Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, July 2012
Nationalism Versus Capitalism in USA:
Guess Which One Wins?
By Lawrence Davidson
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 23, 2012
There are two very powerful and fully
internalized ideologies in today’s America: one is nationalism and the
other is capitalism.
Nationalism and capitalism are quite different ideologies, yet somehow Americans have mixed them up. Take a list of what are considered the best things about capitalism: equality, achievement, freedom, growth and even happiness, and then compare them to a list of things considered the best about America: equality, opportunity for personal growth, freedom, a longer and fuller life. What do you know! They’re almost the same. This is odd and not a little illogical. Why so? Well, consider the fact that these ideologies are operating in opposition to one and other. And doing so right out in the open.
Here is a good example. On 11 July 2012 Fred Grimm, a columnist for the Miami Herald, wrote a piece entitled “This column was made in the USA.” In it he notes that “last year the Wall Street Journal surveyed employment data from a number of the nation’s heftier corporations … and found that while they were cutting their domestic workforces by 2.9 million over a decade, they had hired 2.4 million people overseas”. What sort of jobs are being exported by American corporate executives with, one assumes, the approval of their largely American stockholders? It turns out that they are not just your mundane factory floor jobs. They also include the work of accountants, radiologists, architects, mortgage banking officers, computer technicians and journalists (outsourcing the writing of local news stories to underpaid reporters in places like the Philippine).
As the Wall Street Journal noted, this has been going on for a
while now. Back in a 12 January 2004 edition of the Harvard Business
School’s online publication, Working Knowledge, James Heskett
told us that “arguments based on accepted [those accepting are not named]
macroeconomic theory generally come down in support of the free
exportation of jobs”. But then Heskett quoted Brad Leach’s observation
that “the real question is how to deal with the disproportionality of this
impact: the broad, shallow, positive impact on product prices versus the
narrow [sic], deep, negative impact on individuals”.
Well, it would seem that nationalism has met its match. It has been overwhelmed by that which lies at the heart of capitalism: profit. Thus, consider a hypothetical American corporation A which makes socks in town X and has done so for a hundred years. At some point corporation A finds itself confronted with competition from cheaper socks made abroad and allowed into the US by the millions of pairs because of laws placed on the books by free-market American senators and congresspersons. These foreign socks are being willingly purchased, instead of A’s more expensive domestic brand, by red blooded American consumers. So, the executives of corporation A face a serious problem. It does not take them long to figure out that if they move out of town X, where the labour costs are relatively high, and relocate to some foreign country with no unions or government regulations, their labour costs will go down and their competitiveness and profitability will go up. But to do so will destroy the economic basis of town X and the lives of its patriotic citizens who have loyally served corporation A for generations. So, what do you do? Well, just ask the residents of all the defunct textile towns on the US east coast from New England to the Carolinas.
Very few entrepreneurs or their customers are going to admit that such issues as cost, profit and price are more important than every one of those things listed as the best of capitalism and nationalism. No, they will just ignore the distinctly second-place status of equality, freedom, doing your best, growth and happiness, etc. and they will pretend that the economic destruction of workers’ lives is an unavoidable consequence of commonsense business. Blame it on the natural laws of macroeconomics if you must. Also, there is no sense in American victims of this process feeling indignant towards the foreign workers who have inherited their jobs. When the time comes for Mexican or Chinese or Indian workers to organize and achieve regulation of their industries so as to obtain decent wages and benefits, their lives in turn will be ruined as their employers run away to other places with lower labour costs, fewer required benefits and lower corporate taxes. For when it comes to the so-called commonsense demands of business, profits are more important than life itself (except perhaps the lives of the investors).Coping mechanisms
I think that a growing number of
Americans, witnessing (among other things) the long-running export of
their livelihoods, do sense that the ground is moving under their feet. A
19 November 2011 New York Times op-ed by Charles Blow, entitled “Decline
of American exceptionalism”, reports that a Pew Research Centre poll
found that just 49 per cent of Americans agreed with the statement “our
people are not perfect but our culture is superior to others”. That was
down from 60 per cent in the year 2002.
1. Displacing a sense of powerlessness. Whether you are the victim or
it is your neighbour, one just doesn’t know what to do about the
situation. But it helps to believe that, even though jobless, you live in
a great country, the power and traditions of which assure that you are
better off than some worker in an Indonesian sweatshop turning out upscale
Nikes. Holding on to that thought, many of the displaced buck up and start
looking for other, usually less lucrative, work. Some of them may also
take to beating up their kids or spouses when frustrations of the job
search run high.
Most often our lives are too narrowly
focused to allow us to understand the larger economic and political forces
impacting us. We know our local area, we know the work we do (or did) and
we know what those in leadership positions tell us. But all of this
knowledge turns out to be inadequate when we are hit by debilitating
social change. Then most of us feel helpless and passively resign
ourselves to what we consider fate, or perhaps God’s will.
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