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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Snow Job

Orwellian quote du Jour: "The trade gap reflects the fact that Americans are becoming more prosperous." -- Treasury Secretary John Snow. This was in reaction to this news:
The nation's trade deficit jumped sharply in November, rising to $60.3 billion, the highest figure ever and an increase of 7 percent over the month before, the Commerce Department reported today.
I think Snow's quote provides insight into the house of cards that is our economy. Our government is dropping any pretext of balancing either the trade or the budget deficit--they can't and they won't, so why not start treating them as good things instead of bad ones? That there are many indications that Americans are not becoming more prosperous certainly isn't enough to keep Snow from saying that they are. The global economy continues to ruthlessly pump the value out of the planet and the impoverished billions and into the hands of Bush, Snow, and their other accomplices. Certainly riding on Amtrak past closed-down factories from Michigan to California, and nearly-dead farm towns in Iowa and Nebraska, and jostling over poor-quality rails on a train with Baghdad-quality electricity, didn't give me any impression of a more-prosperous nation. Granted, there were miles and miles of McMansions indicating that some folks are getting more than their share. But even they won't be able to afford both the mortgage payments and the gasoline to get to jobs they may not still have when gas prices quintuple. The McMansions and luxury condos and the Wal-Marts and the office parks and casinos and yacht clubs contrast sharply with the decaying factories and tracks, physically demonstrating the trade deficit: Americans consuming but not producing.

The whole house of cards seems to stand on the fact that the world uses the dollar as its reserve currency--money that can be used to buy oil or cars or guns or drugs anywhere. But the dollar is tanking while the euro presents itself as a very attractive alternative. Once oil shiekhs and druglords start demanding euros instead of dollars, the game will be up. And it could happen any day. We'll be left here in what should be the richest country in the world, totally reliant on a global economy which no longer wants our Monopoly money. The Bushies will, of course, continue to try and fight our way out of this box rather than negotiate the dysfunctional American way of life.

I'm currently reading What's the Matter with Kansas? Thomas Frank investigates why this state with a long progressive tradition has become the reddest of the red, with huge numbers of middle-class and lower people voting Republican, against their own best interests. Here's a selection from page 5:
While earlier forms of conservatism emphasized fiscal sobriety, the backlash mobilizes voters with explosive social issues--summoning public outrage over everything from busing to un-Christian art--which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends. And it is these economic achievements--not the forgettable skirmishes of the never-ending culture wars--that are the movement's greatest monuments. The backlash is what has made possible the international free-market consensus of recent years, with all the privatization, deregulation, and deunionization that are its components. Backlash ensures that Republicans will continue to be returned to office even when their free-market miracles fail and their libertarian schemes don't deliver and their "New Economy" collapses. It makes possible the policy pushers' fantasies of "globalization" and a free-trade empire that are foisted upon the rest of the world with such self-assurance. Because some artist decides to shock the hicks by dunking Jesus in urine, the entire planet must remake itself along the lines preferred by the Republican Party, USA.
Unfortuanately, I'd bet that among readers of Frank's book people who didn't vote for Bush outnumber those who did about 50 to one.