On being competitive

Obama had a dream, or was told so.  It's about competitiveness.  Here's the grassroots level view:

Barbara Rubin

Forgive my economic naivete but it would appear that 'competitiveness' is effectively being quashed by industry itself. The monopolization of major industries by transnational corporations appears to view the world as a single trough from which only their approved subsidiaries can feed. Trade associations agree to offer inferior products of a uniform nature to the public at prices set for declining levels of income. Falling wages are arranged by the same groups which serve as major employers around the world. If true competitiveness were the goal, wages would reflect the desire for consumers to have more disposable income.

Until farmers can re-use seeds and their own crops (potatoes are grown from potatoes), they aren't able to compete with one another. Their revenues are always going to belong largely to the vendor of those seeds and attendant technologies required to bring them to 'fruition' in chemically laden fields. Feudalism lives in modern times.

As agribusiness and energy cartels dictate changes to our very eco-system, other industries deal with that 'fall-out'. Developers are dealing with contaminated lands and diminishing supplies of clean water. Building trades are dependent upon inexpensive toxic construction materials from the US and China to house increasingly impoverished populations with low budgets for housing units. These materials can't be exported to Europe where they've learned the costs of ignoring safety (largely through providing universal health care).

Clothing manufacturers, producers of processed foods - what industry can actually boast a large array of competitive businesses falling under these major umbrellas? Competition lies in who can pay the least to workers, offer the fewest benefits and substitute cost-saving chemical treatments to make products look shiny. Worker benefits are provided by the public in medicaid and housing vouchers for working families! Low 'competitive' prices of toxic goods and services are made up with costs paid in physician offices and tax funded disability insurance.

I hope President Obama speaks to competitiveness among 'modest' businesses which will benefit from employing local residents. Seeing that transnational corporations pay taxes in every nation offering them markets is a start. Ending NAFTA requirements that nations pay companies for losses of profits if harmful products are banned is another way to end the stranglehold of monopolies ready to sue nations for such reasonable measures.

Competitiveness lies with dreams of earning a mere million in profits rather than billions. Companies used to compete to achieve sustainability of their operations for future generations. Now a golden parachute rewards those aiming to make a 'quick killing' and get out while they can do so.

Quick killing indeed. The cemeteries are filling up quite nicely.

Barbara Rubin

Rod Adams
Forest, VA

My hope is that President Obama is thinking about lessons learned on the basketball court when he is talking about competitiveness. I also hope that he figures out a way to tell Americans that becoming competitive in a given endeavor is not magical, not easy, not not quick. It is, however, one of the most rewarding things you can do.

If you are wondering why America seems to be having some difficulty of late, I highly recommend reading Amy Chua's book titled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". If you do not have time to read the book, at least read the article that she published last week in the Wall Street Journal titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." When you read either one, look past the specific stereotypes and consider how much work it takes to encourage and enable achievement. Think about the fact that China has about 700 million "Chinese mothers."

Then think about what you personally did in school or what you did to encourage your own children to learn to achieve. Take some responsibility if you recognize that you have been a part of a very lazy period in American history when people have taken for granted that we are a "rich country" and have acted a bit like privileged royalty without investing much effort into becoming capable of competing.

We certainly have some hard working achievers remaining. Apple, Google, and Facebook engineers are creating wonderful technological marvels, college football players invest many hours of sweat and muscle strain, and Westinghouse engineers are creating marvelous nuclear power plants that are being sold all around the world. However, there are also a lot of soft minds and bodies out there.

There is no reason in the world why a third world teenager should be able to out-compete an American worker who had access to at least 12 years of taxpayer supported schooling. If nothing else, the American worker should have a huge advantage by being able to speak and write the English language with native fluency.

English is, after all, the world's business language. Our math and science achievement should be second to none; we probably control at least half of the world's total computing power. If it is not, we should not blame the government or even our teachers - they are providing adequate learning opportunities; it is up to the students and the parents to make sure that the experience takes and knowledge gets transferred.

I grew up as part of the American generation inspired to compete by Sputnik. We raced to the moon, built more that 140 nuclear powered submarines in less than 10 years and built enough nuclear power stations to supply more electricity than the entire grid supplied in 1960 in just 2 decades. Then we got complacent. We stopped studying quite as hard, stopped taking the "hard" courses like calculus and physics, and started giving all participants a trophy.

We can change, we can compete, and we can refuse to put our pension funds or 401Ks into the hands of people who invest in companies like GE that send our jobs overseas. We do not need to become a larger exporter, we simply need to become more self-sufficient, proud of NOT taking a handout, and proud of contributing our fair share to the development of our communities.

