Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Nation, Not a Market

Commentary by Martin Kelly
September 29, 2004

America’s economic prospects remain the same regardless of who wins the election. American manufacturing will continue to decline. American jobs will still be outsourced overseas. Neither party will make any serious effort to curb illegal immigration.

There is no great mystery as to why this should be so. It is because it is what the market wants.

Who is the market? Is it you, the small investor looking for a better return than bonds? Is it you, the housewife looking for the best bargains for her family? Or is it you, the corporate guy, the boring, bland, dull, grey corporate guy, reciting your jargon like incantations?

As run today, the world, literally the world, belongs to corporate guy. And the neocons love it, even the smart ones who should know better, like Victor Davis Hanson.

Run properly, markets are healthy things – after all, what’s the alternative? Free enterprise funded by private capital was the only way in which the marvellous technological advances of the 20th century were able to come about. The desire to acquire private capital has generated more wealth for more people, and to date has probably inflicted less lasting hurt on people, than the economic idiocies of Communism. During the 1980’s the Romanian Communist Party screened Dallas, ostensibly for the propaganda purpose of decrying the decadence of a capitalist society. As propaganda, it didn’t work – the Romanians loved it.

But now the market dominates everything. It dominates what you do, where you live, what you eat and the very air you breathe. In the world of the free market, there are no such things as countries. There are no such things as citizens. There is no history, loyalty, civics or ethics. There are only consumers. The consumer has two functions. Firstly, at all costs, he must be productive. Such is the importance of his productivity that it must be measured in margins of seconds. Secondly, he must consume.

Unless controls are introduced on the free market very soon, a movement will begin to remove the Pledge of Allegiance from America’s schools, funded by global corporate interests, not the usual atheists. The reason is simple – right now, loyalty to Old Glory and the Constitution is one of the few remaining barriers in the market’s path to achieving its goal of removing America’s borders and integrating it into a global market that they control for the benefit of generating wealth for themselves. The former boast of the Society of Jesus was that if you gave them the child they would give you the man. The market says, if removing the child’s first connection with American history and culture, indeed with the very essence of what it means to be an American, is what it takes to help us get what we want, then let’s go for it.

The free-marketeers, who are all very aggressive and vocal in their beliefs, say that if you think such things you’re wrong; you’re a Flat-Earther or worse, an anti-capitalist. Nothing is further from the truth. It is in order to preserve the wonderful traditions and principles of Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-American liberal capitalism that this rush has to be stopped now, otherwise they have no future. Let me give you an example.

The real turning point in the history of the free market was the election of Margaret Thatcher as leader of the British Conservative Party in 1975. Her predecessor Edward Heath had brought the UK into what was called the Common Market, the forerunner of the European Union. The fact that the envisioned free market transformed itself into a political behemoth with the consent of alleged ‘conservatives’ is another story altogether. However, Heath was what was once called a ‘One Nation Tory’ from the great tradition of Disraeli and Churchill. Heath’s failure to curb the economic insurgency of pro-Moscow trade unionists laid the grounds for Thatcher’s election. She abhorred ‘One Nation’ conservatism, preferring instead to let the market dictate all aspects of all policies. After the Labour government tested to destruction the big statism favoured by both Bush and Kerry, she won in a landslide in 1979.

It was in 1979 that the Conservative Party ceased to be a conservative party. Instead, it became the party of the market.

To her credit, she did take on the pro-Moscow unions. However, trade unionism is not per se a bad or unconservative thing – markets only consider the people they employ to be corporate liabilities, to be eliminated from the balance sheet at the earliest opportunity. If membership of a trade union enables a conservative to preserve his family’s prospects then he should be in, not out. However, the fact that the British unions were acting so blatantly against the national interest created a tide of opinion against them, which Thatcher rode to destroy them.

