Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Savaging the Walmart Solution

I've been impressed with the staying power of anti-government rhetoric coming from the Republicans even as they achieve a fait accompli by running government with such utter incompetence. How could the Republicans lead, by using a tool--government--they hold in such scorn?

Now, on to the Libertarians, who's anti-government position the Republicans hijacked, if only in their rhetoric, as Bush-era Conservatives have hardly been conservative with our money. I recently read an article by Llewellun Rockwell on falling wages here in the US. In response to that article, I sent him the following e-mail:

Dear Mr. Rockwell,

I'm impressed with your site and appreciate the libertarian viewpoint. Although I am mostly a traditional liberal, I hold some libertarian positions: among them fiscal conservancy and the idea that business should be free of governmental intereference where possible. I do however approach the onus of government control by recognizing the natural tendency of business to profit at the expense of the environment, as well as for the owners of the means of production to maximize their return by reducing costs of labor, which naturally encourages exploitation. So in this sense I'm for environmental regulation and labor, but not much else.

Now I just read your article, "Why Are You Worse Off." I am impressed with the general thrust of your article, and am especially pleased with your ability to point out certain economic facts which appear beyond the reach of the MSM.

Some conservatives (including as always their far inferior (neo) Conservative replicators) have mentioned the benefit a Walmart brings in lowering prices. You bring up the inflation-reducing benefits of big box retailing and encourage more of the same: "These stores are a major source of American prosperity, and we need ever more of them."

I agree that lower prices brought out through the economies of scale do lower prices and inflation. However, I do not believe the trend towards lower pricing can be continued, so in a sense I see the unsustainability of the import buying spree creating a gaping liability as Americans grow dependent on overseas production for cheaper goods, and thus expose their future standard of living to the vagaries of international labor markets and exchange rates (not to mention a national defense mandate undermined by complete dependency on sourcing goods from potential enemies.)

You claim these stores are a "a major source of American prosperity" but are you aware that the Chinese Government--hardly a champion of libertarian causes--is Walmart's largest shareholder? And since when is the process of importing a satisfactory achievement for the American economy? We are a nation of importers; the sustainability of a 2 and 1/2 billion dollar a day trade deficit hardly bodes well for the value of the dollar. Should the dollar drop, and our dependency on imports becomes a liability; rather than fight off inflation, costlier imports will contribute to inflation in light of our spending addiction. (Or the lower incomes will prevent more and more consumers from enjoying the benefits of products supplied by Walmart.)

Now in the atomized view of economics you and many Libertarians apparently take, long-term and qualitative (of life) issues may be excluded because their conclusions don't jibe with a numbers-only analysis of trade and the costs of things. Also, the quantification-only approach is completely short-term; it fails to address the longer-term impacts on employment, income, and other trends.

Back to Walmart. I know the concept of any kind of zoning may appall those of your ilk, who believe that individuals should be determinants of what is done on their property without interference by governmental bodies. Now while I have no problem with a big box or two, surely anyone could see that endless sprawl is a product of uncontrolled growth.

In the sense that you ignore any negatives associated with their style of competition, you ignore the gross debasement of small town living and its vital, independently owned businesses. Many towns in New England know the consequences of opening their towns to direct competition with unregulated producers hiring at sweat shops rates not across the globe, but down the street. Walmart is thus being stopped there, not by some nefarious government, but by the people themselves, who want to preserve their heritage and not sell out to save a few bucks.

I was shocked to hear the statistics on just how many locally owned stores go out of business after a Walmart comes. Efficiencies being worked out through natural market forces you say? Well, did you know an average job at Walmart creates $4,000 in annual subsidies from government? So if the Walmartization were healthy, why would it require government help?

Why are you so convinced this type of competition is fair, much less healthy? The price-is-everything approach to economics threatens domestic business--when they closed due to competition from polluting, labor exploiting Asians companies, what do you think will happen to the prices of imports? The benefits of lower costs will in fact become huge liabilities as the costs of the goods they import rises. The Chinese are moving towards a currency float which will invariably raise prices.

Have you heard of the tragedy of the commons? An interesting concept which may not have received wide play in the hopelessly short-sighted world of maximum individual rights and limited collective responsibility.

You say that the "division of labor is globalized..." which is true, but the competition it brings may in fact need to be evaluated on 1) its longer-term viability and 2) consequences to manufacturing, employment, and wages here in the US. I agree with your statement that "this has been great for the American consumer" only if I ignore these other standards for evaluating economic improvement.

