Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Rethinking the Rethinking...
Read an article today about the "rethinking of the role of manufacturing in Michigan's economy" (sorry, no link --- bad at bookmarking sometimes). The thrust of the article as that since Michigan has lost 172,000 manufacturing jobs in recent years, an effort must be made to remodel the state's economy to more realistically reflect current economic trends.

A propos of nothing at all, I was reminded of something I once wrote in this space regarding Wal-Mart. Take a jaunt through your local Wal-mart and you'l find very little, besides snack foods, cigarettes and soft drinks, that is manufactured here in he United States. Just about everything else has a little tag or sticker on it reading "Made in China". Or Pakistan. Or Mexico. So on and so forth. Industrial capacity in this country seems to be limited to a few, exclusive fields, where there is heavy profit, but little direct consumer demand amongst the greatest number of people. There are exceptions, of course. Automakers do, in fact, serve the gretest number of American citizens, (as possible) even with competition from foreign imports (it wasn't all that long ago that GM was reporting record SUV sales and profits. This month, GM filed for bankruptcy protection. Go figure.), but they are a small portion of the overall economy.

Steel, another commodity in which Americans used to excel, is also taking an economic hit from foreign competition. American steel is simply too expensive to use in large-scale construction projects.

About the only heavily profitable industries still in America that I can think of are aircraft manufacturing, and anything having to do with war. I do not consider anything related to the health care industry as "manufacturing", per se.

Which, naturally, lead me to start thinking about (who else?) George Orwell, which wouldn't make any sense except for the beginnings of a train of thought that was one of those moments. When one slaps palm to forehead and yells "Dunce!" in a moment of self-disgust. How perfectly obtuse of me to have missed the connection.

Orwell was one of a long line of 19th and 20th century authors, political commentators and such, that foresaw some of these events, although in a roundabout way. Begining, I guess, with Marx (in an infantile way) there was a train of economic and social thought that once believed that with the coming of the machine economy and the expected advances in industrial technique, back-breaking labor and material dearth would be a thing of the past. That once industrialization had reached the four corners of the earth, everyone would have enough of everything and there would never be war, disease, poverty, etc.

Of course, there were always those that would fight against such things ("counter-revolutionaries", "Capitalists", etc) because once material wealth became a commonplace, they would lose their status in society. The "reactionaries", in other words, would fight against the advance of mankind in order to maintain their petty privledges. Others refined this idea further, one of them being James Burnham who believed that instead of encouraging open revolt against this "New World Order" ,or material plenty for all, those who were formerly in control would merely co-opt it, becoming the new version of the robber barons: the managerial class. The Managerial Class would be composed of society's elite: technocrats, educators, highly-trained specialists, etc, and would control and direct that which they would formerly, merely "own". By applying such methods of control, the Managerial Class would, in fact, "own" everything without actually being seen as owning anything. Power would replace visible wealth as the currency of status.

Orwell took this one step further, and borrowing freely from Marx, Burnham, H.G. Wells, and using his direct experience of Fascism, Socialism and World War II, put forward an old idea in a new package: the Hierarchal Society of "1984". In "1984", there is, for all intents and purposes, no industry in Oceania which is not concerned with war, surveilance or terror. Oceania, if it produces anything, merely does so as long as it allows the "party" a pretext for staying in power.
What consumer economy there is, is stocked entirely by slave labor -- the "proles" or the peoples of India and Africa who are constantly fought over and enslaved. It made no sense for Oceania to produce anything, from bootlaces to razor blades, when it could do so easily, if it meant distributing them with the intent of improving people's lives. Improving their lives in any material sense would only threaten the hold of the "Party" (i.e. the managerial class) over the people. So they were kept in a constant state of deprivation while slaves labored elsewhere to produce resources and items that would be used up in constant warfare.

And here's the connection: The United States no longer produces much in the way of consumer goods. It is easier and cheaper to farm that kind of antiquated, labor- and capital-intensive operation to places like India,China or Indonesia, because while the money pumped into these regions vastly improves certain conditions for the workers, it does little to affect the overall wealth of these regions and individuals, and preserves the status of those here who direct the whole enterprise. Outsourcing garment jobs to Mexico or ElSalvador is justified by explaining the benefit to stockholders (lower operating expenses means bigger returns on investment) and to consumers (lower prices means you can buy more for less money), while ignoring the harm it does to Americans (the loss of jobs). The harm, according to the managerial class, is merely short-term, because they assume that those who lose their job assembling bicycles, for example, will somehow find their way into another field (usually defined as "the service sector", which doesn't pay as well, but which is still employment).

What is required is not the "rethinking of Michigan's economic foundation" but a "rethinking of how we continue to let these greedy slobs in corner offices get away with this shit". An American worker can just as easily asemble computers and circuit boards as a Chinese. The difference is the standard of living which each is expected to put up with. A Chinese worker expects no freedom, political or personal, and doesn't (for now) expect to live in mansion. American workers expect both, and thus, have priced themselves out of the market. The apparatus which is supposed to guarentee their rights and standard of living (government, labor unions, etc) has itself been invaded and corrupted by the Managerial Class, and thus, no help is to be expected from either quarter. Which makes this all incredibly funny (funny strange, not funny ha-ha) is that the STATE of Michigan, which has aided and abetted (and helped to accelerate) the loss of 172,000 jobs, has the audacity to announce that it will be working on a solution. It's merely the same cabal working in the same old fashion. Industry will be replaced by low-cost high-tech, which when it becomes expensive or unfprofitable, will be shipped to Taiwan.

I do not call for some sort of proletarian's revolution, because such is not possible in the United States and because such is merely the swapping of one group of ill-intentioned idiots for another. Communism is not my bag, man. But I do call for some sort of awareness on the part of the people who have lost their livelihoods as to whom is responsible, and ask them to hold those people accountable.

In the meantime, I'll go to Wal-Mart and place "Orwell was right" stickers over evrything that reads "Made in China".