Monday, August 29, 2011

US as Third World

On August 25 I had a post on Wall Street and how it bought and captured the institutions originally meant to ensure the public was served. I wrote then, and I say here again, the outsized role of the financial sector and the obscene, short-sighted, and shameless priorities of a reckless investor class, complete with unprecedented lack of accountability and legal liability, are at the heart of America's economic difficulties.

Corporate America's dominance of media and public discourse gloss over the fact that said financial dominance was what conservatives wanted; it was they that pushed through legislation favorable to the wealthy, investors (wealthy or not), and corporations. Conservatives, especially the wealthy variety, have gotten most of what they have wanted; lower taxes, fewer regulations, free movement of capital, lucrative defense contracts, and more.

Crap about how progressive agendas have hurt America are the imaginary domain of the ignorant. Union membership is now at negligible levels, far below similar countries. Labor unions have been weak for the last 30-odd years and getting weaker, just what  conservatives wanted.

New Deal legislation had made banking relatively safe and stable for generations. It was conservatives who said barriers between banking and finance were dated and holding us back. So Republicans in Congress overturned Glass-Steagall. Conservatives got what they wanted. Casino capitalism almost immediately ensued; financial meltdown soon followed. They wanted taxpayers to bail out the banks, and without any meaningful reform to prevent further catastrophes or undeserved enrichment. They got that too.

Wages for most workers have been flat for decades, precisely what conservatives have wanted. The US was a wage leader before Reagan; since then, wages for most have been flat. Conservative policy has been to suppress wages however possible. Conservatives got what they wanted.

The list goes on and on; our nation's richest and most powerful get what they want; favorable legislation, weak regulation, accommodating regulators, court rulings, and a compliant press. This should all be obvious to anyone who pays attention and doesn't walk on their knuckles. But reality struggles for attention in the face of a conservative noise machine that continually distracts voters.

Conservatives have also favored free trade, the mantra, the religion, the chiseled-in-stone gospel of laissez faire economics. It is front and center in the pantheon of conservative political economy, right up there with free markets. And here again, conservatives get what they want.

Conservatives, including Republican party operatives, rarely miss a chance to pimp free trade doctrine. American media usually goes along with Republican talking points. Even if one does find articles that dutifully report massive deficits, and even outsourcing, there are few coherent and visible efforts that explain the ramifications in detail and dare to analyze free trade as class warfare or why a lack of industrial policy is destroying us.

To get just an inkling of how international trade is playing out for the US, have a look at the figures below (Data are from Alan Tonelson's America's Increasingly Third World Trade Profile).

Below are the top ten US trade SURPLUS manufacturing categories for Jan.-June, 2011
(billions of current U.S. dollars)

Waste & scrap materials:  +$15.53
Spacial classification provisions:  +$11.44
Plastics & resins:  +$10.19
Soybeans:  +$8.81
Non-anthracite coal and petroleum gases:  +$7.18
Corn:  +$6.67
Wheat:  +$6.45
Cotton:  +$6.39
Misc. basic organic chemicals:  +$3.87
Non-poultry meat:  +$3.85

Next are the top ten US trade DEFICIT manufacturing categories for Jan.-June, 2011
(billions of current U.S. dollars)

Crude oil & gas:  --$121.13
Autos & light trucks:  --$37.82
Petroleum refinery products:  --$27.62
Computers:  --$22.50
Broadcast & wireless communication. equip.:  --$22.35
Goods returned to Canada & reimported:  --$21.47
Audio & video equipment:  --$15.80
Pharmaceuticals:  --$13.38
Telecommunications hardware:  --$12.72
Computer parts:  --$12.67

Notice a pattern? The US has become a big supplier of scrap and raw materials. Although the data do not show it, this is a substantial reversal of a few decades ago, when the US had a trade surplus in a variety of manufactures, especially high-end, high-tech goods.

Now look at the sectors with the biggest trade deficits. Except for oil, they are all manufactured goods that not long ago were among America's biggest contributors to what we once had, a trade surplus.

There is much to address here. My intention in future posts is to further explore issues in international trade and to demonstrate that America's free-trade ideology and the policies and practices that have resulted, are primarily in the interests of the overclass, have shaped corporate America to serve the interests of that overclass, but are damaging for the country as a whole.

Don't let conservatives tell you the US has a trade deficit because our taxes are too high, wages are too high, unions are too powerful, or regulations are too onerous.

They are wrong on every point.

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