Fair warning: this is rough and repetitive even for one of my "forum quality" first drafts. Rewriting would probably pare it down by half or more on the first pass, and that's bad. I don't have the benefit of having ever written on this subject before, unlike most of my recent posts. So this is beyond raw, the raw of the raw, a real mess. There's good stuff in here, but... it has not been worked very well as yet.
I don't have the time now to shape and reshape this; I didn't want to write this much, but it just kept coming. Even now I am still not happy with the forms. None of this says quite what I want to say, yet all of it says something of what I am aiming at. You'll have to deal with it in this form. My apologies, but I've already overspent on this post. Good luck sorting through it.
"Zero Sum" is a term that describes a closed system in which gains for one come only at the expense of losses to another, there being a fixed amount of "stuff" in play.
The equation is formed thusly: "Add all our resources together, the sum equals zero." Some have positive, some have negative: assets and debts.
Pro Sports leagues are zero sum in terms of the team records. For every somebody who wins, somebody else loses. The system is closed. As the losses cancel wins (losses being viewed as debts) then when all the records are added up, the outcome is zero.
You, in your arguments, in your examples, have been arguing for the concept of "production over there comes only at expense of production over here". You are doing so via the vehicle of unequal manufacturing conditions, and arguing against the acceptability of exploitive working conditions on a basis that includes the "loss" posed to those who have more fair working conditions.
Likewise, you've taken on zero sum arguments like Marx's "crisis of overproduction" on the basis that increasing production in a way that reduces number of workers needed to complete the job is a BAD thing, pushing all the wealth into the pockets of the fewer, the producers, at the expense of the many, the newly unemployed. I say your position IS zero sum as I point out that more total production means there is more stuff for everybody to have, while you insist that no, it won't spread out, the wealth accumulates in a static state, hoarded by the rich, out of the hands of the poor, ON the principle that the gains of the one come only at the expense of the other.
Finally, you are arguing long and hard about cash, as if there were a fixed amount of cash in the world, as if it were gold or silver when in fact it is just a concept that has been moving steadily away from solidity. We had gold and silver coins, then we had gold and silver certificates, then we had "paper dollars" which are no longer backed by gold or silver but only the good word of the US Treasury, and now we don't even have that any more. Now we have electronic balances that have no actual substance at all. If ever you needed evidence that money is an illustion, the world is doing its best to prove it to you and still you insist otherwise. We had gold coins, then we stopped using gold, and stayed with silver. Then we had silver plated coins with nickel centers, and zinc centers, then we gave up on the silver and went wholly with other alloys, and now we're down to where the nickels aren't nickel any more and the pennies aren't all copper any more and they're debating removing the last of the copper from even those, and and and... and the only WORTH of US Currency today is the FAITH we all collectively place in the fact that somebody else is going to trade hard goods or real services for these otherwise worthless bits of paper and metal and electronic signals we've accumulated for our labors and services and goods. If people stopped accepting your money, because the economy had collapsed and "inflation" went "out of control" such that the concept of the currency was no longer trusted, you might have to trade $1000 for a fresh apple. That's not likely to happen here, but it HAS happened to other nations whose systems have gone belly up. There is not a fixed amount of cash. The Treasury PRINTS MONEY. It makes up out of thin air, out of nothingness, and doles it out as if it has handed you something of value. Well, it can't afford to print too much or people start to realize that "Hey, this is just bits of paper" and the lack of scarcity of the stuff drives inflation up in a hurry. On the other hand, as populations grow and the "economy" grows, the Treasury HAS TO print more money to accomodate the flow of trade, or the scarcity of bits of paper gets to be too high. The whole thing is a delicate balancing act. And the vehicle by which the money comes in and out is government loans. The Fed and the Prime Rate at which the government loans out its money. "Loans" as if it had money to begin with. Heh. But... once the money is in circulation, it offers a vehicle for trade. Currency.
