The Squandering of America by Robert Kuttner

book jacket tilted busThe Squandering of America: How the Failure of our Politics Undermines our Prosperity (2007) by Robert Kuttner

I am starting at the end in the chapter of on Trade and the National Interest, subtitle “The Debate We Should be Having.” Much of the book is kind of more of the same of his other books, maybe a little more difficult to get into. I did particularly like his position on trade since the TPP terrifies me in a scifi dystopian world to come soon kind of way. Page 241:

If you accept the broad premise of this book (and the evidence of twentieth history), a MANAGED FORM OF CAPITALISM is far better for most people, better for a broadly diffused prosperity, better for economic efficiency, and better for the stability of the system as a whole. The nation-state is necessarily the venue of that economic management, because it is the locus of government and of political democracy. There is no global government, only very partial and largely unaccountable institutions of international regulation. The only entity close to a transnational democratic polity is the European Union. But the European Union solves the problem of reconciling private commerce with managed capitalism on only one continent and Europe’s model is coming under increasing threat by the current brand of globalization.

“Free trade” is a synonym for laissez-faire capitalism operating across borders. But if laissez-faire is NOT THE OPTIMAL FORM of capitalism domestically, it is not the best brand of capitalism internationally. The free-trade story is at odds with the way capitalism actually works, the way capitalism has been domesticated within the advanced countries to provide broadly diffused benefits, the way most trading nations pursue advantage, and the way trade diplomacy operates. In practice, the pursuit of “free trade” causes the U.S. government to sacrifice the NATIONAL INTEREST for the SELF-INTEREST OF THE ECONOMIC ELITES.

In American politics today, there is almost no serious discussion of how to reconcile the goals of expanded cross-border commerce and Third World development with that of maintaining HIGH AND EGALITARIAN LIVING STANDARDS in the United States and the other countries with decent SOCIAL COMPACTS. The official United States agenda for trade evades the real issues that our economy needs to confront if we are NOT to lose what REMAINS OF SOCIAL PROTECTIONS, decent wages, and the broader ability of the United States to compete as an advanced economy. If we had a different balance of political power, we would be having an entirely different conversation. The real issues raised by globalization are these:

  • How can we preserve the instruments of a mixed economy when commerce increasingly crosses borders? Which necessary regulatory functions can best be performed by national governments? Which ones cans can be accomplished by reciprocal conventions and treaties that set common goals? Which require global institutions of governance, with substantial delegation of sovereignty? Which necessitate conditional, as opposed to open, trade. What other constraints on capital flows are necessary?

Okay so that last is a very hard paragraph to read much less follow. He goes on like that for several more lengthy bullet points full of semi-rhetorical questions. But no answers at this point from the author. It should be noted that this book was written in 2007 before the TPP was known to anyone except perhaps the good corporation lawyers that were hatching the plan.

The awful truth is that there is NO DESIRE on the part of Republicans or their puppet masters, the billionaires and corporations, to HAVE ANY SOCIAL COMPACT AT ALL. They WANT to eliminate all social protections from the predator class. My guess is that if they manage to take more control of the states and the congress, we can kiss the courts and SCOTUS goodbye with a republican president as well. They like us all anxious and debt-ridden, and teetering on the brink so we will be docile and subservient and not question their motives, justice, or beliefs that will be imposed upon us. They certainly don’t want any EGALITARIAN AND HIGH STANDARD of housing for we peons. Their crashing the housing market sucked what little equity out of most unfortunates who are still lucky enough to be in their homes at all. AND NOBODY WENT TO JAIL. People lost trillions and banks got bailed out. Because it would be immoral to give bailout money to PEOPLE but no worry about MORALITY with CORPORATE PEOPLE because (a) they aren’t fucking people, and (b) they have no moral, or ethics, or humanity, or empathy, or compassion, or mercy, or any other human quality. And that goes for the actual people working there too, the financiers and gamblers / traders and junk bond lawyers and derivative “instrument” creators that make up fake paper to sell for people who use borrowed but insured money to gamble on the fake papers falsely given appropriate risk assessments by their bed partners, the ratings agencies.