In the 25 years since her election, British manufacturing has been decimated. The great ships no longer roll down the slipways of the Clyde or the Mersey. The ocean of coal we float on lies largely unmined. Although the market has created new jobs (with the aid of substantial grants from the taxpayer), they are almost all service jobs, which pay less, are far less likely to be unionised and which have far fewer opportunities attached to them. If you live in a town that used to have a car plant, you’ll recognise this. Because service sector jobs pay less, these towns suffer more from social problems like divorce, alcoholism and drug abuse as it very difficult for a large group of people who used to earn relatively high wages to have to subsist on consistently less. The advocates of an untrammelled free market will always say, ‘it creates jobs’. Yes, it does – it just that those jobs don’t pay very much and enable their holders merely to get by from paycheck to paycheck as opposed to being able to make a living. And those jobs are always subject to the movement of the market, so they are far less secure.

In the meantime, the real problem of a service economy is that all your competitors are providing the same service as you. Your service has to be different. As a result, your staff have to work even longer hours or adopt working practices like shifts. Shift working used to be the preserve of a few, with benefits like generous overtime for the attendant inconvenience. Not any more. It’s expected. The market demands it, which is why it’s now just as hard to get a parking space at the mall on Thursday afternoons as it used to be on Saturday mornings.

In the meantime, executive compensation vastly outstrips the rate of inflation and the difference in earnings between the CEO and the guy on the shop floor has widened not a few but dozens of times. The market even killed the game show.

In the 1970’s, one of the UK’s most popular game shows was called Sale Of The Century. Broadcast by Anglia TV, it had two big draws – firstly, a really catchy theme tune; and secondly, a really charismatic host, Nicholas Parsons. It always began with a disembodied voice saying ‘And live from Norwich, it’s the quiz of the week!’ The contestants would then play to win consumer goods like washing machines, rare and valuable items in those days thanks to the machinations of the Shah of Iran.

Of course, over time the market developed to such an extent that consumer goods became cheap and affordable, by seeking its lowest cost. Playing for washing machines wasn’t fun any more, so now contestants on game shows have to do stupid, demeaning, embarrassing things on shows like Big Brother and Survivor.

The quiz of the week in Norwich last week was ‘How am I going to earn a living?’ One of the town’s biggest employers, the insurer Norwich Union, is cutting 950 jobs between its operations in Norwich and York as part of its plan to create 7,000 jobs in India over the next few years. Perfectly productive Brits are being downsized because the directors of Norwich Union think the British people are so addled by the market that they will continue to accept notional savings on insurance as justification for putting other Brits out of work – savings which never really seem to appear. They’ll have to wait and see how long we’ll take it.

Of course, the real sale of the century has been the outsourcing of American industrial capacity to China. What is the morality of this? Advocates of the free market say that if production of steel moves from Gary, Indiana to Shanghai, that is merely the market at work. The steelman in Gary wears comprehensive protective gear – the Chinese wears a T-shirt and flip-flops. There is a comprehensive system of workmens’ compensation covering the boys in Gary – are the Chinese even unionised? Are there wee lassies in China starting to hack with what P. J. O’Rourke has laughingly called ‘gym-shoe-lung?’ The Gary workers may participate in a bonus scheme based on their productivity – does the Chinese earn even a dollar a day, while his boss, probably the son or daughter of a high Communist, is driving about in a Hummer? The BBC 10 O’Clock News of September 27 had a piece on how the Chinese boom means that they now import twice the volume of oil they did three years ago, which may have the effect of keeping the oil price at its current level. Are the American people, not famously fond of expensive gas, going to have to suffer continued high prices at the pumps to enable the elite of a Communist country to consume more, while they churn up productive farmland to build more factories and then consume more gas? While it so excludes its own people that they grab every opportunity they can to find work anywhere, like the 19 Chinese cockle-pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay, England, on February 5th? Those guys, mostly Christian professional men, were people whose ethics demanded that they work to provide their families. Chinese capitalism/communism did not enable them to do so. So now they are dead. RIP.

Ah, but the Chinese were illegals! Well, yes, but they were under the thumb of organised people smugglers like the Snakeheads. Unlike many illegals they did not come from a nominal democracy. They did not cross the Channel under their own steam, but instead in a flatbed truck in which the air supply could have been cut off at any time. And the earnings of Chinese illegal immigrants in the UK do not comprise 14% of China’s GDP the way that money sent home from the States comprises 14% of the GDP of El Salvador.

