Random Thoughts

California, Dying Canary in The Coal Mine

During the early phases of the industrial revolution in Britain, when there were no protection rights for coal miners, technology was poor and digging coal hazardous, the miners hung a birdcage with a singing bird like a canary in their underground work area. A build up of noxious gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide or methane would deprive the canary of oxygen. It would stop singing and die providing the miners with an early warning system like our satellites or NORAD.

California with a 1.8 trillion dollar economy (eighth largest in the world) makes up twelve percent of the US GDP and nearly 10% of its population. It has 12% unemployment, a 24 billion dollar budget deficit for the fiscal year starting this July, a bickering highly partisan but almost balanced (Democrats and Republicans) legislature with term limits, gerrymandered voting districts (a la Tom Delay) and a requirement for a two-thirds majority for passing tax hikes and annual budgets. In other words it is a microcosm of Washington DC with its corrupt Congress and inept president without the power to print unlimited money and barred from declaring bankruptcy.

It has a constitutional privilege of holding voter referenda on issues and thus passes laws by popular demand without matching votes for funding the programs. Like all states and nations it has an uninformed, unintelligent and apathetic majority electorate, too exhausted from making a basic living and time constrained to understand issues. The media as in all the world, are lazy, timid and not smart enough to enlighten the public because of being beholden to, intimidated or bribed by their corporate owners. This is why manipulating crooks or idiots like Bush and Cheney can get away with fooling the public by saying that deficits don't matter.

For democracy to be an effective good government you need a vigilant free press and an informed, educated and participating electorate. Otherwise the elected officials will enrich themselves, secure their reelection and pass laws to benefit their financiers, impoverish the powerless majority and bankrupt the nation. Truman did that by scaring the American public by falsifying the power and intentions of the Soviets with support and instigation by a bunch of seriously paranoid officials ranging from his cabinet to diplomats and political pundits. Eisenhower despite his farewell warnings about the military industrial complex, promoted wasteful military spending and pursued self-defeating policies for the long run in Iran, Guatemala and elsewhere. 

Kennedy was a great talker like Obama, but without substance. He mired us in Vietnam. Johnson's lies and fiscally irresponsible guns and butter policy without raising taxes, forced the lying and crooked Nixon to shut the gold window, devalue the dollar and escalate the war in Southeast Asia. Bumbling Ford who bought the presidency by a probable quid pro quo for promising to pardon Nixon was followed shortly by a control freak Carter who birthed our Nemesis, the Mujahedin by being guided by the severely psychologically traumatized in childhood, Brzezinski. 

A smooth talking Reagan probably having early Alzheimer's and thus capable of communicating at the intelligence level of the American public and assured of the backing of moneyed interests by his reverse Robin Hood financial policies, set the nation on the course of irresponsible fiscal bankruptcy. Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. completed the de-industrialization of America. The only truth that Bush Jr. spoke and accomplished was spreading democracy to the Middle East. To him goes the credit of teaching the Iranian Mullahs how to successfully rig elections, as he did in 2000 and 2004. He did spread his brand of a rigged election democracy to Iran.

The US has an old history of democracy falling prey to populist sentiments. Early after its birth there was the Shay rebellion in Massachusetts where farmers agitated to have their debts squashed. Shortly thereafter was the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania when farmers agitated against an increased tax on whiskey, easier to transport east, compared to the more bulky barley. Both these rebellions were squashed by military force by Washington. A similar uprising may occur by the common citizens suffering home foreclosures but has been squashed by the US Senate serving as prostitutes for the banks. Professor Elizabeth Warren gave a TV interview about her book 'Two Income Trap' some years ago and mentioned how Hillary, who as first lady had been supportive of the rights of credit card holders, turned around 180 degrees as a New York Senator, to pass the new bankruptcy bill, which required some mandatory repayment of debts even after bankruptcy, probably because her campaign received sizable contributions from the big money center New York banks.

California with its population like that of the nation, wanting more and more government benefits without the will or intention to pay for them, and at the mercy of corrupt, selfish legislators only interested in their tenure, is a harbinger of the fate of the nation. Police, firemen, teachers, nurses will be laid off, services like recreation parks, healthcare and education will be severely downsized and the economy will worsen by falling jobs, falling incomes, falling tax receipts, falling home prices. The end result will be the Wal-mart down spiral. That would be the opposite of Henry Ford's statement that he wanted to pay his workers high enough wages so that they could buy the cars they made.

The transfer of manufacturing to China and services to India, mainly to increase corporate profits and share prices, to enrich the managers by cashing in on an obscene number of options often illegally backdated, and the shifting of the headquarters of US corporations to a Bermuda or Cayman Island post box to escape US income taxes with the blessings of the idiotic Congress and President under the false banner of free trade, is not consistent with David Ricardo's analysis of the advantage of free trade, because its assumptions of restriction of capital movements, pre-requisite of full employment in the trading nations are not met. Thus lower wages and lax environmental laws with their tilted playing field makes it pure mercantilism. In the case of America and China there is not even justification to give it a Friedreich List twist of an industrialized nation fooling an agricultural nation and keeping it at the lower rung of the ladder (See books by Ha Joon Chang). The US Congress, to enrich the corporate executives on whose money they are dependent for election, are willingly selling out the nation by keeping it stuck at the base of the ladder and allowing other nations, some of whom are unfriendly rivals, to step on our heads to ascend the ladder as they kick the US down. 

In every nation, close to half the population has limited skills and education and need service jobs which must be performed locally within the nation. By outsourcing for toys, textiles, televisions etc., such people have a bleak future. Cheaper wages and well educated Chinese, Indian and East European workers are threatening the earnings and jobs of accountants, lawyers, doctors, programmers, reporters and financial analysts. Is the US going to become a nation of hamburger flippers and derivative traders? De-leveraging by the debt ridden consumer is jeopardizing the jobs of sales clerks in department stores and servers in restaurants. 

The public is fooled by the constant barrage of dishonest newsmaker pundits hallucinating about green shoots. This is to enrich the big banks whose major profits come from proprietary trading. They announce upgrades and downgrades on stocks, while regulatory agencies like the SEC turn a blind eye to the front loading positions taken by the firms prior to the rating changes. Those firms who rate stocks should be forbidden from proprietary trading. Collusion between such groups is one of the causes of the mortgage securities debacle. Geithner, Summers and their ilk, whose both hands are stuck in the cookie jar, are hardly the regulators that would watch out for the public interest and welfare. They are as impartial regulators, as the US is an impartial peace broker and referee in the Israeli Palestinian dispute.

The only workable solution to the US economic crisis is for the US to run decades of trade and possibly even budget surpluses. That would require a large dollar devaluation, reduced consumption, increased savings and the willingness of our trade partners to markedly increase consumption. China is unlikely to do so because it is not an ally and it needs to run huge trade surpluses by exporting, to provide employment for its teeming masses, to avoid political unrest and assure the illegitimate rule of its kleptocratic pseudo-communist oligarchy. Even our friends like Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and even Germany are dependent on exports and unlikely to be willing to run huge trade deficits with us. Lastly, what the hell do we make that the rest of the developed world really wants? I don't hear the canary singing, maybe only the cannibal cockroach politicians will be the sole survivors as they thrive in smoke filled rooms without oxygen, honesty or decency.   


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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