And your whole argument against my assertions about the value of trade, of allowing ourselves to come to rely on other nations for some of our goods, has been about losses. Losses to us! You see losses where there are none, or where the real losses are not of the direct proportions your zero-sum thinking is imagining. Gains over there, losses over here.
I don't see it that way. I see that in freeing us up from some kinds of work that others can do well, or even better than we can, we are free to spend more of our resources on things we truly excel at. Computer systems and software and automation, art and culture of all kinds (books, movies, theater, music, etc), some increased emphasis on service quality and convenience factors, electronics, FOOD, and much more. There are complications, and people who fall through the cracks, and rivals who cheat the system in some way and CAN BE a drain rather than a trade asset, and we need to deal with that, but overall you paint a bleak picture where I see mainly growth and the evolution of economy in a way that improves everybody's lot. I've been listening to arguments that contain points like those you are emphasizing for years upon years now. The global economy has gone through a major slump, Japan's recession has been deep and stinging, the US markets are now unstable and the tech bubble burst in stocks, but still there is also much resiliency in the economy. Bad things can and do happen, and they'll be made worse if we lapse into complacency or bury our heads in the sand, BUT... the Doomsdayisms aren't inevitable. You start whipping out comparisons to Rome and talking about the collapse of nations and empires with the notion this has relevancy to the USA today, and yes, you relegate yourself to the dustbin of "those without a clue" in my estimation.
You have a lot of facts on hand and can assemble them together well enough, but you don't seem to be making the full connections on the relationships. These facts have more interactions and more meanings than you are coping with. Your facts are strung together lifelessly. You have bits of data and you add them up and all you're reaching is... the sum of adding the bits. You seem to be missing the essence, the deeper connections that truly drive the system. You don't even see where your principles fit with other principles. Economic regulation is its own continuum, with two poles. At the one end there is faith in the individual or the company, while at the other, faith in government. Government is that which writes the laws of regulation, while individuals and companies are those being regulated. This is a power struggle, a struggle of freedom vs security -- timely, for the issues of the day, thus gaining my attention. Your arguments must fall within this continuum somewhere, yet you say to me that you have nothing to do with either polarity nor the continuum itself, but that your views are divorced from all of that, independent of these principles. Ha! That's either conceit or ignorance. I'm taking my measure of your point of view BASED ON the principles and postulates of your arguments. I might be missing the mark a bit on a few things, but like tracking an animal through the woods, I'm on the trail you're leaving me and I know the general area where I'm going to find you, to pin down your actual positions. There are consequences and corollaries of your beliefs that you may not even be aware of. These DO fit into that continuum, and I'm confident that I've localized your position to the areas of consistency within the ideas you're putting forth. In a sense, I may be leaping ahead without showing the connections I'm making, but it's not for lack of reason in getting from point A to point B. I can make that leap along a relationship connection through a context I have in place. You don't see the relationships, so the leap looks nonsensical to you. I... am trying to fill in the gaps for you, but all I'm getting in reply is an assertion that my leaps don't fit with your understanding.
Yes. I'm arguing with you and your position, with the ground your principles are occupying and the material nearby. You want me to limit my argument only to the exact principles you are stating but I CANNOT, since my arguments involve relationship to variables you aren't acknowledging as relevent, connected, or even existing. I can't convey my points on your terms. It's as if you have half a jigsaw puzzle on the table and I say "let me show you the picture" but I start to add the other pieces and you say, "No, stop! Those don't belong in this puzzle! I already have all the pieces here." One of us, at least, is mistaken.
It's as frustrating for me as it is for you, as both of us believe we're being misinterpreted. No, you haven't said that one nation's economy is zero sum. Yes, you have portrayed the whole picture of the world economy as zero sum. You've bought into the anti-USA core principle argument: that what the rich have accumulated comes at the cost of taking it away from the poor. Well WE are the rich, kiddo. And all the people out there who believe in this zero sum kind of economics are Hell bent on tearing us down as what they believe is the only way to get their share of the economic pie. They don't believe that we can bake more pies, that everybody have can as much pie as they need (or want), without us destroying the environment or enslaving some segment of somebody somewhere on which to ride our way along. They don't believe in themselves or us, nor our principles. They think our notion of freedom is a crock, that our devotion to self-reliance and self-responsibility and self-empowerment is a direct threat to their corrupted schemes. They think our Dominion model of "we can all have enough to eat, we can all have good homes, we can all have the American Dream" is a deception by which we take and steal and plunder all that we need.
