Archive for August, 2014

Economics, Consumerism, and Individual Responsibility

August 6, 2014

I posted this today on Facebook; it represents my musings about trends I see in the American economy, but it also reflects on world economics.
Something worth considering:
We’ve built a middle class consumer economy in this country based on Henry Ford’s model; pay the workers enough that they can afford to buy the products. I’ll note that Ford didn’t go broke doing that; he got pretty rich, if I recall. And soon other industries leveraged that prosperity by paying steelworkers and miners and construction people better, albeit with a lot of union arm-twisting thrown in.
But then unions became overly powerful and many became corrupt. Membership declined; it’s a great cycle when looked at in this way. Much of the reasoning behind unions went away as government began doing what only unions had done before. To make it seem as if they were still needed, unions demanded ever higher amounts of money, so a cycle of inflation boomed; people got more wages, but they also paid more because everything else went up.
And government pushed quality of life issues; reducing pollution, cleaning up mine and industrial waste residue, things like that; these cost manufacturers instead of increasing profits. So they went offshore.
Gradually we’re taming this; other nations are also being faced with the necessity of controlling pollution of water, earth, air; safety of workers is also a rising issue. The great consumer market in the US, the one China leveraged to raise herself from backwardness to leadership, is faltering.
Competition has become something that companies avoid in the drive for ever greater profits. Those profits are concentrated at the very top. This really is a ‘zero sum’ game; what goes to the oligarchs isn’t available to those who once fueled the great consumer market. Not even the insane advertising industry can prop it up for long. Simply put, there’s just not enough money at the bottom or in the middle.
We once turned our economy ‘outward’ when recessions hit; we employed people making exports and brought in money from other nations. But now they’re largely in the same boat we are. All those developed nations are attempting to export goods and bring money home to aid their economies. Europe calls it ‘austerity’, but it’s the same problem; profit isn’t to be found in manufacturing, in making goods for people to buy, it’s increasingly gained by manipulating money. The stock market is part of that, banking is a large part of it, real estate and speculating in general is a part of it.
And the fallout is distrust in major employers, as well as in the oligarchs controlling our political system. People are fed up in general, disgusted with political scheming and manipulation, they dislike what the president is doing and detest Congress.
One immediate improvement is to begin teaching children that self employment is preferable to employment by a corporation. Once, an employee had a living wage, benefits, and job security if he/she worked for a large corporation; and if the corporation was multinational, that provided security against economic downturns.
No more. All those things have largely vanished. You can spend half your working life becoming skilled at making widgets, only to find yourself turned our with no prospects because a worker in some foreign nation can afford to work for half what you can work for without starving or becoming homeless.
If you become a plumber or an independent mechanic or dentist, you’ll never be unemployed; you might not get rich, but you also need not suddenly find yourself homeless.
It’s time we stopped aiming our children at a future of neo-slavery under the corporate whip; it’s time to emphasize individual initiative, individual responsibility, the necessity of taking care of our individual selves rather than expecting someone else to do it for us.
Corporations specifically won’t. Unions won’t, or can’t. Government won’t, because they’re the lackeys of the oligarchs who run the corporate world.
For those in the middle, there probably isn’t a universal solution. What’s left of your working life is more bleak than rosy.
But maybe it’s not too late to let the future learn from what’s happened in the late 20th–early 21st Centuries.

Comments, and Essays

August 3, 2014

Comments, and Essays:

Apologies for the three month hiatus in publishing on this, my nonfiction blog. I’ve been writing more on my other blog, http://jacklknapp.com, and working on my latest novel, Talent (to be published later this coming week).

I don’t write as often on this blog as I did; that doesn’t mean I’m not writing serious, nonfiction essays, it’s just that I write in other venues. I write novels, short stories (currently published on Amazon under the name of Jack L Knapp), and short essays on Facebook. If you’re interested in following my comments, look for Jack Knapp or variations on that spelling. Or send me a personal message and I’ll provide a link.

The following was my response to a comment made by a gentleman who’s a friend of a friend, although as is common on FB I’ve never met either person:

“Jack – the problem is that Obama doesn’t appear to oversee anything. When anything has gone wrong in any part of the executive branch, he has no knowledge of it — only hears about it on the news. That’s not leadership.”

