm not picking on GM, it's just a good example). GM sold more cars in China last year than in the U.S., and most of those were made in China by GM-Chinese joint venture companies. Some Chinese-made GM cars are imported into the U.S., and those numbers are expected to grow unless American unions can fight them off. And the GM IPO last week? A major part of it was "co-managed" by two major Chinese banks (reportedly the first time foreign banks have had that position in an American company IPO), and GM's Chinese manufacturing partner bought $500 million of the offering. This isn't necessarily bad news, but it underscores the reality that GM, like so many other "U.S." companies, is really an international firm.

And American workers? A recent poll found that between June 2009 and June 2010, foreign-born workers in the U.S. gained 656,000 jobs while native-born Americans lost 1.2 billion jobs. However, these immigrant workers experienced a sharp decline in wages.

Are there other symptoms to look at? Sure. Last week here in Portland we read the news about an Australian company that wants to build a large exporting facility on the Columbia River, from which they intend to export U.S.-mined coal to China. Kinda sounds like a Third World country having it's natural resources exploited by the developed world.

Is there a way to reverse this downward spiral? I don't know, and I worry that the game is already over. We somehow have to create more jobs here that pay a living wage, jobs that once again produce many of the consumer goods we buy, and educate ourselves so we understand that it's OK to pay more for these goods because that keeps the jobs here and puts the money in our pockets that we spend on these goods. And yes - we need to tax the rich!

I hope Americans come to our collective senses very soon. We won't be saved by the Sarah Palins, Sharron Angles and Rand Pauls of the world; they are only doing the dirty work of the big money interests that bankroll them. They keep us at each other's throats while they sit back and add up their profits. Again, don't get me wrong, wealthy folk have an important role in this society, but that role has to benefit everyone, not just the few.

Come on America - we can do it!

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