I did have some issue with your statement "...those who want to draw attention to the decline in real wages are apt to blame trade for part of the problem, rather than giving credit where it is due." Yes trade benefits Americans by providing lower prices. But an economy is more than the sum of its parts. The lower prices offered by Big Box retailers create a dependency on cheaper goods made outside our borders whose prices will rise. They drain jobs from within our border and weaken locally owned business, who contribute to their communities far more than do out-of-state companies. And their cheapness has created a drug-like spending addiction that requires financing by foreign governments, making the future stability of our economy dependent on the willingness of others to lend to us. What kind of economic growth is that?

Lastly, you talk about how the Electrical market is "heavily controlled by government...directly administered by public agencies." I guess you don't know that PUHCA (Public Utilities Holding Company Act) was gutted as a direct consequence of lobbying by Enron (which contributed over $2 million to Bush's Presidential campaigns). Well, I'm sure you know the impact of that move away from regulation: higher prices and the largest business failure on record.

I'm sorry that the Libertarian perspective can only imagine a fantasy world where businesses have total free reign and prosperity and economic improvement are the only consequences. To form a more balanced worldview, please open your eyes up to the long-term consequences (sprawl, debt, lower income) and immediate realities caused by unbridled, uncontrolled greed.

You claim "the answer to our standard-of-living woes is a radical restructuring that would make education, health care, and energy look and behave much more like retail discount stores and apparel." That would appear to me to be more of what America is looking more and more like every day. This flawed vision to turn all aspects of government services into some for-profit, serve-the-customer type approach is routinely trumped out as God's way of exposing just how kooky Libertarians are. There is no profitability in some things, and no company would ever provide those services. Look at our 35th-in-the-world healthcare for an idea of how privatization is not working. Get real and maybe we can accomplish achievable goals for the far more important vision of less and more responsible government spending.

The collapse of wages and its corollary--high quality jobs--don't bring good things only bad, yet you would wish more of this upon is, undoubtedly resulting in lower wages and more Walmart, subisdy-dependent (read tax-supported) jobs: "...what the American worker needs is more of what Wal-Mart offers and less of what the government offers." Well, Mr. Rockwell, apparently the government is offering to Wal-mart employees government money, and subsidizing the vaunted object of your affection!
End of Letter

Future Trends
We can't spend our way to economic prosperity in the long-term simply by borrowing as we are now. At a certain point we need to make and sell goods and exports. Weaker growth will lead to a weakening of our currency and higher borrowing costs, making growth harder not easier. The lower the income levels, the higher the tax rates to maintain current government spending (like Rockwell, and unlike the rhetoric of many liberals and actions of (neo-)Conservatives, I do see this as the issue.)

While lower wages might relieve inflationary pressure, the less domestic, high-quality, good-paying industries we have, the greater the threat of inflation when the imports get more expensive in dollar terms. Eventually, lower incomes may reduce demand (assuming people can't just borrow to make up any shortfalls), so in one sense less economic prosperity can help, but only in the sense things must get worse to get better. But with our unknown money supply, who knows just how much cash could come rushing in? You can't help but wonder when the liquidity bubble will burst (probably when foregin creditors--the source of the $2 1/2 billion a day--begin demanding more interest.)

Monday, August 28, 2006

War on Mood Elevators

I am posting here portions of a post I made on inthesetimes regarding a poll on the Lieberman-Lamont primary.

I was impressed with the quality of comments made in response to my initial post (see the post following this here on jbpeebles for those comments.) You may want to visit the inthesetimes.com site.

As background, it's important to understand that the Iraq War has become a political liability. Political nonconformists are taking considerable delight in the truth that just going along will take you over a cliff. The passivity with which Democrats and moderate Republicans have dealt with the Bush Administration is becoming a political problem as the militarist policies of the Administration are proving unmanageable and invariably unwinnable.

The lesson here is clearly to question the motives of the President before buying into any policy agenda. Where questionable facts are spread, ask questions. The media failed to do this, and the consequence has been an unnecessary war. Congress has also failed; by unconditionally accomodating the President's every whim, they've made us all unwilling co-conspirators in a failed strategy to win Iraq from the "terrorists."

As Bush's mood-elevated ramblings begin to sound more and more like the hollow rhetoric some of us have heard from the start, realists are joining moderates in opposing the senseless, open-ended land wars in Asia.

The blind obedience goes back to Vietnam. Rush and the Right-wing hate mongers blame our failure there on the media. By crushing antiwar dissent, the storyline goes, we could have perpetuated the conflict long enough to win.