Being critical of illegal immigration is not the racial nationalism that those who advocate it allege. In all matters relating to illegal immigration into the USA, I defer to Frosty Wooldridge of The Washington Dispatch. Frosty’s figure of 4,000 illegal immigrants every single day is frightening! But the market, with its insatiable appetite for growth and consumers, needs that level of illegal immigration in order to sustain itself, which it is why it will never stop. That is why Kerry will do as little as Bush has done to stop it. George W. Bush’s offer of amnesty was like rolling out the red carpet for anyone who seeks to circumvent the history and traditions of immigration into America for the chance to make a buck. It is only surprising that he was so blatant.

Markets know no borders, and those who advocate them will do anything they can to tear them down. If you don’t believe me, ask the grubs of Australia.

When grilled, grubs are considered a delicacy by travellers in the Outback. Aussie investors had better start scrambling about for them, because the world’s most powerful free-marketeer, and king of the corporate neoconservatives, is in the process of wiping up to seven per cent off the value of their stock market by taking his corporate HQ on walkabout from Sydney to New York, a move which his spokesman is unashamed to say will enable him to exercise more control over the company’s affairs. Because of globalisation and the free market, the future of the grub is not looking good!

The generic name for the cuisine of the Australian Outback is ‘bush tucker’.

Like pidgin English, Keith Rupert Murdoch is a sort of pidgin conservative – the words are the same, they’re just in the wrong order. For someone who controls an outlet like Fox News, apparently dedicated to being fair and balanced, he did his bit as one of Thatcher’s Little Helpers to smash trade unionism in the UK’s newspaper printing industry. For someone whose publications claim to be conservative, he had no hesitation in being the first proprietor to publish photographs of topless females in family newspapers.

The number of people who take his money is staggering. The blogger Andrew Sullivan describes his website as ‘independent’ –he’s written a column for Murdoch’s Sunday Times for years.

The political influence he holds, especially in the UK, is incredible – both Tony Blair and the odious Michael Howard have paid him court in Queensland, Australia and Cancun.

Never mind the trade-in he took on his wife he took after getting a gong from The Pope. Never mind his becoming an American citizen after being honoured by the government of Australia. Never mind the constant cross-selling that led Irwin Stelzer of his neoconservative bible The Weekly Standard to describe TWS as ‘the most influential opinion journal in America’ in his weekly ‘American Account’ column for the September 25th Sunday Times.

Ask instead, why did he become an American citizen? His gaining the status of American citizen enabled News Corporation to gain control of a corporate asset, Twentieth-Century Fox. It enabled him to expand his market. From his apartment overlooking Central Park, he might look down on the huddled masses below whose ancestors started their journeys to America in the hellholes of Europe, Africa and the Far East and say to himself, ‘I know what it means to be an American’.

On the other hand, having done it once, who’s to say he wouldn’t do it again?

Pat Buchanan has written recently about neoconservative antipathy towards the regime of Vladimir Putin. The neocons have been blasting Vlad the Impaler for being oppressive and illiberal, in marked contrast to their own message, which is, of, course, all sweetness and light.

On September 25th, The Sunday Telegraph reported that the king of the corporate neoconservatives, the man who gives them more airtime than anyone else, is expanding his broadcasting operations in Russia. He’s already into radio, and is hoping to give them pay-per-view. This link will enable him to leave a broadcasting footprint from the west coast of Ireland to the South China Sea. Is Vlad bad for business? Who knows?

That’s what the market represents – homogeneity of output under the control of very few people who will do anything they can, even promoting the insidious doctrine of neoconservatism, to get what they want. America’s borders? Tear them down! The Constitution and history of the United States? Throw them away!

Sorry, folks, my history’s not for sale anymore. Yours shouldn’t be either. Check where it comes from, and if it doesn’t say ‘Made in America’ don’t have anything to do with it. If the voice at the other end of the customer service line doesn’t have an American accent put the phone down. Demand the return of customer service centres to Main Street, America, so that you can get your problem fixed by another human being willing to look you in the eye and not ask you, from thousands of miles away, if cookies are enabled. Call for an 85% flat tax on outsourced goods and services as being in the interests of the American economy.

Just don’t forget come November that unless either mainstream candidate is pushed into taking action to preserve the unique status of the American economy, they will do nothing. And that’s not what you’re paying them for.