On page 242 Kuttner says, “We need to align the interests of corporations once again with the interests of citizens.” Poor deluded man (joke), I bet he doesn’t think this fantasy is a possibility any more, if it ever was, which I doubt. He continues by saying “Some of this endeavor will require transnational forms of regulation, such as the Kyoto protocols and the core labor standards of the ILO, and conventions among government s to prevent offshore tax evasion and end runs around national regulation of finance. ” Oh my he really is a dreamer. He must believe people are inherently good whereas I believe people are inherently evil but given strength of character can overcome that deficit. The mind is a marvelous tool for rationalizing misdeeds and justifying wrong doing. As a writer of mystery stories once told me, villains are the heroes in their own stories. They don’t think of themselves as deliberately leaving babies to die when they cut food assistance because they believe that someone else, like FREAKING CHURCHES will do their job to help the less fortunate. And while the churches might do some good deeds, it is not free, the price is a sermon at the very least I suspect.

He concludes this dream world with the following p. 243 text (I too would like this dream to become reality):

Some of it will require much more robust domestic SOCIAL INVESTMENTS, so that individuals and families are sheltered against ECONOMIC DISLOCATIONS beyond their personal control and are given the tools to compete. The point is that the history of the past century has proven that MANAGED CAPITALISM [regulated] is superior to laissez-faire capitalism, more efficient as well as more equitable, and it should not be sacrificed on the altar of utopian free markets, global or otherwise.

He concludes this trade chapter with possibly one of the biggest understatements ever:

Regulating transnational capitalism may be administratively and diplomatically challenging, but the DEEPER CHALLENGE is POLITICAL. Until domestic politics change, the U.S. agenda for the global system will persist on its destructive path.

It is very hard for me, despite fervently hoping Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, to see how there will be any political will to change things because, fundamentally I fear that SCOTUS electing George W. Bush sealed our fate. The evangelicals have run amok with their efforts to return women’s lives to the fifties, as well as gays and transgender, racism, and more. The hatred of the poor, especially single mothers no matter the cause, is exceptionally virulent for no reasons I can fully grasp. The fervor of the forced birthers is equaled or exceeded by the hatred of the parasitical mothers. And they don’t even care that criminalizing abortion will not stop it anymore than having prostitution illegal stops “the world’s oldest profession.” It just kills women.

As long as the hypocritical right wing lying bastards (like former speaker Dennis Hastert) still have the respect of 41 members on Congress to defend a homosexual pedophile for whom they asked for reduced sentencing following his conviction of multiple counts of depravity, these same men excoriate women who have sex will never be fit legislators to change the balance of the budgetary spending to social justice instead of supporting their buddies in the military industrial complex and health insurance with a side of Big Pharma bribery. Um, campaign contributions.

Whereas, like in Dickens’ time and most other times globally, historically only business has deserved protection from unforeseen disruptions or deliberate ones in or stupid ones. While corporations have now been given “personhood” [rot in hell Scalia], they ARE NOT held morally accountable for bad business decisions nor do they face jail time for deliberate criminal activities. Since corporations can pay billions in fines (and where the fuck does that money go? not to the little people they screwed!) without admitting wrongdoing or any personal liability, they “privatize the profit and socialize the rich.” (I think Kuttner said this, but maybe in another book.) The corporate management provides excessively well paid bribes for the sinecures for incumbents to carry on living off the government teat that they simultaneously are so keen to prevent single mothers from sharing in such a luxury of income, insurance, benefits, offices, staff, paid travel, etc. etc. plus the post-retirement or heaven forbid a miracle occurs and they don’t get re-elected, the lobbyist jobs they obtain for unspeakable sums of money.  Congress retirees (willing or not) gets to live large on taxpayer dollar retirement funds and rake in corporate salaries for “jobs” aka their influence on their old pals still in Congress.