Do we steal? Sometimes. Plunder? We have. We plundered our own lands ruthlessly, and we still do in some ways, some places. We're doing better, though, at cleaning up our messes, at making fewer messes, at protecting our workers from harm. Shall we not do business with corrupt nations? If so, we'll not do business with anybody, including our own selves. We don't want to be enabling and supporting oppressors, but that's a difficult line to deal with. We can't shut out everybody. How much corruption or violation of human rights is "tolerable" compared to trade interests, and how much is not? How far does our leverage go and how much can we use it before we're resented as being too controlling? How much responsiblity do we have to the rest of the world and to individual nations? What do they owe us in return for help, aid, or cooperation? How can we even deal with them when they come at us through the LIE that all we have and all we have built is not ours by any right, but rather ill-gotten gains, all of it, plundered from somebody else? The zero-sum lie is DANGEROUS. It's a black panther, a predator, a cunning ploy. Shall I spell it out in greater detail? I think I shall. Let us return to the point at which I entered this conversation:
Lose-Lose, Everyone's Favorite Game - by Jester
The sucking of jobs from the west to the 3rd world isn't doing anyone any favours, no matter where they live.
Zero-sum. Job gained in 3rd world comes at expense of job lost in "first world".
Replacing a 10 dollar an hour job with a 1 dollar an hour job isn't just saving money; it's also gutting the primary western purchasing unit, the income-earning family.
Zero-sum. Income lost to first world worker "guts" the market. Gains of the profits come at expense of the losses of wage earners. Wealth is thus redistributed by market forces from the pockets of the many into the pockets of the few (Corollary: solution involes some mechanism by which wealth will be forced to flow out of the pockets of the few back into the pockets of the many, or at the very least, to halt the "natural" tendency of the market to flow toward the wealthy).
A mexican or southeast asian earning 1/10th (or less, sometimes much less) of what a westerner earns doesn't represent anywhere near the market that an income earning westerner does. The markets for the goods that are now produced cheaply is disappearing; the whole cycle will collapse in on itself as it guts the "demand" side of the supply and demand equation.
Zero-sum. Production rates MUST remain status quo (according to your principle), as any increase in productivity (which means that fewer can do the same job, thus get paid more, while the rest lose their jobs and get paid nothing) will automatically "gut" the customer base on which the whole system relies.
Zero-sum. Those who hold a job can hold only that job. If they lose their job, they are done for, they are disenfranchised and "lost" to the cycle of production and consumption. Additional productivity, and increase in wealth of those more productive, thus comes at the permanent cost of loss of productivity and wealth on the part of others.
Zero-sum. Like a sports league, if some are winning "too much" (being too productive) the system "loses balance" because that production is coming at somebody else's expense. According to your principles. As IF there were a fixed amount of supply and demand in the world, a fixed amount of currency, a fixed amount of resources, productivy, wealth.
As you point out, this destroys the social fabric of the west, since endemic unemployment and plunging real-value wage rates mean less ability to raise families. It also does the same in the third world, by causing families to trick out their young to cities, either as factory labourers or prostitutes, in order to support them in their old age. So it dissolves social glue everywhere.
Everywhere except for the rich (according to your line of principles). The rich profit and profit more, at everybody else's expense, but even they are doomed as they "gut" their own markets. Lose-lose, as you said. And even this is Zero-sum. Zero sum on the principle that every sports league operates on: if the gap gets too wide, the low-end teams too uncompetitive, they will fold, go out of business, and then there is nobody left for the big, rich teams to be playing, to be "preying upon" for their gains, and the whole league folds. THEREFORE (solution, once again, to the Zero-Sum "balance issue") we must HALT the system where it stands, freeze it in place, or else reverse the "damage" by forcefully rebalancing the "balance of power". To take, to take, to TAKE from those who have and give away to those who do not.
