Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Free Trade or Freedom? 

If we were still in the '50s, people arguing for the "free trade worldwide" and "let the Third World compete" viewpoints would have an excellent point. However, things aren't the way they were then... "Competition" is rarely on a level playing field, regardless of what the Indian entrepreneurs telling William Friedman what to think may say; there is simply no way an American, paying US$1000 a month for rent or mortgage, that much again for transport, and so on, can compete with an Indian in Bangalore being paid US$6000 a year. Having an "American" company fly said Indian to the US to be trained by the American worker, before replacing him in his job, just adds insult to injury. But this has happened to literally thousands of IT professionals in the United States.
One of the many things we have lost in recent years, and especially since the death of the Constitutional republic of the United States of America in December 2000 is the ability of people with different viewpoints to be able to, or even to be willing to try to, see a given situation from other viewpoints. This used to be called "civilization"; it is now routinely denigrated as "left-wing liberalism".

This blog item grew out of a response I made to a Yahoo! group message from an individual who obviously (in my view) has never experienced first-hand the negative effects of the economic and structural changes in the United States over the last 20 years or so. Had he paid attention to these more closely, I suspect he would have said things a bit differently. Or maybe he is aboard one of the "many boats" being lifted by the "rising tide" of the Bush regime's Jonestown Kool-Aid. I have interspersed my responses to his statements within the flow of his original message; his writing is in italic; my response is in normal font.

>The dollar is weak but that isn't always so bad.
>USA made goods cost LESS in other countries, makes our products more
>competitive in over sea markets.

Name three industries that make products in the US, using domestic
labor, from domestic parts and supplies. Cars? Nope; most "American"
cars are made up of largely foreign-supplied parts, assembled in
whatever (generally) low-wage country offers the biggest tax breaks.
Software? Not a chance; American developers are being forced to train
their own replacements who then go home and get paid $6,000 a year, OR
the H1B or L1 visa holder is brought to the US - without even
accepting applications from Americans - and the taxpayers foot the
entire cost of the visa holder being in the US (through
business-expense tax deductions). Even many critical defense items -
specialized hardware and materials needed for homeland security and
military effectiveness - depend solely on foreign suppliers. Were the
ten largest ports in the US to be blocakded, we'd run out of necessary
parts and supplies within a few months. So the "weak dollar helps US
exports" doesn't really fly.

>Because of the weak dollar, foreign products now cost MORE in the
>USA. That Japan or German car has to be sold for more dollars to
>equal the same amount it used to. Increasing prices on foreign made
>items, lower costs on USA made items isn't so bad.

The "increasing prices on foreign goods" part is true. Again, name any
commercially significant good that ISN'T "foreign" these days. When
you're a multinational corporation "based" in the US, you get to put
"Made in the USA" stickers on your stuff even if it was assembled in
Bangladesh from Chinese parts but - oh, yeah - you shipped those items
to the US in bulk and then packaged them individually here, with
either automatic machines or sweatshop-level barrio workers. Again,
not bringing a whole lot of (economic) good to the American public at
large, but it sure makes the MNCs' quarterly figures look good.

>Foreign investors in the USA stock markets are taking a beating.
>Anyone in the USA who is invested in foreign markets is coming out
>smelling like a rose.

Most foreign exchanges have been rising modestly during the last 18-24
months except for late bubble-riders like Shanghai. Foreign stocks,
invested broadly two to five years ago, would have been a dandy place
to put US dollars; the rise in share prices coupled with the
artificially weak present dollar value is a windfall for any
multinational corporation or wealthy individual with competent
financial managers; an advantage which the proverbial Middle American
does not directly enjoy.

>The dollar is down, yes, it's a market correction to our deep debt
>and huge spending. Will the dollar go back up? Who knows or if it
>does when it will happen.

The dollar is doomed to continue falling unless and until immediate,
credible corrective action is taken against the budget and trade
deficits, which are not only destroying our long-term economic
prospects by siphoning off the economic resources needed for
sustainable growth, but once China and Europe decide that continuing
to fund our budgetary crack cocaine habit, we're fubared. In the last
year, I've seen reports of studies by the Federal Reserve, the RAND
Corporation and several major universities which all agreed that the
US standard of living is in for a 30% to 50% downward "correction"
within the next decade. In other words, it will make the Black Tuesday
of the 1929 stock market crash (a mere 13% correction which wrecked a
nation) look like a mild case of indigestion compared against a
flatline-courting heart attack.