The most aggravating things is that there is NO UTOPIAN free-market reality and anyone who claims there is ignores reality, history, and common sense. It is well established that a “free” — i.e. unregulated market, does not increase competition, it defeats by hook and by crook competition to become a monopoly. Look at the robber barons, they ran some businesses at a loss just to bankrupt their smaller competition and then bought them for pennies on the dollar and then jacked up their prices and no one was left to compete to keep prices down. That’s why we had to make anti-trust laws that are now being ignored completely as far as I can tell, especially with the new merger between Comcast and Time-Warner. This merger is especially unconscionable since Reagan (I think) gutted the limitations of the ownership of the airwaves to avoid the monopoly of a few companies from controlling the news we see. Well, I think that is proven to be a bad idea for democracy but gee whiz Roger Ailes is making a shitload of money with his Faux news and now that Comcast owns MSNBC what little liberal voice there was has been crushed. Plus he killed National Geographic by taking it over.

Thankfully, we still have the Internet but we the people are paying through the nose with monopolistic price setting that only gets worse with the recent merger. However, it is slower as well as more costly than other countries. The infrastructure is in place, they charge $50 a month or more per household PLUS lease only set-top boxes per TELEVISION now. Multiply that by the number of households in your city and do the math. Billions and trillions, all loopholed to avoid taxes and parked offshore while people have become dependent on it as a UTILITY which is what it should be — NOT A PRIVATE FOR PROFIT business, but as essential to homes as electricity and heat. You need it to manage credit cards, bank accounts, buy stuff (especially for rural people), research many topics like health conditions or look for jobs or educational opportunities. Many things are only available online now, so that is a real problem that forces poor people to have to pay for an overpriced bunch of services. And of course, it is the epitome of equitable access, so far anyway, though the corporate owners (profiteering off public investment in the whole damn thing) are doing their best to get Congress to eliminate net neutrality so they can legally “choke” certain things, or make it pay per gig, or pay premiums for speed, or control access by people to have storefronts, or show photographs, or Skype to visit family and friends, or email and all the things we do with the access we are still allowed. Especially useful to be able to hear and see NON MAINSTREAM MEDIA reports of the news since that is the only way to find out truth and identify lies by checking alternative sources that cannot currently be squelched by the cable providers.

Also, the television channels are pretty much only available by cable etc. now, not like the olden days with the main channels free — BECAUSE THE FREAKING PUBLIC OWNS THE AIRWAVES — unless they have been sold off on the sly already. Similarly, for a long time you had to rent a modem from the cable companies but that was so ridiculous because you ended up paying for a product that you could buy for less than a year’s rental. In this case, Congress actually acted to change the law and voila, we could buy our own modems and routers. However we still have to pay for the set-top boxes at $7 or more per box per month so no one can easily unscramble their signal. Again, 14*12=$168 a year. Forever and more if they choose to charge more. And if you don’t like it, tough, it is proprietary and you either live with the cost or do without. Although I understand there are some alternatives but I believe they end up costing similar (collusion) or something. Because they can charge whatever they want since it is unregulated.

Unregulated capitalism is profiteering plain and simple, plus they no longer require corporations to abide by the original community service position and now take the position that their sole objective and purpose is to make money for their shareholders at any cost: worker safety, worker wages, worker hours, wage theft, cutting benefits, denying unions, avoiding labor laws by using loopholes like overtime is only paid to full time workers or full time workers who work more than 40 hours a week. So they can make you work 10 hours one day which you would think would be overtime, but not if they have you work fewer hours on another day so that you don’t hit 40 hours for the week. And half the NLRB laws have exemptions and exclusions, theoretically to help small business, but off the backs of labor once again. Why should wage workers receive less than fair wages or other NLRB requirements just to INCREASE THE PROFIT of the capitalist owner? Why shouldn’t the employees also be mandatory shareholders? The law for incorporation could have been written that way, but no, the selfish bastards that were involved didn’t want to share then and they will not willingly share now, either in stock or in good wages and benefit. They actually look at decent wages and benefits for workers as WAGE THEFT from their own pocket instead of recognition that they would have NOTHING if it weren’t for workers, and tax payer funded projects like highways, and the electric grid, and sewers, and so on.

