I no longer have any skin in this game. I have no dog in this fight. My ox isn't currently being gored, although that might happen someday. I have no selfish reason to write this article, except that my grandchildren will one day be affected by what is going on in the world today. I don't doubt that. But I have to say a few words about our government and its leadership. I'm not talking about our president and my disappointment over his lack of a get-tough attitude. I don't agree with his centrist, conciliatory approach to running an administation. I only became a Democrat just before the 2008 election, so that I could get the supreme satisfaction of voting a straight party ticket and firing every Republican in sight. They had made a complete mess of the previous eight years in office and it was definitely time for a big change. So I registered as a Democrat. Now I'm thinking of returning to my natural state as an Independent. I will never become a Republican, you can count on it.
No, what I am talking about is the lack of leadership in Congress, and how they are going to screw this country because of their behind-the-scenes commitments to all of the Big Business lobbyists in Washington. I am including Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, too. There isn't a hairbreadth's difference among the parties and what they really represent. Only in what they say to us to get elected. Once in office their fear takes over...the fear of the power behind each of their little thrones. The fear that one day every politician in his own way will have to pay back the favors they owe, and the price will be too much. It won't cost them dignity...they've long ago given that away. It won't cost them reputation...they have none to lose. It won't cost them money...they will always legislate more. No, it will cost them their souls. It may have happened already. They may already be the puppets, and Corporate America may be the puppet masters. None of us is absolutely sure about all of this yet, but we strongly suspect it's true, even as we naively hold out hope that someone will ride to the rescue and save us from ourselves. We will know one way or the other before the year 2011 is out.
Here is what I see today. We've all heard the phrase "It's the economy, stupid". Corporations are well aware of this and they don't care. They will continue shipping jobs out of the country as long as they have to pay a penny more in U.S. taxes than they do overseas. It won't stop. There is nothing to induce them to stay here. All large corporations, those that count in the economy, are multi-national. They got that way decades ago. It was just good business, wasn't it. The only individuals who count are the shareholders, and it's "what have you done for me lately?" in the shareholders' view. Employees don't count. They are just numbers...and the fewer the expensive numbers, the better. Do you want to know why the employment rate is hovering around ten percent and isn't likely to drop soon? It's not just because jobs are going out of the U.S.; it's because those jobs that have disappeared since 2007 aren't reappearing at all, ever. Most of them have been made obsolete by technology, mainly computer technology...even computer programming jobs have disappeared, never to return. There is irony for you, and please turn out the lights when you leave. This has caused a massive increase in unemployment insurance payouts, a massive increase in minimum wage service industry jobs, and a massive increase in Federal spending in general. If the Republicans in Congress think we are heading for a welfare state now, they haven't seen anything yet. This is just the beginning. The squeeze will be on to pay for it somehow. Eventually the rich will have to start paying their share of taxes, or else they will move to other countries, too...if they haven't already.
It's been said publicly that small business is the engine that creates jobs. How can this happen if Big Business and small business aren't playing on a level field? Small business owners had better wise up. The corporations who depended on you as raw material providers and as retail outlets, well, they don't care about you. You are getting replaced just like workers are, with someone overseas who can do the job cheaper. You can't provide jobs if you don't have the work. And your work is dwindling. In case you haven't noticed, big corporations lately have lots and lots of cash that they're hanging onto. They aren't re-investing it in their primary businesses. They are buying up other companies, some large, some small, and making big profits in the financial sector. They aren't producing any real goods...just paper profits. The economy is becoming virtual. The economy is the stock market. It is tax-free municipal bonds. It is trading in commodities, dollars, yuan, yen, swiss francs and Euros. It is puts and calls and options. It is credit default swaps on packaged mortgages. It is the price of sweet light crude and North Sea Brent and natural gas and heating oil. It is rolling dice in the financial markets. The economy is not real anymore, if it ever was.
And Congress has just come back from their undeserved vacation. They have a problem to wrestle with that they all know about...and we don't ever think of...it's China. Guess who's buying up most of our government paper in the form of Treasury notes...China. Guess who we buy most of our cheap imported goods from...China. The one thing that will keep Congress from doing the right thing concerning the deficit is the real national debt. As long as China keeps believing we will one day pay them back, they will keep financing our debt. And that is why our Congress has not been in a panic to solve the federal debt problem. Our senators and representatives are hooked on China's financing like it's crack cocaine. That way they won't have to do anything that might be construed as their fault. And China doesn't dare call in the debt. This would cause an international economic disaster which we have only begun to picture in our nightmares. We just think our recession is bad right now. If China demanded payment, the US Dollar as an international currency would immediately collapse. Everybody else who held American dollars, and this is everybody, would suddenly be broke. So the Chinese are not lunatics. They are playing this very close to the vest. They would like to see the yuan be the most favored currency, but it takes patience on their part. And they are very good at being patient.
We, however, are idiots. We consume, then overconsume, then spend money we don't have, then go into debt for things we don't even own anymore, because we lack the slightest modicum of financial discipline. If our country collapses it will be from within, and we will deserve it. All of us had better take a crash course in tightening the financial belt, because this recession is going to get worse before it gets better. By the way, in spite of all the trash talk about how the recession is over now, it isn't. We are only hearing from Wall Street with that kind of rhetoric. Main Street has a different take on the economy. Many people have lost jobs and have been permanently displaced right out of the job market, and now they need training for new occupations which have never existed before. This is a major side effect of progress that does not get debated nearly enough. And it will take several years before the economy gets better...maybe a decade. In the meantime, part of an entire generation will be set back due to bad wages, lack of training, and no preparation. We can blame the government all we want. They are certainly the most noticeable part of the problem, and they are involved up to their eyebrows. But so are we as consumers and citizens.
I know that half of everyone who might read what I'm writing won't know the recent history of us, so here is the short version:
Since the end of World War II, we have been busy building and creating in the private sector just as fast as we can. We have assumed that there is no end in sight of raw materials, financial resources, or the willingness to get them no matter what the cost. We have become junkie materialistic consumers, because we want our children to have everything we didn't have as children, to make their lives better than ours have been so far. Why? Is this really necessary to their pursuit of happiness? Or is it for our own infantile wish fulfillment? Apparently it doesn't matter. The advertising industry has picked up on this big time. They seduce us into buying everything. They talk, wheedle, cajole, prod, and nag us into purchasing useless crap that we would not buy if left to our own decisions. We have been brainwashed so much that we brainwash each other. We use peer pressure to make others feel guilty about not possessing some artifact of overproduction, so that we don't feel guilty about buying it in the first place. Misery doesn't love company, but it needs it like an alcoholic needs a drink. We go into huge debt even though in the back of our minds we suspect we can't afford it, but we still hope that things will just work out for us somehow. And besides, we want this big house, or that overpriced car because, well, we deserve it.
As a society we are terrible planners and bad at rational thinking. We always want help, but we could do it ourselves if we made the effort. We won't. It's irresponsible and it's a national epidemic. You say we should do our part as good consumers and support the economy. I'm not buying it. When ten percent of the work force is recognized as out of work, and possibly many more have given up looking for work and aren't recognized, we can't afford to act in the same old ways. How many financial disasters does it take for us to wake up and smell the house is on fire even though it's underwater? We are doing it to ourselves and it has to stop before it gets worse, maybe terminal, for our country. If it ever really hits the fan, do you want to be a refugee on the way to some other country? How do you think they would receive any of us? I doubt it would be with open arms. We've screwed over so many other countries so badly that no one would care about us or our problems. They would say we had it coming. And they would be right.