Perhaps starting a war and continuing it indefinitely is a way that the Right can show us how to win, as they would have without the liberal press telling Americans that we were losing. Iraq is how the sour taste of defeat in Vietnam can be replaced by the sweetness of victory. Never mind the reality that the Iraqis will hate us in the future for our "liberation", or that broadening anti-US sentiment will make any other goals we have for the region unachievable.

The Right isn't about winning on the battlefield, they want to score political points domestically. So for those wanting to believe the best, the eternal optimists, staying the course makes sense (assuming of course that these people aren't able to objectively evaluate the chance of "victory.") Keep popping the mood elevators, and they won't even notice the body bags coming back, or how little the Iraqis can achieve without us--read Zulus and no redcoats.

Those catastrophic issues may be petty inconsistencies in the petty minds of war supporters, but they do dictate outcomes back here on Earth. Simply purging the depressing truths isn't enough to alter reality, as a matter of fact ignoring the facts necessitates the continued popping of anti-depressants to prop up a state of mind these fantasists must preserve to reconcile the world to their worldview.

So let the Presidents ramble on about victory over the terrorists, taking as long as it may. He will always have a cadre behind him, simply because in our depressing world, accepting that we cannot always win or have our way requires accepting just how powerless we really are (yes even the Untied States can't have everything it wants). Lacking control over our lives will invariably lead to depression, so why be depressed? When the facts and realities of the truth have caught up to the consequences of carefully spun, long-term truth denial, Bush and his followers will be long gone, or so they think. The sober people will be left to clean up their mess.

There are fortunately bastions of truth out there for those who see their world through the lense of reality, not some some rose colored, anti-depressant-laced looking glass. Back to my 2nd post about Lamont-Leiberman on inthesetimes [I am TruthTelR there]:

...So many people who buy into the War Party's racism have no contact with Muslims at all. The consequence are trumped up charges born of paranoia, as we saw with the young men from Dearborn buying phones (charges subsequently dropped.)

The mantle of fear depends on a state of ignorance. If people realized there is no problem with Islam, just radicalism within Islam, we'd begin to solve the problems we have in the region. That radicalism feeds off of US support for Israel and the Gulf states (if anyone actually listened for the reasons Osama gave for hating us.)

There is some paranoia on the other side of the cultural and religious divide, but who could blame them? They have something we crave--oil. There's been systematic economic exploitation of the region by Western powers. And if we look at what the Israelis have done to Lebanon, largely with American weapons, wouldn't you be a little scared of getting Depleted Uranium dropped on your country? (And remember Lebanon is half Christian--which in itself proves that the Clash of Civilizations isn't about religion, although Shia areas were hit hardest by Israel.)

The militaristic approach is highly flawed at best. Educated and informed voters will invariably seek out more logical solutions to the problems we face with the Middle East. While the victor in the Senate race may be antiwar, unfort he will also be extremely sympathetic to the Israeli side, which will continue to slant our military and fiscal support towards that country. The absence of a less biased approach to our foreign policy in the region will ferment Islam militancy as we are caught supporting Israel and so-called "moderate" states who repress their populations.

End Post.

Media Angle
I think the failure of Americans to understand what is realy going on is a product of extreme pro-Israeli bias in the media. Slanted stories and censorship-by-omission are the consequences. As we saw in the run-up to Iraq, the press has become Bush's lapdog. So is it that big of a surprise that the press takes an anti-Arab stance? So many in the media have worked for Israel-centered organizations. Israel has lobbied long and hard to become the most influential nation in America. So of course the Israeli lobby takes advantage of its position in order to benefit the nation. As before Iraq, the MSM goes along.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Beginning of The End

Lamont's victory demonstrates the beginning of the end of the rise of the so-called Conservatives.

A vote against Lieberman was a vote against the Iraq War. The 61% disapproval ranking against Bush's handling of Iraq has opened a nascent political movement, motivated by "righteous indignation" or "moderate rage."

Watergate and Vietnam were followed by a swinging of the pendulum back to the left. It took better than a decade before conservatives under Reagan reignited their base, deflated as it had been by Vietnam and Watergate.

To energize the nationalistic urgings of their base--massaged by Reagan's rightward foreign policy as they had been--the Right ritually turns to war. To fend off criticism of the military failure that follow, they attack the inadequacy of a less forceful response; first, by tarring with the broadest brush any alternative to stay the course and second, by overinflating the nature of the threat, just like Goering, who said:
"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."

