Monday, November 14, 2005

A Stack of Negatives

Resident White House fantasy-dweller Scott McClueless had the following assessment of the most recent polls on his boss' approval rating: "you can get caught up in polls; we don't. Polls are snapshots in time."

Well Scotty, the snapshots are piling up to cover a wider swath of time, and they continue to be a pack of negatives. Meanwhile, things aren't getting any rosier for the man who has really held the scepter these past five years, and
even the Brits are noticing.

These days, no matter where they go or what they do, the stink of failure follows them. The more they deny it, the more relentless is the tread of failure behind them, closing in on them like a hurricane on New Orleans. Last week, the Crawford Coward decided that a quick jaunt to South America might take some of the pressure off and distract the media from speculations about Dick, Karl, and Scooter. But once again, trouble seemed to follow him, right up to the front door of the hotel. Perhaps he was shocked, and wondered, "how could so many people possibly be
against free trade?"

We here at Daily Rev are always on the lookout for ways in which we can assist our President, so I'm pleased to report that Terry McKenna will now rejoin us to offer a few rays of insight on Duhbya's incomprehension.

The Summit of the Americas has just ended. The meeting hall was surrounded by protesters and the summiteers failed to reach an agreement. It turns out that while many South and Central American leaders want their economies to take advantage of the large US market, they are less sure of free trade. For educated city dwellers, expanded trade with the US will bring the benefit of increased employment in Latin American money centers. But for those who live in rural villages, free trade destroys the old ways. As cheap commercial maize takes over from local grain, small farmers lose out to commercial farmers. For example, Mexico now imports maize from, among all places, China. Displaced farm workers end up leaving for Mexico City, or more often, the US (usually illegally).

The history of industrialization is the history of the destruction of old ways in order to build a new economic order. The US escaped this problem, not because our industrialization was more humane, but only because we had no entrenched peasantry to throw off the lands. Britain’s industrialization was more typical. Starting in the late middle ages, the communal lands began to be enclosed and those who depended upon the lands lost their livelihood. Many ended up as laborers for Britain’s factories. Labor was so cheap in the early 1800’s that it was often cheaper to purchase good made by hand in British factories, than made by machine in an American factory.

Although all of Europe was devastated by industrialization, after WW2 Europeans instituted farm subsidies that allowed their inefficient (but ecologically sound) small farmsteads to remain in existence. The result saved what was left of rural European culture. From Ireland to France to Switzerland, farm villages remain viable. Not necessarily rich, but viable. US farm subsidies unfortunately do not work to sustain small farms, so our rural life has collapsed – with Wal-Mart hammering the last nail in the coffin.

Free market fetishists hate farms subsidies, yet look at the result. In the most extreme example, Switzerland’s Alpine farmers use obsolete techniques to manage tiny herds of cows and small land holdings. Up to 2/3 of the cost of the running a Swiss farm typically comes from the government. The farmers themselves work very hard – and the result is that rural Switzerland remains as it was: ecologically balanced, with neither too much development, nor abandoned. Sure, Switzerland is an expensive place, but they produce high quality goods across the entire spectrum of their economy. Think of that when you have a ham and Swiss cheese sandwich.

With the exception of Japan and the Koreas, Asia has only started to industrialize. China and India are rushing ahead, and without creating social supports for those who are left behind. An example came to light in a recent radio story on NPR. Calcutta now has a high tech sector, and authorities want to ban the rickshaw as an embarrassing example of an impoverished past. But what happens if they are banned? To be sure, travelers will still be able to hail a cab – but what about the poor rickshaw driver (really a rickshaw puller). He has no other means of employment. So his fate will be very much the same as that of the Mexican peasant who is no longer able to match the market price for corn. Recently the press has highlighted increasing rural unrest in China. So far India seems more peaceful.

—T. McKenna

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