Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Free (?) Trade

The first rule of economics or sales pitches in general should be that as soon as the word "free" enters the discussion you're being lied to. So far as I know not even the air you breath is free, if it's dirty you'll see doctors and if it's clean you've paid somebody to not dirty it up. Trade is an exchange of goods and services for goods and services. In this process of exchange there is bartering going on, somebody gives on something. In this process one of the barters made is the American public trading jobs and wages for cheaper products. This might sound absurd, but the trade is made on the backs of the invisible man, he worked inside one of those big ole factories making something, from a lawn chair to an automobile or heavy equipment or pieces of those products or pieces of the things that make those products.

Now the company that makes those things found that Congress could help their bottom line and shareholders by removing the obstacles to cheaper labor and infrastructure by letting them move to...say Mexico. Thanks to the plutocratic government in that foreign country pollution controls aren't an issue and paying crummy wages trumps the peonage inflicted on the citizenry by their governments. Transportation is a breeze and product defects are easily subsidized by the cost cutting and the shareholders make out. The guy who had that job is in dire straits now, he takes a lower paying job to get by, possibly doing the same work with a company now in competition with his old boss' cheaper costs. The family now has no health insurance and with the lower pay is skirting disaster daily, and when they fall - and they will - the taxpayers pick up the bills.

Another trade is the uncontrolled products entering the market, like poison pet food or toxic toys, your personal security is traded in exchange for cheaper products. The $100 you saved on toy purchases is now worth a lifetime of brain damage from lead paint - something removed from the product stream in this country decades ago. The big box discount store you shop at consistently squeezes suppliers with foreign product prices subsidized by near slave wages, non-existent quality control, and filthy production facilities - filthy enough that the Pacific Ocean isn't big enough to keep their crap out of our surface water. Poison from China rains in Oregon. You drink it and eat fish from it and buy the crap that is poisoning you and killing your fellows' wages.

Yes, the plutocrats have decided that their wealth insulates them from the effects of their "free" trade and that trade increases their wealth. Your health and income be damned. Capital gains rule, and at 15% tax are less than the FICA bite on your check, that's right, you and your employer pay 15.43%. You pay, every day, a subsidy to the plutocrats to depress wages in taxes and increased health care insurance premiums for cheap junk.

Don't mind that places, like maybe Columbia, have killed labor organizers on a regular basis, you can get stuff cheap if their workers are kept down. Their plutocrats will make a killing, either with the help of ex-patriot US companies or their own. There are only two really large variables in production costs, one is labor and the other facility costs. Smoke stack scrubbers aren't cheap, they keep crap out of the air, but they have a cost. Labor in this country has expected to be able to get along without daily worry about disaster. Free traders and free marketeers will tell you it is labor's fault for making poor personal choices, they picked the wrong jobs, didn't get enough education, just didn't want to work hard enough.

What they don't want to tell you is the dirty little secret that from St Ronnie Reagan on, the US government has made it its business to subsidize the rich and depress wages. Free traders tell you that trade isn't a zero sum game, and it isn't if you look at it without accounting for the subsidies and losses to workers and the environment - here or there. The US used to be accused of neo-colonialism for stripping countries of their resources, that hasn't changed, now it just includes their labor force and their environments in the stripping.

John McCain loves this stuff, remember he's been on the governmental teat his entire life, that and married rich - the next time around. His pals are good at stripping the American public, either with Savings and Loans or representing dictatorships or Enron-like entities. Try to find a time he hasn't seen or doesn't now see wealth and privilege as his constituency. If a company sucks on the taxpayers' dollar he's in their pocket - war industries, telecoms, oil and gas, big bucks and corporate headquarters location be damned. There are studies enough to show the drop in income for the lower 40% of income earners and a partial showing of the gain of the top 5% and nothing even near the truth of the rapacious winning of the top 0.1%, though what shows is shocking.

The American worker as shown repeatedly that on even a near even footing no place on earth can exceed them for productivity. Once transportation costs are factored in, it isn't even close, and yet the jobs leave and wages plummet. There are entire product categories where a "Made in America" label are impossible to find. Free traders will have you believe that it will raise the standards of the countries involved, this certainly isn't going to happen if those countries' governments can help it, if it happens the companies will desert them for one where it hasn't happened - ask the Mexicans. Mexico is now an import door for China and much of what they were making has gone there. Once it's in Mexico it's a NAFTA item.

Free trade is a cheat and a deceit, nothing is free. The middle class is starting to find out that as the bottom falls out they begin to slide, also. Money doesn't move down, never has, it moves up. Nothing the wealthy class has came from someplace else, it is an upward stream. They're re-channeling the stream, off-shore, and with that diversion the upstream flow that went through the middle is now bypassing them. Ronnie Reagan's trickle down was a myth, the rich produce nothing, they take. There is no such thing as "on paper wealth" that is computer bytes or ink on scrap paper and worthless, it rests on production.

If it is in the ground or grown or made from those things work had to go into the end of it, the value of any paper come from the labor that made the end product. The really disgusting piece of the whole mess is that the work they cannot outsource they in-source. Businesses are fighting tooth and nail to keep their illegal hires without penalty. And so wages slide and Americans are less and less likely to want the jobs.

If you're reading this on the 'net at work and you're saying, "hey, my job doesn't involve calluses and sweating," look at the stream involving your job, somewhere it involves labor. You cannot have a service industry without labor, at one point it is basic to what you do, even if you never see it. The invisible man keeps you in money. Free my ass, keep your hand on your wallet when you hear that crap.

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