The neo-con architects of US policy in the Mideast are experts on Nazi doctrine, believing as they that democracies must resort to extreme measures to prevent the rise of dictatorships, so it's no surprise this approach would be trotted forth once again. Agitprop spinning--called propaganda in the Nazi's day--had successfully deluded the German people into believing there had been no alternative to war. Coincidentally the Nazi invasion of Poland had been considered pre-emptive, in the same way the neo-cons excused the war on Iraq--justified in stopping the spread of terror and WMD. The neo-cons have launched the US into open ended, land war in Asia with a undefined enemy. Their motivation appears to be to support the policies of the State of Israel alongside our own.

Unfortunately for them, militarism is failing and their foreign policy with them. The outcome of Israeli military aggression is appearing to be the same as the Iraqi adventure: greater strength for fundamentalist enemy and less popular support for US allies in the region, leading to coups and possible regime change held back only by authoritarian measures.

The Bush regime seems destined for crashing on the rocks of the Middle East. They are by no means the first. Some of us might not miss their twisted policy vision unfolding disasterously as it is, regardless of the rhetoric. Still others in more moderate positions must see not only the failure of leadership, but the greater connotation for US foreign policy into the future--a much-less-influential position of authority, with reduced credibility in the region.

Odd how the Conservatives (I choose to use capital "C" to distinguish from the traditional definition of the word) blame weakness and a "pre 9/11 mindset" on the preceding Clinton era, as if someone else were to blame for their inability to find success or Bin Laden.

Politically convenient, such tactics really do demean the vaunted Conservatives. As we see the "security advantage" diminish--now only 7% more of the population believes Republicans would do a better job on the War on Terror. Considering the War on Terror is the creation of a bipartisan "War Party," the business of who is believing who really doesn't matter to me. Any public so readily fooled deserves neither peace nor security. If the pendulum is in fact swinging back, it won't matter who gets labelled what, or by whom.

This is the freight train roaring down the political tracks, the 800 pound gorilla in the china shop War-makers from both parties don't want the public to hear. Unfortunately, no amount of spin can really disguise the churning bloodbath US and Israeli militancy has created in the increasingly unstable Middle East.

There are limits to even the public's vulnerability to spin. Media handlers liek Rove presume that no amount of spin is ever enough. Yet rhetoric, slopped on however thick--simply can't disguise the massive failure that Iraq has become. The President's unchanging support for the war, and his abject denial of the sane who want Rumsfeld gone, is destroying his Administration. Too stubborn to let go, his whole upside-down, mood-elevated approach is proving to be complete inadequate in dealing with the crisis we face.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Welcome to jbpeebles

jbpeebles is blog designed to entertain the politically minded.

Its author is a 40-year-old writer from a red state.

Jb stands for John Bartlett, and peebles is the blogger's last name.

I've been published online and hope to use this blog as a centralized repository of links to information, op-ed pieces. I'd like to republished some of my aticles here, or at least link them from here.

I do plan to offer my favorite quotations, possibly some pictures and podcasts here at jbpeebles.blogspot.com. I may move written content here and link to another site from here for non-written media.

As an amateur writer, I'm still developing my work and distributing it from a relatively low level of sophistication. I have however been writing off and on for 13 years, both fiction and non-fiction, with a strong thrust towards the political since the Iraq War.

On the positive side, I think I can discuss and analyze timely and important issues and world events. I have travel and living experience abroad, and have a broader worldview than those who imagine the world from the inside out. In the sense I'm a news blogger/political writer, I believe in the power of red pill journalism, and an effort to drive towards the truth in every exchange.

Unfortunately, my editing skills are still being improved, even though school culminated in a Master's Degree in International Management. I do have access to the services of a professional editor, my mother! I hope you, my reader, will bear with me as the quality of my work improves.

Personally, I'm a strong environmental advocate. I've worked on sprawl issues in the past. I do some nature photography in the area I live.

I was a former English teacher in Japan. My Japanese is a little rusty , but I can ramp up to proficiency if need be.

jbpeebles is here because I have things to say. Some of my opinions you may disagree with but I hope I can do adequate service with the facts as I understand them.

I've committed to making comment open and available for subsequent posts, subject to some conditions. My purpose is to provide well-written commentary for this blog, out of the belief that as we learn more, we are enlightened.

I may be accused of being many things, but I hope at the end of my articles you will be challenged about things you may have falsely believed. Of course my version of truth may not be identical to yours, but I'm constantly striving to encourage debate on the facts, with the intent of separating truth from non-truth.