My response:

“Apparently he’s doing SOMETHING; the House is using tax money to file a lawsuit against him for ignoring Congress. For which, come to think on it, he deserves a medal instead of a lawsuit.

He’s not doing what the Republicans would like him to do, right enough.

So what DO presidents do, or what should they do?

They set broad policy for the executive branch of government, foreign and domestic. They can fire cabinet secretaries and nominate new ones (see my comment about Senate approval above), generally after public disapproval becomes too great. They cannot get involved in the minutiae of departments; there simply isn’t time. That’s why there’s a chief of staff to control who takes up presidential time. They work with Congress to the extent that Congress will permit, although recent Congresses are most noteworthy for a six-year-long temper tantrum instead of any attempt to address the nation’s problems.

Presidents don’t ‘oversee’ anything, in a sense; but in another sense, they oversee everything by setting policy.

Do you really think one man has the time to intervene when a cabinet secretary makes a decision? Even at that secondary level, secretaries are unable to personally make decisions such as where to allocate scarce security funds, funds made scarce deliberately by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

Which president in living memory has been faced by so obstructive a Congress? And why?

Obama made history; he’s the first Black man to be elected to the office.

And thereby hangs much of the problem. Consider the opposition base for a moment. Base is a pretty good descriptive, IMO.

Republican power, supported by gerrymandering instead of by appeal to a majority of voters, is centered on the rural areas and the old south. From Texas to Virginia, and encompassing a number of border states of the old Confederacy, Republicanism has become defined by the region that was historically based on slavery of Blacks.

But the demographics of change now do the same thing that radicals in Congress once did; they ignore southern/Confederate/bigoted opinions. I would add to that last a cult of ignorance, one that’s nurtured by those who exploit those same feelings. Toss in Republicans welcoming any fringe radical with an agenda; they’re welcomed because the enemy of my enemy is my friend, no matter how unsavory. So Republicanism is no longer an ideology so much as it is a collection of ideologies.

Somehow, the idea of the role of government has become, for Republicans, the role of the gun culture, anti-tax activists, military hawks, secede-again-and-do-it-right-this-time activists, anti-immigration, anti-urban, pro-capitalism; through it all is that theme of racism, even though it’s unofficial and submerged under all the other ‘issues’.

Republicans built this base on ignorance; now they’re stuck with the ignorant ones This party is faced with a choice: evolve, or die away.

They’re anti-immigration, especially if the immigrants aren’t lily-white. But immigrants ARE coming in, and we made the situation that drives them out of places like Honduras. We did so by our neo-prohibition, the War on Drugs. Official actions push the drug cartels and gangs from one stronghold to another; American users keep them in business by purchasing their product and financing gang/cartel activities. Ignorant people ignore the connection.

They celebrate the activities of such people as the Koch brothers, two of the more shameless exploiters of ignorance. Koch industries sells a lot of oil, and despite the frequent violent storms hitting the heart of Republican sympathy, Fox News and Murdoch’s other enterprises spin matters to make it seem as if nothing’s happening. Republicans shamelessly follow a lobbyist, even sign a pledge to never raise taxes, even as the infrastructure that defines us as a nation crumbles. Republicans refuse to raise minimum wages so that people on the bottom are immorally exploited, even as they themselves assure that their tenure in government is well rewarded, directly and indirectly.

The party has become defined not by how much they can do to help citizens, but how much they can permit to be done to them by people who have absolutely no interest in what happens to the nation so long as they profit, even as it declines from what it once was.

Republicanism has become the party of exploitation.

Republicans have become a party that will risk the national well-being directly, even shut down the government, as a political blackmail tactic. That last finally decided me; I was once a registered Republican, now I’m an independent. And I vote, like so many other seniors.

But I won’t vote Republican; not now, not ever again.

Even those in positions of ‘leadership’ within that fractured party can’t control their base. Because of where their power lies, the one thing they can’t forgive or forget, the basis of that ongoing Republican temper teantrum: Democrats actually elected a nigger to be president, to live in the White House.

That temper tantrum is very likely to be the cause of the death of this party.

And as it’s currently defined, good riddance.”