The dateline in the New York Times was from China, and the sub-headline read: "Fueled with money from Wall Street and local officials, [Chinese] automakers are building a huge production lead. They plan to build 8 million electric cars a year by 2028, more than Europe and America combined." We Westerners are so accustomed to thinking of ourselves as threatened and so willing to engage in rivalry that my first reaction was "we are losing this game." Detroit, which began mass production of automobiles, is going down the tubes, and a nation that depended on water buffalo until recently is outpacing us.
But economics is not (or should not) be a game among competitive guys. Capitalism's founders such as Adam Smith argued that the nation (or region or ethnic group) that produced the best goods at the lowest prices should be the pick of the pack. But business owners quickly moved away from capitalism's pure philosophy, and instead urged politicians to impose tariffs and other taxes that would restrain free trade and allow them to charge higher prices.
Hubby always argued for free trade – not so much because he was an Adam Smith acolyte, but because it was the path to peace. In his still-selling book, World Peace and the Human Family, he pointed out that the powerful – business executives and their paid-for politicians – are unlikely to bomb their own overseas factories. This is encapsulated in the headline: "money from Wall Street." No matter how much our rightwing rails against China, American investors are not going to allow warfare that destroys their property.
The headline also added "and local officials." That is money from government entities in China -- or communism/socialism. The combination of capitalism and socialism is where we are today, and we should drop the rhetoric on both. We also should recognize the difference between economic and political systems. Democracies and dictatorships can exist with both types of monetary management, and conservatives who decry "socialism" often are just fine with authoritarian politics. Let's cut the slogans, please, and recognize reality. And if left alone by warmongers, that reality eventually will bring peace and prosperity.
THE WORLD BEYOND
Hubby also was a big fan of the space program. Indeed, the only book he drafted but never published would have been an expansion of a speech to the Florida Philosophical Association. He was the elected president of this august body of arcane academics, but they did not greet his words with wild applause. Instead there was stunned silence at his argument that our greatest moral obligation is to support space exploration.
His belief was based in the fact that at the heart of the world's many philosophies is the obligation to survive and to produce another generation. Although we aren't very good at recognizing the key role of women in that process, it is true that passing a torch to those who are younger is key to any sort of future. From the tiniest one-cell lifeform to our complex selves, the first motivation is survival of the species.
Given human foolishness and our endless inclinations to destroy ourselves – whether from nuclear war or from regularly trashing the planet -- Hubby reasoned that human survival probably depended on finding an alternative home. Only a few of us could go, at least initially, but setting up a colony on another planet is the first necessary step. He and I were pleased when Florida Senator Bill Nelson agreed to write the introduction to the book.
Hubby is gone, but now Bill Nelson is in charge of NASA. As I said last week, I am so pleased with President Biden's respect for age and experience – a true contrast to the previous president, who preferred dilettantes such as himself. Nelson was born in Brevard County and grew up with Cape Canaveral, later the Kennedy Space Center. He was its best-informed advocate in Congress, especially because he dared to be the first elected official to blast into outer space. That was just two weeks before other astronauts died when the Challenger blew up at liftoff.
I am particularly proud of Bill Nelson for recently pointing out something I had forgotten, something that relates to the above item on national rivalries. According to the New York Times, when the US retired our shuttle program in 2011, "NASA had to rely on Russia to ferry its astronauts to and from the space station." The article quoted the former Florida senator: "Despite the differences of political governments, we've always had that space cooperation. And it is my fervent hope that will continue." Cooperation, science, and respect for others. That is the world ahead.
BEYOND THE HEADLINES
McDonald's recently had a PR victory with headlines that called attention to the so-called labor shortages. It said that in response, the burger chain was raising pay – but buried deep in the story is the fact that this applies only to restaurants directly owned by the corporation, and not to the 95% that are franchises. It's just cynical hypocrisy to announce this as good news for the middle class.
The New York Times article cited a Tampa woman, 61-year-old Gail Rogers. She has been a cashier at an independently owned McDonald's for eight years and makes $9.40 an hour, with no paid time off. She sold her car because she could not afford its maintenance or insurance and now bikes or takes the bus to her workplace, six miles away. "Fifteen dollars an hour would make a big difference to me," Rogers said. "I could see myself with a car again."
Added to these troubles, Rogers also contacted COVID this year, and her breathing difficulties made biking dubious. With no insurance or sick leave, I'm sure she hurried back to work – which amounts to a health risk for the rest of us. Unlike Trumpsters, the Biden administration understands that minimum-wage people are indeed "essential workers." His Council of Economic Advisors recently issued a five-page paper aimed at restoring the middle class. The report focuses on productivity, innovation, and equity, especially with wage growth.
It begins with rejection of what it called the "old orthodoxy" of tax cuts and other rewards for the already rich. This trickle-down idea has been in place for decades, and meanwhile the middle class has declined from what it was just after World War II. We need to return to the economics of that era – without its war. Even some Republicans are beginning to vaguely see the light. Mitch McConnell seems to be stepping away from his stubbornness and no longer seeks the camera every day.
Instead, he appointed Shelly Moore Capito to lead the Republican side of negotiations with the White House. She is from West Virginia, and like McConnell of Kentucky, represents a state full of poor people who take a disproportionate share of federal money while cursing the federal government. Capito seems to understand this, though, and optimistically said that "Republican senators were open to raising the over top-line price tag of their offer."
Even hardline conservative Roy Blount of Missouri appears to have recognized the failure of partisan obstruction and declared, "It's in nobody's interest to draw this out." Other senators said that a deal could come as soon as Memorial Day. That is wonderful news, and maybe blind obstinacy will yield to a reasoned approach. It could be that people like Gail Rogers can get to work, and happy days will be here again.