How can you NOT come to that conclusion from the principles upon which you are arguing? You say that you're not in favor of redistribution of wealth, but your argument says otherwise.
If it quacks, I'm going to call it a duck.
But, then, who cares about any of that? The markets will survive, the SERVICE industry will keep them alive! Families will survive, because... uh, they've always survived! Everything will be a-ok, anyone who says differently is an ideologue or a scaremonger. Lower wages mean higher profits; higher profits mean more prosperity; more prosperity means higher wages! That makes sense, really it does!
Actually, it does. It does because economics at its core is not about THINGS. It's not about the money, the property, the possesions, the material. It's about the people, their work, their skill.
It takes people to make things. It takes people to gather resources. It takes people to collect information and to interpret it. It takes people to create, to organize, to build. Economics == People, not Things. People are not zero-sum. People can use their bodies, minds, hearts, and souls to CREATE, to take bits and do more than add them together: to add value to them, to take something and add bits of their consciousness to that something, to shape it, to make it into something more. THIS is productivity, and economics is about human beings taking this even a step further, to put themselves together, not just to add themselves and stand together in a group, but to combine themselves into a fusion of relationships of productivity that is, once again, something more. This networking of synergy, it knows no bounds. We can combine those somethings into greater somethings. As long as there are more people ABLE and WILLING to produce, to combine, to research, to join, the force of their consciousness is what adds value.
Nothing in this world compares to the value of a good worker. Not everybody understands this, but the USA at the moment understands it best, and this is reflected in the wealth we have built amongst ourselves.
Everything in this world that involves human beings has a spiritual subcontext. Everything involving us involves our consciousness. Everything. If you can understand the human being, the nature of relationship of how things fit together and function, you can do more with what you have. You can find your own niche, the value of your own self. We use currency as markers, and the money takes on life of its own. For its lack of context, it can become your god if you infuse it with more significance than it warrants. Yes, with money you can trade with almost anybody for almost any thing. That has its own science, and the currents of trade and human agreement on the "value" of currency relative to everything else IS like a vast ocean, beyond the control or influence of any single individual or group and sometimes even nation. Behind it, though, remains the fact that what it marks, what it represents, is delayed action through barter for work somebody did somewhere. Every trade is an exchange of value. As we work, value is created. As we consume and throw away, value is lost. Trash is a debt, a zero value or a negative value: the waste we must dispose of. In a certain sense, then, ALL things are as food to human beings. We consume them, make use of them, then at some point they have been used up and the remainder is waste. All items have this lifespan, though the details vary item to item, person to person. One man's trash may be another man's treasure, and even waste gets put back to use somewhere, somehow, someday, by somebody.
You're mistaken about the jobs, and you're mistaken about demand. Demand transcends currency. So does supply. We have difficulty translating that at times, but think of it this way. Currency allows us to enter the market in either direction without a matching "other half" of the equation. If we have more need than we have ability to pay for, there is "credit" available. We borrow to get what we need, but we don't "own" the stuff we have bought until we "pay for it". As long as we have something useful we can do, a skill, a knowledge, a resource, something to trade that somebody else needs/wants, we can get into the market in a way to trade our work, our human value, for "credit". Money is just a form of credit, after all. Present time credit, as opposed to "debt" or "investment" which are past credits or future credits. The zero sum is an illusion: it's focusing on the wrong thing. It's getting STUCK on viewing the trading mechanisms as the reality, when in truth they are just projections, markers, game pieces. The reality is the relationships. You have but don't need, I need but don't have, we enter a relationship wherein you "lend" to me, and I will "pay back" to you. Not just loans. Money itself is this relationship. You have "work" to trade to an employer who "needs to borrow" your time. He gives you these promisory notes that the society recognizes, you can trade them in later to somebody else for something they have that you need, and on it goes. The flow of money greases the wheels, saving us the time of having to barter directly for everything we need. The money passes all around, but it is only a medium. You need to consume food, clothes, all manner of things that wear out. Somebody has to make these things, but the earth itself renews many of the resources.
