Saturday, July 28, 2012

The USA: 1776-2012?

Just an observation that I posted for my Facebook friends on a post that started out being about gun control and ended with a reaction by a couple of "guests" in the U.S. to how the country has changed (for the worse).

When I moved to the U.S. almost 20 years ago it was a place where work was abundant, fairly well-compensated, and where I felt at home.

Over the years, though, I realized that at least half of the country:
  1. has an insufferable and unjustified sense of superiority over the rest of the world, mostly driven by ignorance of how the rest of the world works.
  2. values freedom as long as it consists of the following:
    • The freedom to call itself a Christian nation without actually following Christ's teachings (wasn't it Christ who said "If someone slaps you on your right cheek, waste him with a semi-automatic rifle and a hundred bullets?")
    • The freedom to tell those who disagree with them that they are terrorists, communists, socialists, that they are little fucking stupid robots who jump to the orders of the liberal elites.
    • The freedom to tell the sick and dying that they are sick and dying because they are irresponsible leeches who expect the government to take care of them (and why didn't they just go spend a thousand dollars a month on private health insurance and pay 20% or 50% of all medical expenses after they also paid their monthly premium.), and the freedom of the insurance company to tell them that their coverage is denied because the failed to check a box on their insurance application.
    • The freedom to be shot and killed at dinner by a civilian armed like a Navy Seal.
    • The freedom to tell everybody else that it's all Obama's and the liberals' fault.
May I add that real unemployment has reached (and in some cases passed) European levels, that the jobs that haven't been offshored are undercompensated (unless you compare them with the pay of Chinese prisoners, who work for free), and that I feel like a stranger in a strange land. Not sure if I had made that clear.

I think I know what happened: Globalization has made Americans feel less safe about their jobs, and with reason. Globalization is a race to the bottom, at least in the relatively short term, and one that disadvantages those who had everything before globalization started spreading. Consequently, Americans have reacted as people react all over the world when things are taken away from them: Deceived by the oligarchs and plutocrats of globalization, they have taken to blaming all the wrong people (mostly immigrants, unions, and liberals) for what they've had to endure.

This would explain why many Americans hate new immigrants, mostly from Mexico and poor countries: They feel that had immigrants not shown up and taken their jobs, they'd still be fine. But that is not true. Well paid jobs have been offshored, and the people who lost those jobs have less money in their pockets. Had immigrants arrived to take farm jobs, cleaning jobs, and many of the lowlier and humbler jobs, those who have seen a reduction in pay in better-paid fields (like IT, manufacturing, and others that have suffered comparably with the advent of globalization) their reduction in pay would have felt even worse. Had Americans continued to do the jobs that are now done by lowly-paid immigrants, the price of life's basics necessities would have risen, and life would have gotten even more unaffordable than it already is for a lot of people.

I am not saying that we should all be happy about all the immigrant labor that has arrived to the USA in the last 30 years. Immigrant labor is good to have when the economy is booming, but when the economy is in a recessionary cycle the immediate effect of more immigration is to further depress wages (it's the law of supply and demand.) This is not a time to have more immigration. But, as usual, the ire is misdirected: it should go against employers who knowingly hire workers illegally, not against the workers themselves, who are desperate and who are only doing anything they can to improve their situation, as anyone in their place would.

Even then, we should understand that a war against illegal employment would have inflationary effects on the rest of us, because prices of the things we can't do without in life would almost certainly rise as a result of a tougher stance against immigration, unless offshoring is also curbed and criminal prosecutions of foreign tax havens become the norm.

As far as unions go, membership has dropped to the lowest level in decades. The problem with this trend is that weaker unions result in fewer rights and safeguards in the workplace and in lower wages, for everybody--not just for union workers. But again, it's another example of people directing their anger at the wrong target. Why wouldn't most Americans understand this simple truth: While it's true that unions have caused at least some of their problems themselves, it is a fact that many of the largest U.S. companies have reaped some of the largest booties in their history at the expense of workers. An example that may seem extreme at first, but which has become quite common, is how Caterpillar is handling an ongoing labor dispute with the workers of a unionized plant in Illinois. The company is asking workers to accept a freeze in pay and benefits for the next 6 years (which actually would result in a net loss of pay, measured against rising inflation) even has it has just announced the largest profits in its history and an 60% increase in the pay of its CEO (to $17 million annually).

