- From: Brian Running <brunning@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2007 15:58:15 GMT
Because so few people are willing to spend the extra bucks for stuff
made elsewhere that the companies not moving manufacturing to lower
wage countries are simply going out of business. Because "we" as a
collective bunch of consumers have voted with our dollars and chosen
low prices as such a dearly high priority in what manufactured goods
we've purchased and we're living in that bed we've made.
Well, that's certainly the popular line.
A few questions: Why are people unwilling to spend more today for a domestic product? Two reasons -- they have less disposable income and domestic products are often not as well-made. Why do they have less disposable income? Our standard of living, as measured by any number of indicators, has been falling steadily since the early '70s. Good-paying manufacturing jobs have been leaving this country since then, and the reason is not because we as consumers voted with our pocketbooks to do so. American-made products were among the best and most-economical on the planet then. The problem was then, and remains today, that American companies traditionally placed little emphasis on maintaining and improving the means of production. R&D and improving infrastructure were neglected, and the result was that factories became decrepit, and products increasingly lagged in technology. Why did that happen? Because American business is fundamentally based upon the publicly-traded corporation, and the main goal of corporations is not to create better products and maintain the means of production, it's to provide "shareholder value." Shareholder value is enhanced by increasing dividends, because that makes your stock more desirable and drives up share prices. You can't increase, or even declare, dividends without cutting corners on re-investing in your business. Who benefits from increased "shareholder value"? The shareholders, of course, and who are they? A very large percentage of those shareholders are the officers and directors of the corporations. They take their compensation in the form of stock options, their retirement funds are loaded with their own corporations' stock, they have their "golden parachutes" -- that's the ethos of the upper management of the American corporation. They have always been willing, and continue to be willing, to sacrifice the long-term health of their corporations and the American economy in general for the short-term benefit of their stock portfolios. When they are in a position both to maximize "shareholder value" and to receive the benefit of that increased shareholder value, they use that conflict of interest to act in their own short-sighted greed. Grab as much as you can now, feather your own nest, and you don't have to worry about the future, let everyone else fend for themselves. They let their factories deteriorate to the point where they have a choice between investing in their own infrastructure, or to take advantage of the cheap means of production in China, which are financed in large part by the government there. Workers get laid off here, they have less disposable income, they have to buy Chinese products peddled by Wal-Mart. Would they rather buy American-made products? Without exception, I'd say yes. What our consumers have done wrong is whole-heartedly buy into the culture of greed, to the point where families that can't afford rent, food and clothing will buy Playstation 3s, plasma TVs and expensive cars. They are conditioned by the media to believe that the only important thing is to have more and more material goods. What's even more insidious, I think, is the overall political tone in this country, where any whisper of concern for the common good is immediately shouted down as socialism or worse. When concern for the common good goes out the window, then any concern for the future well-being of the country is also out the window. Short-term greed leads us to the highest consumption rates in the world, the greatest use of resources per capita, the highest output of pollutants, and an absolutely cavalier attitude about the rest of the world. We're seeing a growing divide in wealth between the richest and the poorest in this country, as the middle class disappears. This is not a formula for a stable society (which should be a concern for conservatives and liberals alike), but the leaders of the government don't care, because they're getting their "shareholder value." We worry about subversive groups infiltrating our country and causing terrorist attacks -- does anyone worry that the ever-growing lower class we're creating here, who daily watch as the higher class moves ever further away from them in standard of living and doesn't show any concern, will provide extremely fertile recruiting grounds for the subversives of the future? Why will they show any allegiance to their country, which has shown no concern for them at all? The current government believes in slashing taxes, privatization and leaving the economy in the hands of the free market, which is fine, but it also doesn't want to bear any responsibility for those who are shut out by the free market, as there always will be -- competition is desirable, but it must, by definition, create losers (Side note -- our "Republican" president wants to send a billion dollars to Iraq for a jobs-development program. Jobs development! Did anyone else feel the Earth stop revolving momentarily?). I'm a believer in free enterprise, I'm not a radical communist, but I know you can't ignore reality, and I believe in acting for the best interest of the future good of this country. The most influential, and fervently practiced, religion in this country is not fundamentalist Christianity, it's the worship of money, by all classes, rich and poor -- and it's very often most-fervently practiced by fundamentalist Christians, too. It's undermining the social attitudes that we need to turn things around. In the meantime, we'll continue to watch all the means of production and skills leave this country, and how we'll ever get them back is beyond me.
Anyway, what was the question, again? Oh, yeah, don't buy into the line that the reason everything seems to be made in China these days is all because of consumers' choices. The most important choices are the selfish ones made by the directors of Enron, Ford, etc., etc.