Archive for November 7th, 2009

USA: Empire Or Business?

November 7, 2009

 

OR THE EMPIRE OF BUSINESS?

 

A US president famously uttered that:"The business of America is business."

In contrast, the old (US president) Monroe doctrine (1823) has been presented as "América para los americanos", meaning: the Americas (north, central, and south) for the USA. The fact is, as it is, the USA is the greatest imperial military power that ever was, with considerable armed forces all around the world. It may be argued that the worldwide power of USA based corporations, and supply chains directed towards the USA, go a long way to explain the riches of said USA.

Instead, those partial to the might of the finance industry of the USA, argue that the power of the USA comes from its Ayn Rand character, of private entrepreneurship, muscularly envisioning and building a better world.

As Sherry Jarrell, a finance professor, puts it in "Learning from Dogs": "The reason the U.S. economy is as strong and vibrant as it is is because of our labor market, our capital market, and free enterprise. These markets are supported by the legal and regulatory systems that define the rules of the game; they are damaged when the government steps in and tries to play the game or change the outcome of the game."

Sure. But who invented the game? The government, also known as the democracy. And who allows the children to play their game in their playground? The government, also known as the democracy.

In any case, the assertion that the “US economy is strong and vibrant” needs to be stridently revised. I have long lived in the San Francisco Bay Area (where I am thoroughly familiar, not to say familial, with the university and venture capital system). More recently, I have been residing in the French Alps. One cannot compare the strength and vibrancy of the French economy, where everything gets done, with that of California, where everything seems, weak, decaying, falling apart, and crucial elements of society seem on their way out.

At this point Northern Italy and the parts of France I have seen resemble construction sites, and one does not need SUVs to go around because there are so many potholes (as is the case in California). The French know how to dig deep and repair roads with high quality materials.

But of course road repair is government financed, even in the USA, therefore worthless according to Wall Street profiteers: if people cannot stand the potholes, the Wall Street types seem to be saying, let them all buy Porsche Cayenne Turbo: after all access to cheap oil is financed by the Pentagon!

In the SF Bay, the state (overseeing) and its private contractors are still trying to replace the main bridge since …1989. The most important bridge there was damaged in a quake, and nearly collapsed in the SF Bay. Said bridge is supported by rotting firs (!), stuck in Bay mud, screwed together with rusting bolts, ready to snap.

This happy crew, of state supervising, and private contractors contracting, are still at it, forever building that bridge, an apparently insurmountable task for their incomparable incompetence. The fact that the bridge is built in China may explain some of the problem. Strong and vibrant China is, no doubt. But it is a zero sum game: strong and vibrant there, to do that particular job, and it means it does not get done somewhere else. Apparently another insurmountable piece of logic for Wall Street, its minions, and servants.

The French built the world’s tallest bridge in three years, a few years ago, with a freeway on top (the five kilometer long Viaduc de Millaut, built by Vinci, a private contractor). The bridge elements were built in France, on the spot, not in China. Industry is not all about financial tricks to make Wall Street critters richer, it’s also about common sense: build the USA in China, and, instead of “comparative advantage”, you will get the USA to become a colony of China. You don’t get “comparative advantage”, you get comparative decay.

The Chinese imperial state understood this perfectly well went it refused to allow the free enterprise of the opium trade on its territory. Britain insisted. To force “freedom of enterprise” on China, France and Britain invaded it with their armies (enforcing the cultural exchange with the destruction of various architectural monuments, including the Summer Palace).

Here in La Salle Les Alpes, a village in the Alps, the city government decided a few months ago on a whole set of pharaonic projects, including replacing the local main bridge over the local Alpine river, one mile of re-made torrent, with Inca style stone blocks, and an impressive dam to slow down potential floods. All will be finished before the ski season. Nothing made in, or for China.

A lot of pro-plutocratic theoreticians in the USA do not seem to realize that their “level playing field for business and finance” is organized by the government of the USA. They do not seem to understand that the government, also known as the democracy, needs to be financed appropriately to make the sand box the financier and the entrepreneur play, possible at all. The French, though, have understood this since the 1600s. Some of the Americano-American debate on economics was word for word vocalized and written down in France in the 1600s. The dust has settled since, and the present pro-business, conservative government, just as the one in Germany, is practicing policies that are so much left wing, that they are unimaginable in the USA.

The USA has become increasingly an unreal place which has frequently assigned other parts to war, but was never visited seriously by war (except for the Civil War; 9/11 was just a minor scratch, relatively speaking). In France, people are still busy repairing damage from WWII, or from emergency measures, themselves damaging, taken as a result of WWII, and several other wars, before or since. Now the long term, sustainable, much more democratic European model is rising, and it seems much more competitive, strong, vibrant, just, free and equalitarian than the decomposing system in the USA.

It may be time for the USA to learn, from overseas, a few tricks it seems to have no conception of. And some integrity too. If the "game" organized by the government is biased in favor of a few particular individuals (as it is right now in the USA, be those individuals private-public politicians, or Big Bankers, friends and clients of the preceding, and vice versa), what has happened to democracy, equal opportunity, freedom, and the like?

What sort of integrity was it to give or lend or guarantee to Big Bankers so many trillion of dollars, without anything in return from them? Are the richest people in the USA so used to get money for nothing (thanks to a perverse tax structure, and decades of buying the most powerful politicians), that they cannot even say thank you?

People with a democratic and republican mind ought to ask these questions, instead of celebrating an incomparable rot.

Patrice Ayme


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