Now some have seen what is happening all along, and many have started to take notice. Most vocal among public voices to decry the wrongs that the middle-class and poor have suffered in recent years have been Bill Moyers, Robert Reich, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schulz, and Paul Krugman, to name but a few. The Occupy Wall Street movement has risen to unusual numbers of participants for American political life, and "99 percent" has now become a common term in political discourse.

The third target of popular anger is liberalism. This is honestly an absurdity that only ignorant people would tolerate. Aside from the fact that the Republican policies of the last 30 years (think Reaganism and what followed, and continued even under centrist Democrats like Bill Clinton) have wreaked more havoc on the health of the American economy, and on the middle-class and the poor of America, than anything liberals have done (or not done), this country has not followed truly liberal, progressive policies since the days of the Great Society and, before that, the New Deal.

Conservatives in this country, aided by the deceitful megaphones of Fox News and by the predominance of their ideas on talk radio and in think tanks, are intent on destroying or undoing every progressive conquest of the 20th century and on returning us to the era of robber barons. They have apparently done a fantastic job at it, as the USA remains the only supposedly-civilized country without a universal and affordable health-care system, with an ever weakening safety net, and with more widespread contempt for liberal policies that any other country.

It is a country on the way to ruin, not just financial but moral ruin; not because of the increasing popularity of gay marriages or legal pot, as the Right would have you believe, but because it treats everything and everyone, including its own citizens, as expendable and replaceable resources. It has devised policies which, in effect, result in a new type of slavery, based not on the forceful exploitation and ownership of human beings, but on their enchainment to the lords of financial globalization.

Even with all of this, you can be sure that Americans will keep chanting as they have always done, even as the ship goes down: USA: Number One! That, more than anything, is proof of the failure of the great American experiment in democracy.


John Stockwell said...

I guess I would have to say that the US has always had flareups of anti-immigrant sentiment. These flareups happen when there is an economic slowdown. Foreigners are erroneously blamed for "stealing American jobs". This goes with the "exporting of American jobs overseas" and all of that.

I grew up here so I am aware of more than 50 years of American history, personally, and a lot more from reading. We have had periods when jobs were plentiful and we have had periods were jobs are scarce.

As to Americans viewing the USA as being "the best"---I am not aware of a time when Americans did *not* view the USA as the best country in the world. There is, of course, a left wing element who continuously talks down the USA. The more radical of these folks want to scrap our system of government for a parliamentary system,that sort of thing. I am not talking about immigrants, but born Americans. They talk about leaving the country, but somehow never do.

Finally, I would suggest that as a person who was raised in Europe, deep in your subconscious you really see yourself, not as a free man, but as a subject of your government. This is the European way. For all of the talk of "Western style democracies" the system of law of Europe and Canada does not have the individual at the center, but rather has the government granting certain freedoms to their subjects.

In notice that you aren't leaving either. So, we must be doing something right in the USA.

The Daily Fuel said...

I am not leaving, my wife is an American, so that's not really a consideration.

I would submit to you that the difference between Europeans and Americans is not that the former see themselves as subjects to their government and the latter as paladins of freedom. The difference I see is collectivism (and I don't mean that with the negative connotation that Americans attribute to the concept) v. individualism. The European attitude is that we are all on the same boat, we sink or swim together; the American attitude, increasingly, seems to be "some people have yacht, and some have rafts, just learn to live with it."
Of course, I am aware that these two different philosophies have consequences, such as--for example--the fact that in Italy you do have to show ID when you vote, or when you are stopped, for a random check, by the police. The American contention would be that Italy is a police state. My reply would be that it is just a way to make sure that everybody plays by the same rules (for example, if you were driving around with a gun without a license, you could be prosecuted and your gun could be confiscated.) That is the consequence of the belief that no one has, and should have, unlimited freedom, because your freedom should end where the rights of another begin. And I guarantee you that no European feels less free in Europe than they do in America, in many cases quite the contrary.

That is a long conversation to have, though, one that would be best had face-to-face in front of a bottle of wine, beer, or whatever your poison is. :-)

The Daily Fuel said...

Two more things, John: I am not implying that Italy is better than the United States; I am fully aware of its many flaws and its propensity for treating people differently based on status or income. But I have friends who would, bless them, both here and in Italy. The difference is that you won't find such a large chauvinist element in Italy as there is in the U.S.

Also, the "bottle of wine" phrase is an enticement to meet at some point and discuss these things in person. We both live in Colorado, so it can be done. And you have interesting viewpoints and I have a willingness to learn. :-)

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