Meanwhile other countries have their own problems, many of whom have the same belief system that people need incentives like starvation to be willing to work, especially when it is not a living wage, and that it is immoral to give a handout to help people get a fair shake, like with debt-free college that doesn’t make the student pay until their death with non-dischargeable debt even in a bankruptcy and with high interest rates that are non-negotiable.

So yeah, there are lots of issues before we will get anything from the rich and greedy assholes that are puppet masters of the $%^& who are our politicians. And given their purchase of the people that pick the judges, and the party machines that pick the candidates, we end up with a Supreme Court that declares — in the face of ANY ACTUAL REALITY that corporations are people and money is speech. Meanwhile, women are not allowed autonomous agency but rather will be controlled by gynoticians if their isn’t a big smack down on the conservative forced birthers that are even now jailing women who have miscarriages.

I am doing what I can to get Bernie Sanders elected and work to take over the Senate and House. The Supreme Court is at stake, the final arbiter of justice (or not). I cannot believe there are more of them than decent, respectful, people who understand that the government has no business in people’s sex lives. The are busy killing people in foreign lands, and allowing the despoiling the earth. The oceans are full of plastic, and the fish are getting radiation from the nuclear spill in Japan. Fish have so much mercury in them from corporate pollution that it is not safe to eat much seafood. Water is polluted by donors who get exemptions from the Clean Water Act, which is virtually useless anyway due to budget constraints deliberately in place to allow corporate polluters to carry on ruining our dangerously low clean potable water supply. And then there is FRACKING. Preemptive laws prohibiting localities from banning show how deep the corruption goes. Earthquakes in Oklahoma. If a butterfly across the world can have an impact on surprising number of things, what the fuck do you think massive constant earthquakes in Oklahoma are doing to the planet? And then there are the authoritarian governors who suspend democracy, leave cities to rot, and don’t want to spend a few million of something and so they hook pipes up to the polluted Flint river instead of our last large body of drinkable water (unless Canada puts the three nuclear reactors there). And now hundreds of children have brain damage and the thousands of people of Flint don’t have clean water yet, and it has been two years. But hey, that is why the Federal Government has disaster programs right? But NO, the Republicans just denied funding for Flint to get potable water, much less quantities enough for laundry, bathing, brushing teeth etc. The taxpayers of Michigan, already broke, get to pick up the tab and again, no personal liability for their malfeasance. At least so far. Hopefully the governor and everyone involved in the action and cover up will meet up with some of the Flint residents’ relations in prison there.

So no, I don’t think that there will be a free market utopia. There will only be hell on earth, suffering and death unless we all actually pay attention and vote the fuckers out this year, and put Progressive Bernie Sanders in a leadership role. Worst of all, we need the House because they hold the purse strings. It doesn’t do any good to have an Environmental Protection Agency if Congress does not fund it. Ditto with the SEC that is supposed to keep the banksters in line, but that’s not working out well. And the Orwellian “right to work” laws that mean you have the right to work for shit wages and the NLRB cannot and will not be able to do a thing about it. Kind of like the Uberization — independent contractor — labor gets to skip any and all protections or benefits that actual official employees would receive. Their business model rests on exploitation of the desperate.

And the downhill slide was definitely kicked off or pushed further by the ill-named NAFTA agreement that will be 100 times worsened by the TPP (plus China trade agreements). Free trade is code for business profits and global worker competition to see who can pay the very least and still have workers willing and able to work.

A very moral and democratic world this will be. Not. But that’s okay, God has a plan. You will be rewarded when you die. And we are all dying sooner than we used to, especially we peons.

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