Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Downpression

Long before anyone outside of Arkansas had ever heard of Bill Clinton, the world was  going to hell for American workers. Clinton didn't draw up the road map to our economic dead end, but he did lock in the GPS coordinates, and stomp on the gas.  He screwed us permanently by passing  the Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China (PNTR) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) treaties.  He did those things mostly in obedience to the demands of the multi-national corporations, which pretty much own and operate this country and the world.  And he also did it  out of a misguided notion that exporting traditional American manufacturing jobs would provide a better way of life for the most downtrodden and exploited workers on the planet, while causing industry and workers here at home to graduate to a higher or more sophisticated level of  production.  The theory being that everyone here would leave the dirty, sweaty, hard work of yesterday's economy behind, and virtually keystroke our way to economic nirvana. It was the tragically misguided modern Liberal idea of a Brave New World economy.

Decades earlier, though, the dumping of high-end, labor intensive manufactured products and commodities on the American market by foreign countries and companies had already begun the process of destroying middle class jobs and living standards.  Dumping is the illegal trade practice of selling manufactured products below cost into foreign markets in times of excess productive capacity at home.  It is done to keep homeland factories and workers going, and to win market share. 

By the early 1970s this predatory practice was well on the way to hobbling the U.S. steel, auto, electronics, and industrial machinery industries.  As a result, workers and unions came under immense economic and political pressure.  Workers and unions faced job losses, pay cuts, and false blame for the overall social suffering.  Cut-throat competition arose among American workers, and unions started to crater from internal as well as external pressure.  This really marked the beginning of the end of the American middle class.

At first, some U.S. industries, notably steel and auto, tried to pursue legal redress of the illegal foreign invasion.  While there were many instances wherein their claims were validated, the remedies were woefully insufficient, a joke actually.  Soon enough, corporations engaged in the production of high-end consumer goods in America began to abandon their own work force for cheaper production capacity abroad.  They found it in the form of damn near free or slave labor all around the globe. 

This was true even before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition of China from a communist to a capitalist totalitarian state.  Those two events disgorged an almost inexhaustible supply of free workers, at least by our standards, onto the world market.  And the response of the modern false Liberals, like Clinton, was to capitulate entirely to the powerful money interests. 

They invented a jingoistic and pornographically seductive siren call to the younger American generation.  There were essentially two key parts to it.  The scruffy, bedraggled, Dickensian rabble of the third world would take on the burden of  the dirty, smutty, smoke-stack industries, and thereby dramatically improve their own meager economic circumstances.   Most Americans would transition into the high tech information based economy, and do better than ever before.  They would do the hard physical work, we would handle the smart, intellectual services, and everyone would live happily ever after.  A significant majority of young Americans bought  this ugly, privilege-drenched pitch. 

Unfortunately, an awful lot of unhappiness has resulted from this echo of empire delusion on the way to the ever after.  Not the least of which has been the near destruction of the middle class here as well as in much of the developed world, and the indefinite bondage to landless, forced labor destitution for the majority of the earth's population.

The workers of the privileged world willingly overlooked the perpetual plight of downtrodden, oppressed third world workers, subject to unspeakably dehumanizing working conditions for absurdly low  compensation, while kidding themselves that they could enjoy a prosperous future without the need to generate real wealth.

Today, we find ourselves heading up again slightly in terms of the so-called "business cycle."  Many no doubt will giddily embrace the relief from the painful "G" force pressure of steep decline.  They will delude themselves for a while into believing that the vigor of former times will somehow naturally be restored to their living standards.  They will be disappointed. 

Again we are going to top out at a lower level of vitality than we enjoyed before the decline set in.  The good jobs lost in the crash will not be fully restored.  For full recovery to happen, we need a total cleaning out and overhaul of the political and economic system.  That may be in the works, go OWS.  But for now I would nominate a new word for our lexicon.   In Jamaica they call this perpetual pattern of pain and suffering downpression.  I think it fits.

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