We’re in trouble. Although we’ve added a few manufacturing jobs lately, they’re at 1980 wage levels, and we’re still losing the international competition for industry to developing countries like China, India and Mexico. Our national debt is ballooning to alarming levels. This combination of factors means that our decades of improving living standards are over. It’s time for austerity measures.
But there’s a problem with those statements. “We” aren’t all in competition with China, India and Mexico. American workers, engineers and scientists are in that brutal competition. Since corporations can now hire cheap foreign labor and ship products duty-free to the U.S., top corporate executives and their investors are doing quite well, thank you. Also, those who were smart enough to use their tax cuts — to create jobs for workers in the developing world — have become overnight millionaires. In fact, their investment successes have contributed to worsening conditions for American workers.
Americans who are experiencing stagnant or declining wages and are losing their homes are the ones now asked to give up their “entitlements.” The billionaires and millionaires who created our present economic meltdown, or who have simply benefited from stagnant or declining wages for the past three decades, are buying mansions in this country and across the world.
It’s also not quite accurate to describe our national debt as what “we” owe. Around 40 percent of that debt is what our middle class and poor owe to those Americans who have put their money into ultrasafe U.S.-guaranteed securities instead of “creating jobs.” The rest is owed to future national obligations like Social Security and veteran pension funds or to other countries — the ones we gave our industries to capitalize on their lower labor costs and to put a stop to “wage inflation” in this country.
Which adds another wrinkle to what’s happening. The U.S. doesn’t exactly owe money to all the citizens of our creditor nations. For example, Chinese workers aren’t the holders of our debt, and any benefits they may receive will depend upon the decisions of the internationally renowned human rights leaders of the Chinese government. The real beneficiaries of that debt are the Chinese billionaires and millionaires who are buying businesses and real estate in this country, Canada or wherever they can acquire a better standard of living.
Of course, what’s happening in the U.S. is going on all over the world. The same problems plague all developed nations. We’re reaping the results of recommendations made by free-trade economists like Milton Friedman and his “Chicago Boys,” who in the 1980s convinced Reagan, Thatcher and other world leaders that governments were too big, unions were too strong, wages were too high and corporate profits and investor returns weren’t high enough.
Their anti-government, pro-investor, anti-labor, free-market ideology has taken over the entire Republican Party, but it has infected some Democrats also. President Clinton cooperated with the Republicans to give us NAFTA and to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act. All of President Obama’s chiefs of staff have been millionaires from the financial industry, and he appointed General Electric Chairman Jeffrey Immelt to run his Jobs-Focused Panel. GE is one of the biggest beneficiaries of government handouts and a corporation with one of the worst reputations for outsourcing and anti-labor practices.
Everyone seems to hate divisiveness, but should it be politically incorrect to point out that there are destructive conflicts of interests in dealing with our economic meltdown? After all, we as a nation will eventually succeed or fail together. Problem is, the top 1 percent, and especially the top 0.001 percent, of the people who control our country don’t seem to realize it.
Charles M. Kelly is a retired management consultant living in Burnsville and is author of “The Destructive Achiever: Power and Ethics in the American Corporation” and “Farewell Fantasyland: Time for Political and Economic Reality.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.