>Personally I think once the war is over and we stop spending
>billions a day in Iraq our money will go back up. Till then it
>really doesn't affect me much.

Depends on which war you're talking about, The 'war on terror' is a
public-relations ploy designed to scare the sheeple; I have never
heard any militarily sound justification for most of what goes on
under that figleaf. Name 3 things that have been done since September
11th that have truly improved national security, as opposed to
Halliburton's bottom line. You can't.

Or maybe you mean the war in Iraq, where the Bush regime threatens
anybody who dares to report on, let alone photograph, the return of
dead or injured American servicemen and -women in a war that the Joint
Chiefs of Staff admitted last week is in worse shape now than it was a
year ago, and most independent analyses have called just short of
unwinnable. How many billions of dollars will go into no-bid contracts
tied to the gravy train painted in American blood before taxpayers and
financial supporters cry "Enough!"?

Or you could have meant the war at home; the one waged successfully
against the Constitution of the United States of America, and which
has now turned to attack the freedoms, intelligence and sensibilities
of American citizens? For the last two years, there has been talk of a
"war without sacrifice on the home front" by people who were either
deliberately misleading or are playing the part of Lenin's "useful
fools". One of the things people who travel internationally find when
comparing their experiences a couple of decades ago to now is that, in
the Golden Age of American democracy (roughly 1915-1974), it would
have been ludicrous to argue that Americans did not enjoy the greatest
freedom on earth. By the mid-1990s, and certainly after December 2000,
it would have been disingenuous at best to argue that htey did. One
would have to have consisted on a steady and exclusive diet of regime
propaganda from that time to this to even make the assertion with a
straight face.

>If you're really worried about it convert your money to gold.

Better to buy Euros or yen or renmenbi or shares in Singaporean
technology companies or Indian ones that specialize in throwing
massive numbers of putatively skilled people at labor-intensive
problems. Or if your sense of patriotism allows it, in companies like
Tata or Wipro or IBM, which are involved in the systematic and
deliberate esport of America's once-promising technology future to the
overloaded streets of Bangalore and Mumbai.

And nobody's yet come up with a reasonable answer for why, more than a
year after "Mission Accomplished" heralded the granting of the
second-largest proven oil reserves in the world to American corporate
control, that gas prices in the US are still "through the roof"; most
of the rest of the world (except for the "coalition of the willing")
doesn't have the problem to such an extreme.

Just my two kopiyka; sorry for the blast, but misinformation and
disinformation really do need to be thrown out into the light of day
and stomped until dead. Only then can we start dreaming of a free
America again.

Cheap...or inexpensive? You choose 

I last returned to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore on 31 March. Getting off the bus, I was pushed by a guy behind me who thought I was moving too slowly. Banging my head against the doorframe, I woke up a few moments later to find both my laptops still with me (thank God by whatever name you call Him) but my wallet a few hundred ringgit lighter. I also had injured my right arm; two ligaments and the rotator cuff.

Thus began an interesting odyssey. Malaysia is trying to build itself an image as a destination for medical tourism; they have excellent facilities and medical professionals here at what, by First World standards, are extremely reasonable prices. A North American or European contemplating major non-emergency surgery would likely find as good medical service here for lower cost, even considering the additional travel expenses.

This does not hold true, of course, for local Malaysians, or for foreigners such as I who are living as locals (no expat package, no seven-figure salary, no chaffeur-driven Mercedes, etc...). There is a decent basic medical service here, and top-tier service is available for those with the means to pay. In my case, I had an orthopaedic surgeon estimate the cost of repairing my arm as being at least 12,000 Malaysian ringgit (or about 2,440 Euros). This is approximately what it costs me to live for four months here; I don't have that kind of money available. I have started looking at less expensive options, including the anybody-serviced three-tier public hospitals. I haven't found a place yet that both inspires confidence in the abilities of its medical practitioners and is sufficiently less expensive to justify the perceived risk of dealing with a new set of doctors.

Any good local advice would be greatly appreciated.

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