Once again, the value comes from life, and the distinction of life is order, consciousness, connections made through force of will and given space in which to exist by the span of imagination. We may have to work to plant and grow crops of various kinds, but the crops themselves do work also, and without them we would perish. We rely on an intact chain of consciousness, building upon the "lower" life forms in many ways, reliant upon them, springing from them and their value and work. All the energy of our lives ultimately comes from the sun: through photosynthesis, up through the food chain, life and consciousness continually adding value, adding, adding, adding. Life consumes, but WHEN IT LOVES it creates more than it destroys. That is the secret. If and when people are, on balance, more good than evil, more creative than destructive, more loving than punishing, progress takes place. It's why the jobs can "move" to the third world but not actually be lost. The zero-sum balance you portrayed in the post that lured me into this morass of a thread is faulty, a complete misconception. If we bring more people into the productivity cycle, IN a positive way, the result is not that they take away from us. The result is that their value is added to the total, and more than added, it blends in in ways that may create something more out of something. If productivity is well placed, if it is more efficient, if the value-added is greater in some regard, we all benefit. This is also why you can't equate forced labor to freely-chosen labor. The labor itself can be forced only in a disconnected way, to add the parts but not to combine them. Thus, the forced method is forever bound to linear productivity via linear relationships. Only by choosing the other path, starting down the road toward which the worker rightfully earns a larger share of the profits of his own labors, and is thus motivated to do more, to invest more of his Self into the work, does the work become more valuable. The worker IS the value, as far as the company goes. Companies have assets, but the greatest of these are the workers, even for low budget businesses. Trust me, I know, I have seen first hand how even minimum wage workers can suck the life right out of a business and thus "cost more" than higher paid, better skilled, better motivated, more reliable workers. When the worker moves into ownership shares of the company, or of other companies... only through valuing the worker AND the employer both, through mutually productive partnership, can both benefit to their fullest potential.
The thing is, just because a third-world business pays its workers little does not mean it is exploiting them. That may be where things have to start. What then is done with the profits? Does the business invest in better equipment, better training? Does it give its most valuable workers a raise to improve their morale, loyalty, motivation? Third world businesses that come to understand the principles of American business or free-market cooperation in principle, can improve productivity, quality, by which ALL benefit, through the partnership of labor and management cooperating fairly, rather than being at odds with one another over either side being too greedy. Those who have a dream and work hard at it can literally create a business out of nothing but their own consciousness and talents and work.
This is why many immigrants come to America with a dream, where the opportunities are great and the workplace free, where they have incentive to work very hard and to sacrifice and to create something, because they will reap the rewards of their own work. At least that is the theory. There is much to do to get it right, but people DO get it right, and not always on the first try. Those who give up will never get it right. Not every dream is workable, either. Some will toil endlessly and never "make it". Freedom means not only the freedom to succeed, but the freedom also to fail. We MUST have the freedom to fail, to fall flat, to suffer our own humiliations and defeats. If we never take the chance of failure, nothing new would get done, ever. Yet some of the people coming in to the USA, immigrants, are coming from hard places. They have known hard lives and are motivated in a way and to a degree that those of us who've had it safer and gentler do not fully understand. That the USA has always welcomed some influx of people (sometimes with no limits, sometimes with limits, but always with a steady inflow of immigrants) is yet one more thing that makes us strong and healthy. There are parts of our system where "all are created equal" doesn't show up fully, but the ideal of it is there and most of us are moving toward it. Give us your tired, your poor, your hungry masses. Give us people who are fed up with the status quo and want a shot at their own dreams, to create something. We don't care what you look like or where you've been or what you're coming out from. If you are inspired to create something, to work at something, to craft a good life, an honest life, you have all it takes to fit in here. If you love freedom, if you want to stand on your own two feet, to get out from under the thumb of those who hold you down, and to make your own way... yeah. Come to America!
