“Free Trade,” the banner of Globalization, has not only wrecked the world’s economy, it has left Western Democracy in shambles. Europe edges ever closer to deflation. The Fed dare not increase interest rates, now poised at barely above zero. As China’s stock market threatened collapse, China poured billions to prop it up. It’s export machine is collapsing. Not once, but twice, it recently manipulated its currency to makes its goods cheaper on the world market. What is happening? The following two graphs tell most of the story.
Capital fled from developed countries to undeveloped countries with slave-cheap labor, countries with no environmental standards, and countries with no support for collective bargaining. Corporations, like Apple, set up shop in China and other undeveloped countries. Some, like China, manipulated its currency to make exported goods to the West even cheaper. Some, like China, gave preferential tax treatment to Western firm over indigenous firms. Economists cheered as corporate efficiency unsurprisingly rose. U.S. citizens became mere consumers. Thanks to Bill Clinton and the Financial Modernization Act, banks, now unconstrained, could peddle rigged financial services, offer insurance on its own investment products–in short, banks were free to play with everyone’s money–and simply too big to fail. Credit was easy and breezy. If nasty Arabs bombed the Trade Center, why the solution was simple: Go to the shopping mall–and buy. That remarkable piece of advice is just what freedom has been all about. Next: China’s export machine sputters.
China’s problem is that there are not enough orders to keep the export machine going. There comes a time when industrialized nations simply run out of cash–I mean the little people run out of cash. CEOs and those just below them–along with slick Wall Street gauchos–made bundles on Free Trade, corporate capital that could set up shop in any impoverished nation in the world.. No worries about labor–dirt cheap–or environmental regulations–just bring your gas masks.
At some point the Western consumer well was bound to run dry. Credit was exhausted; the little guy could not buy anymore. Free trade was on its last legs. So what did China do then? As its markets crashed, it tried to revive its export model, a model based on foreign firms exporting cheap goods to the West. China lowered its exchange rates, not once but twice. Then China tried to rescue the markets with cash infusion of billions. Still its market continued to crash. Manufacturing plants had closed–thousands of them. Free Trade and Globalization had run its course. And what has the Fed been doing? Why quantitative easy–increase the money supply and lower short term interest rates. Like China’s latest currency manipulation, both were merely stop-gap measures. No one, least of all Obama and his corporate advisors, was ready to address corporate outsourcing that has cost millions of jobs. Prime the pump a little, but never address the real problem.
The WTO sets the groundwork for trade among its member states. That groundwork is deeply flawed. Trade between impoverished third world countries and sophisticated first world economies is not merely a matter of regulating “dumping”—not allowing one country to flood the market with cheap goods—nor is it a matter of insuring that the each country does not favor its indigenous firms over foreign firms. Comparable labor and environmental standards are necessary. Does anyone think that a first world worker can compete with virtual slave labor? Does anyone think that a first world nation with excellent environmental regulations can compete with a third world nation that refuses to protect its environment? Only lately has Apple even mentioned that it might clean up its mess in China.
The Apple miracle has been on the backs of the Chinese poor and abysmal environmental wreckage that is China. The WTO allows three forms of inequities—all of which encourage outsourcing: labor arbitrage, tax arbitrage, and environmental arbitrage. For a fuller explanation of these inequities and the “race to the bottom,” see here. Of course now we have the mother of all Free Trade deals –the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)– carefully wrapped in a black box so that none of us can see what finally is in store for us. Nothing is ever “Free”–even trade. I suspect that China is becoming a bit too noxious and poisonous. It simply has to deal with its massive environmental problems. Time to move the game to less despoiled and maybe more impoverished countries. Meanwhile, newscasters are always careful to tout TPP. Fast Tracking is a con man’s game. Do it so fast that the marks never have a chance to watch their wallets. In hiding negotiations from prying, public eyes, Obama, has given the con men a bigger edge: A screen to hide the corporations making deals. Their interest is in profits, not in public good.
Consider the media.
Our only defense is a strong independent media. At one time, newsrooms were not required to be profitable. Reporting the news was considered a community service. Corporate ownership provided the necessary funding for its newsrooms–and did not interfere. But the 70’s and 80’s corporate ownership required its newsrooms to be profitable. Slowly but surely, newsrooms focused on personality, entertainment, and wedge issues–always careful not to rock the corporate boat, always careful not to tread on governmental policy. Whoever thought that one major news service–Fox–would become a breeding ground for one particular party. But consider CNN: It organizes endless GOP debates; then spends hours dissecting them. Create the news; then sell it–and be sure to spin it in the direction you want. Are matters of substance ever discussed?
When has a serious foreign policy debate ever been allowed occurred–without editorial interference from the media itself. When has trade and outsourcing been seriously discussed–other than by peripheral news media? Meanwhile, news media becomes more and more centralized. Murdoch now owns National Geographic! Now, thanks to Bush and Obama, we have the chilling effect of the NSA. Just whom does the NSA serve when it collects all of our digital information? Is it being used to ferret out the plans of those exercising their right of dissent? Is it being used to increase the profits of favored corporations? Why does it need all of your and my personal information–from bank accounts, to credit cards, to travel plans, to friends with whom we chat….Why is it afraid of us?