And the banks. Let's not forget the banks. Somehow, even when people are losing their homes. Even when people have no work and don't know how they are going to feed their families. Even when entire cities fail, somehow the banks always get the first repayments on debt. Just like cancer that feeds and grows without limit until its host is dead, banks demand their payments even when they know they are destroying the very communities that have made them profitable for generations. And our government and its laws support them in this sickness. That's what happens when profit trumps life.
In 2010 the University of Chicago hosted a seminar called Global Capitalisms Old and New, which my university was kind enough to send me to. http://mfs.uchicago.edu/?/archive/global-warming-copy. Described as a few days that would be devoted to a reexamination of capitalism's pro's and con's, it turned out to be far more of a paean for the largely understandable and laudable path that capitalism has taken over the last few hundred years. Especially hard to swallow was a talk presented by a political science professor, Gary Herrigel, who studies supply chain economics. (For one of his recent articles with Jonathan Zeitlin see "Inter-Firm Relations in Global Manufacturing: Disintegrated Production and Its Globalization" click here)
His presentation made reasonable the decisions of corporations to "out-source" all or part of its manufacturing to overseas locations where low wages were the norm. His argument was that by taking advantage of such markets, a reduced but still profitable corporation could remain viable in the U.S. where its designers, innovators and high-end employees would continue to have jobs. However, Professor Herrigel also admitted that as overseas employees learned to be effective workers, they would demand higher salaries at which time the corporations would have to relocate to a more undeveloped part of the world in order to retain its salary cost advantage. Again, notice how the concepts disguise the misery that follows in the wake of these strategies.
At the end of his talk, I raised my hand to ask this question, "What is going to happen when there are no more undeveloped parts of the world for corporations to exploit?" After attempting to deflect my question, he finally responded, "Well, I plan to be retired by then." And then he gave a little laugh. Yes, I have had a seat in the room with University of Chicago scholars of capitalism and still feel my skin crawl from the experience. This man's laughter suggested he had never known what it was to be poor. And never mind that supply chain economics fails entirely to factor in how dwindling oil supplies will affect this misery-invoking approach to business. By the time this strategy cottons to the reality of peak oil, its participating corporations will have wasted inordinate resources building plant after plant, training and discarding workers in multiple countries like so many plastic Nerf guns, and laying waste to environments around the globe at a time when all our resources should be utilized with an eye to a very different kind of resource future. But again, short-term profits trump long-range planning. Profit and immediate misery are more important than low returns, happier people, and a healthier planet.
At times I wonder if there is indeed a divine evil at work here. Who came up with these ideas and why have the great majority of us agreed to participate in this madness for so long? Only a select few ever profit from this insanity. As Uncle Gunshot said to me, "He just wanted to eat." Isn't that true of us all?
If you want experience for yourself the past glory and present challenges of Detroit, check out Detroitopia, an excellent documentary directed and produced by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. http://www.detropiathefilm.com/credits.html. Uncle Gunshot would have debated endlessly with his friends the questions raised by this documentary. Most of all he would have loved that many in the documentary are still committed to the city. As Washington, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a Detroit resident, has said, "I know deep in my heart that the people of Detroit will face this latest challenge with the same determination that we have always shown." http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-0719-detroit-bankruptcy-20130719,0,7289375.story?page=1.
Business as usual now includes throwing whole U.S. cities away? What the hell. When are we really going to start redesigning the way we do things in this country?