The trade system has loopholes, but they never work out. Some may cheat and "get away with it" but they create nothing in the bargain. All they do is destroy. Look at Arther Andersen and Enron: you cheat the system, you turn corrupt, and the whole company can collapse. Domination is like that at every turn. The zero-sum game IS lose-lose, and so is the corruption and slavery and predatory manufacturing that you are trying to take aim at here, Jester. But your aim is off. You are seeing half the lie and hating it, but retreating into the other half as your response. That's always the way it goes: to convince you that you have to fight fire with fire, to dominate before you become the dominated. On a national or corporate level, that is tough to deal with. But you can only begin to deal with it by first understanding the true depth and nature of the dilemma. And you're not there yet.
You see part of one side of the problem, but you don't understand it. We can't GIVE the third world our wealth because our wealth is not dollars, resources, or goods. Our wealth is consciousness, and we can only give that through partnerships. They have to do the legwork themselves. They have build their own traditions, allow their own identities and value to blossom. The corruption is not the CAUSE of their state, it is the EFFECT of their state. (I wish I could get this point across to Doc, but I don't think I'm going to be able to do so). They're only going to work their way out of that quagmire by way of building Something More from what they already have. We can help, offer knowledge, offer support, offer some levels of opportunity, but they have to do their part, and their part is greater. That kind of change, of growth, it can't be forced. It may be able to be inspired into motion, but that's the limit of what we can do. BUT... they do need help! Economically, they need our trade. They need ideas, goods, tools. They can ONLY enter the market at the basic level. We must allow them to do so. If we hold them to our standards from the outset, we're shutting them out. They don't have the consciousness and the local networks of productivity in place to support those standards, not yet. It will take them time, patience, some failures of their own from which they learn, before they can get to where we are now. They can be spared some of the worst problems by learning from OUR mistakes, but they have to be let into the game. We have to let them find the things they are good at doing, that they are better than us at doing (in some capacity) and go from there. In some cases, this has to do with produce: some climates grow certain foods we can't: coffee, bananas, etc. Some places have oil, minerals, metals. Some nations have rich culture to offer in trade; tourism, language, history. Some have wildlife, ecosystems, wonders of all shapes and sizes. We have to let them into the game on terms of what they have to offer. Ultimately we can't prop them up and we can't shut them out. We must -- MUST -- work in partnership with them, just as partnership at every level is the answer for human beings. The jobs we lose in the bargain won't be zero sum affairs. Our safety nets can catch those on all sides who get tossed overboard by rough seas on the ocean of the world economy. Yet safety nets are not a substitute for self-reliance, and protectionism as a principle leads only to distrust and the disruption of cooperation. Help is not meant to last forever. The goal is to reach a point where the help is not needed any more.
Your fear about our economy disintegrating as "all our manufacturing jobs disappear" is largely misplaced. You have some valid points of concern, but the way in which you are going about enumerating your concerns reveals a deeper problem. You're moving in the direction of making things worse, because you have misidentified our true opponent. It is not the other nations and people and even their low wages and low standards that we must confront. It is the faulty principle that stand in the way of solution. And on that score, your presentation is JUST AS BAD as the things you are criticizing. You can't overcome the poor lost souls stuck in a predatory, hostile system of zero-sum consciousness by yourself resorting to the lose-lose concept.
Economies grow, and NOT zero-sum fashion wherein one nation's economy may grow but only at the expense of another. That's the same basic lie that "evil" always tells: to dominate, to take from, to deceive, to make your gains AT THE EXPENSE OF another: to fear the other and work against him, lest he first succeed in undermining you and taking you down. That concept can't hide from me. I'm like a finely tuned spectrograph, able to catch any hint of that concept wherever it may have interwoven itself. I've been paying attention to it, studying it, for so long now, through so many fields of study, across so many observations, that either I have gone mad or I have truly found deeply woven connections that live and dance through all things human or human-related, the very essence of our nature.