That includes recognizing that paying taxes is a responsibility; we need our various levels of government to function well in order to enable the general prosperity, ensure healthy education systems, ensure transportation networks that can deliver goods and services on time, and ensure that we are not choked by our own refuse. I am not blaming American workers so much as blaming the managers and executives who have been taking the easy path and think that capturing as much taxpayer money as possible is the right way to run their businesses. No self-respecting competitive athlete thinks that they can win a championship by outsourcing their work outs.

I hope that is the competitiveness pep talk that President Obama has in mind, though his recent additions to his team do not give me much optimism. He needs to up his game with regard to the drafting process.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Tim Kane
Mesa, Az

Competitiveness is not the problem -at this time.

A quick look at the CIA World Factbook online almanac shows that the United States has the greatest productivity in the world, other than the world itself, and the highest per capita productivity in the world for any nation with over 7 million people.

The problem is a lack of demand. We have a lack of demand because we've had 30 years of supply side bias policies that have caused wealth, money, to be sequestered -according to Reagan's former budget director, David Stockman, that's $40 trillion dollars (up from $9 trillion 30 years ago) from the commercial economy by the uber-wealthy in this country.

This is a nation based on one governing principle: free contract.

In any society based upon free contract, only one thing matters: bargaining power.

What you earn, is, quite frankly a function of your bargaining power.

From 1945 to 1972, productivity went up 100% and all segments of society advanced equally. The reason being - bargaining power. For workers that meant labor unions. Since 1972, GNP has gone up 150% yet the median wage is flat.

The problem again is bargaining power. Working class and middle class people have been coaxed into surrendering their bargaining power over to the uber-wealthy in the illusive pursuit of cultural war issues.

The word chumps comes to mind. Take abortion: many middle class people vote Republican over the idea of prohibition of abortion alone, even though the nation that has the lowest rate of abortion in the world, the Netherlands, abortion is both largely legal and largely free.

Chumps, I dare say: The culture wars ended in 1790 with the passage of the Bill of Rights amendments to the constitution: you and everyone else gets to do what they like so long as it doesn't affect anyone else, that is to say your right's end where another's begin, and that includes privacy. Yet people freely vote to surrender their bargaining power over culture war issues.

Here's another curious aspect of this: values (and that would include morals) is a middle class phenomenon. As the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" suggested, when the middle class contracts, immorality expands. So while people are surrendering their bargaining power over moral issues, they are actually causing the middle class to contract, and as a result they are actually causing immorality to increase.

The founding father's knew all about this. They gave us the Bill of Rights to end the culture wars. They gave us a system based on free contract that would ensure that there would be a permanent class war. But they also gave us democracy to ensure that the playing field upon which bargaining would take place would be fairly level. In essence, Democracy is political socialism: one man, one vote.

For 80 years the system worked. In 1860 the U.S. had the broadest distribution of wealth the world had ever seen - despite 3 million of its citizens being bound in servitude. In 1860, we went to war to free up those 3 million. Yet, 25 years after the successful freeing of the slaves, wealth was more concentrated than ever. What happened? The invention of the modern limited liability corporation, in 1862 - remember, Lincoln was a republican and a lawyer to railroad interests. The founding father's hadn't anticipated corporations.

Corporations are an ownership collective. As a collective, they have immense bargaining power over individuals. Their creation caused an immediate imbalance in the distribution of wealth which we are still struggling with today.

And the founding fathers couldn't imagine the ability of corporation's (and the uber-wealthy that they spawned) ability to use their vase resources in unimaginable ways (including buying up most media outlets) to influence people into undermining their own bargaining power. Some how they've managed to convince large swaths of people that collective ownership is virtuous, but collective labor is evil.

Want to fix the economy? Increase demand. Want to increase demand? work on redistributing bargaining power back to the people. You know, we the people. Yes, the 'we the people' that's in the preamble of the constitution. Please note, there is no mention whatsoever of corporations in the constitution - therefor they have no claim to rights over citizens, at all.

The problem is, I'm not sure Obama fathoms any of this at all, and if he does, I'm not sure he comes down on the side of the public (people) on this. He just extended tax cuts to the uber-rich for the slightest of pretext - keeping unemployment insurance going (as if Republicans would let a nation of gun owners loose out on the streets with no jobs, no income and nothing left to lose). By the way those weren't really tax cuts - you can't cut taxes when you have a deficit, what Obama, and Bush before him, really did was use the faith and credit of the United States government to underwrite a loan from communist China on behalf of the rich.

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