We visited family in the US this past week, and because of this, ended up hearing more about the election in two days than either of us have read, seen, or thought about in months, if not years. Which is not to say people talked non-stop about the election, only that both Allan and I completely tune out that circus masquerading as a democracy. (Apologies to circuses everywhere.)
I heard something over dinner one night that stuck in my mind. My sister noted that most voters care foremost about one thing: job creation. She said, "All they talk about is taxes, taxes, taxes, when they should be talking about jobs, jobs, jobs." She remarked how nothing is made in the US anymore, noting, "We don't even answer the phone." And she wondered how anyone even could go about creating jobs, a task that seems nearly impossible at this point. This got me thinking...
Bleeding jobs for decades
The mainstream media discovered the exodus of North American jobs fairly recently, about the time call centres were outsourcing to India. But the US has been bleeding good jobs - solid manufacturing jobs - for decades.
First good manufacturing jobs moved from the US north to the US south, where the so-called "right to work" (i.e., right to starve) laws let corporations lower standards. Then jobs moved further south, to Puerto Rico and other places in Latin America, then onwards around the globe. The US has been undergoing a massive de-industrialization for decades.
During those same decades, we'd hear that x number of jobs had been created, but rarely did we hear what kinds of jobs they were, relative to what had been lost. Those new jobs paid less, were part-time, offered less stability, and usually did not include health insurance. Mainstream economists and pundits largely ignored this.
I offer this extremely brief summary only to note that the massive unemployment and under-employment in the US is not new, and it is not sudden. It pains me when elected officials and the media act as if these conditions began in 2008.
So why didn't we hear about it?
This ongoing job loss was usually ignored because it occurred while the economy was said to be strong. This seeming contradiction is possible because the corporate media and the government believe that a strong Wall Street equals a strong economy. That is, if shareholders are doing well, the economy is good.
But as we know, shareholders profit when costs are driven down. And costs are driven down by downsizing, layoffs, and outsourcing.
During this supposedly strong economy, corporations could move their production bases to China, where they didn't have to worry about pesky details like health and safety laws, environmental protection, and labour laws. They could hire 10-year-olds, pay dollars a day, dump raw chemicals and sewage into rivers, lock workers in fire traps, and anything else that helped cut costs.
Then they could ship the product back to the US - leaving an increasingly large carbon footprint along the way - sell it cheaply, make a good profit, et voila, a healthy economy.
So why did we let this happen?
This is possible because laws have made it possible. The so-called free market is sacrosanct. No one can pass laws that are said to "interfere with business". No one challenges the bizarre notion that an economy in which fewer and fewer people are well employed is a healthy economy. No one with any power, that is.
No one in the mainstream media or in the government takes on Wall Street, because the media and the government are Wall Street.
So how could we reverse it?
In order to create large numbers of good jobs, we would have to re-write the laws of the American economy. We'd have to unravel many of the developments of the past 50 years. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head.
- In order to enjoy the privilege of selling goods in the United States, a company must employ at least 75% of its total workforce within the United States.
- Goods produced outside North America will be subject to a 50% tariff.
- All so-called free trade agreements are hereby null and void. Corporations will exist wholly within the borders of one country. Goods and services are to be produced within 500 miles of their point of use or sale.
In other words, corporations are no longer solely responsible to shareholders. They are now responsible to the local economy.
And this, we know, cannot and will not happen.
So why don't we try this?
Any candidate or party that advanced this platform would be torn to pieces. They would be ridiculed and vilified, and if for some reason that wasn't enough, they'd be smeared and disgraced.
Note that none of what I wrote about involves dismantling capitalism. I didn't mention public takeovers or an expansion of the public sector or mandatory investment in public works. The plan I outlined is not socialist, as it still involves private ownership and profit. Nevertheless, it would be called communist.
That is partly because most people have no idea what socialism is. (Proof: they call Obama socialist!) But it's mainly down to the corporate government itself.
Corporate interests control the government. So despite what any candidate might say during an election campaign, the administration doesn't exist to create jobs and help citizens. It exists to create profit and help Wall Street.
Now, dozens of economists and free-trade enthusiasts can come along and tell you why the suggestions listed above are actually bad for the economy. I would say, ask them how they define good and bad.
A local economy is good for the earth and it's good for workers. We can make what we use, then we can afford to buy what we need. Then we can stop endlessly criss-crossing the earth in order to make more crap that instantly falls apart, because the economy will no longer be based on poor people buying crap that falls apart so they have to buy more.
And if you hear about anyone in the US campaigning on such a platform, I might consider voting there again.