Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are the American people obsolete?

United States, 1917. J. M. Flagg's Uncle Sam r...

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Have the American people outlived their usefulness to the rich minority in the United States? A number of trends suggest that the answer may be yes.

In every industrial democracy since the end of World War II, there has been a social contract between the few and the many. In return for receiving a disproportionate amount of the gains from economic growth in a capitalist economy, the rich paid a disproportionate percentage of the taxes needed for public goods and a safety net for the majority.

In North America and Europe, the economic elite agreed to this bargain because they needed ordinary people as consumers and soldiers. Without mass consumption, the factories in which the rich invested would grind to a halt. Without universal conscription in the world wars, and selective conscription during the Cold War, the U.S. and its allies might have failed to defeat totalitarian empires that would have created a world order hostile to a market economy.

Globalization has eliminated the first reason for the rich to continue supporting this bargain at the nation-state level, while the privatization of the military threatens the other rationale.

The offshoring of industrial production means that many American investors and corporate managers no longer need an American workforce in order to prosper. They can enjoy their stream of profits from factories in China while shutting down factories in the U.S. And if Chinese workers have the impertinence to demand higher wages, American corporations can find low-wage labor in other countries.

Are the American people obsolete?

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