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Even in Economics, U.S. Has To Have an Adversary, If Not an "Enemy," But China Doesn’t Fill the Bill - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - Columnist

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The fear mongering in the highest circles of American government continues apace, as was demonstrated in all of the hoopla surrounding the State of the Union speech delivered by President Obama last week and criticized by Republicans of every stripe.

Obama’s code word for spending is “investment,” according to the GOP leadership and the Tea Partiers on their far right flank. And, what we have to be very concerned about is America’s “lack of competitiveness.” It seems, in the view of those on the right, that we’re being outdone in education (math and science, especially) and in other areas by nations around the world.

What is especially disconcerting for those who control the U.S. economy is China. We are not, they claim, meeting the challenge presented by the People’s Republic, either in terms of economic growth, the education of our children, or in their growing dominance in the global marketplace.

While it is true that China’s economy is growing at a pace three or four times that of the U.S., there are other elements of a successful society that must be considered and, when those things are considered, it becomes clear that China is not the monster in the dark it is being made out to be.

It’s just that we need someone or something to concentrate on and someone to blame when things fall apart. Both government leaders and those in charge of Corporate America have made China out to be the adversary, if not the enemy, just as Japan was in the early 1990s in the time of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Although a small country with limited natural resources, Japan was a powerhouse, especially in the global automotive industry. Americans were told that the island nation would take over production and sales of not just the auto industry, but others, as well. If U.S. economists and the pundits and politicians knew that the economic tidal wave could not last, they weren’t sharing it with the American people. Japan still struggles economically.

Politicians and Corporate America today are not leveling with the people in the case of China. In many ways, in spite of their amazing economic growth and the amount of our debt that they own, they are in tough shape. For example, they have emptied much of the rural areas for cheap labor in the factories that have been supplying consumer goods for the U.S. and Europe for years.

The downturn in the world’s economy has affected the Chinese workers. As Americans and others stopped buying as much consumer goods, factories in China have closed at an accelerated rate. They have sent the workers back to the hinterlands where there are few jobs that would provide a living, not that the factory jobs provided a living wage.

China’s system of farming has changed from its millennia-old labor-intensive ways to a more “western” system of power, chemicals, and petroleum products. The change started under Mao Zedong about 40 years ago and the nation’s agriculture has progressed to the point at which it is one of the nations that has enough money to buy up land in developing nations. In those developing nations, food will be grown for export back to China, not to feed the people of the developing nations, including several in Africa and South America. Other countries are doing the same, including Saudi Arabia, but the effect is the same. Local labor will be growing food for foreign countries, but they won’t be eating it.

Add to that the environmental degradation that China is suffering. What does it say about a nation’s health, when people in the streets are wearing surgical masks just to keep the larger particulates out of the air they are breathing? How bad can it be that China had to shut down all of the industries for several weeks in the vicinity of the games when the Olympics were held in Beijing a few years ago, just so the athletes could breathe while competing?

China is adding new coal-fired electric generation plants at a dizzying pace in its attempt to keep up with the power demand for its industries and factories, but coal arguably is the most polluting of the methods of power production. It will make working conditions more risky and the health of workers even more precarious.

The disparity between the rich and poor in China probably dwarfs that of the U.S., which is the worst since the Robber Barons of a century ago. Within the past year, the average wage of a Chinese worker was 55 cents per hour and some of the workers, including children, are paid as little as 20 cents or 30 cents an hour. While it’s true that there are many millionaires in China and the numbers are growing every year, the vast majority toils for starvation wages, even by Chinese standards.

Can China and the U.S. “compete,” as we approach a time when cheap fossil fuel will no longer exist? That’s the real thing against which both the U.S. and China have to compete. The “competitiveness” between and among nations for the remaining supplies of fossil fuels is a sure plan for disaster, for no one is planning for the time when it is gone. At least, in the short term, there should be plans in the works for a short supply.

Neither apparently is forthcoming from leaders in the U.S. or China. All they can think about is increasing the rate of economic growth, ignoring the economic, social, and physical health of their citizenry.

While Obama spoke in his State of the Union address about pure or basic research, education, and improving the nation’s “infrastructure,” he neglected to mention his predecessors who emptied the land of manufacturing and heavy industry. We know those jobs are not going to return, because workers in other countries are willing to produce those things at one-quarter or one-fifth of the labor cost needed by American workers to survive in the modern economy.

High wages and good benefits and the unions it took to get them were the bedrock that made America a powerful nation. The living standard that resulted will be hard to replicate, since it took 50 years to achieve it and it took less than 30 years to bring it down, starting with the “Reagan Revolution,” which began the all-out assault on trade unions (and workers) and introduced “trickle-down economics,” which can be described most politely as “feeding the horses so the sparrows can eat.”

There are too many of us not eating so well these days and the prospect for more of the same is unfortunately pretty good, if we’re to believe non-profit anti-hunger organizations, religious institutions, and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture and their predictions for the near future. And that’s just the eating part of living our lives. There are other things like health care (non-existent for 50 million), housing (substandard, with millions whose homes have been lost to foreclosure), and lack of public transportation (much more efficient than cars in a time of high oil prices).

But the high official unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent and a real rate approaching 20 percent (those who can’t find a job after years of looking) is not something that either major party wants to address. Even the skeletal structure of manufacturing and heavy industry of America’s past does not exist, so it is difficult to envision a resurgence of those kinds of jobs.

If we wait for the development of “green” jobs and whole new industries, it is likely to be many years in the making, because the GOP and its right wing, along with Corporate America are not interested in such things and they are downright hostile to any suggestion that America help the people who are left without jobs or any means of support. Their mantra: no welfare, no extended unemployment benefits, no health care, no pensions, no Social Security, no Medicare or Medicaid, and no government work. With leadership like that, it’s no wonder that American workers and workers around the globe are closely watching what has happened, and is happening, in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and other places where the few rule the vast multitude.

Workers everywhere are beginning to see that workers in other countries are not the enemy, nor even the adversary. Rather, it is the people who run those countries and their economies. At the very least, U.S. politicians must level with the people and stop trying to tell us that the enemy is those who are struggling just like we are. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

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Feb 3, 2011 - Issue 412
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