- U.S. goods imports from China totaled $505.5 billion in 2017, up 9.3% ($42.9 billion) from 2016, and up 57.3% from 2007. U.S. imports from are up 394% from 2001 (pre-WTO accession). U.S. imports from China account for 21.6% of overall U.S. imports in 2017.
This is just a short blog that is a reaction to a CBC radio interview this morning with a representative of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association (CMEA). The interviewer asked the rep from the CMEA how Trump’s presidency would affect Canadian manufacturers. His reply was that Canadian manufacturers are worried, but that Trump’s rhetoric is just that, rhetoric designed to appeal to particular gullible and self-interested audiences, and fact is something else. He said that if the US imposes tariffs on Canadian goods, then Canada should do the same with regard to American goods.
Problem is, there is a basic flaw in this perspective. Canada produces nothing. The US produces nothing. Corporations, sometimes registered in one country or another, produce things and services for sale. People produce things, not countries so why do economists and journalists still insist on using the country as their primary unit of analysis? When are they going to stop saying that Canada’s trade with the US is this and that, rather than focusing on the real situation which is that corporations are dominant and manipulate governments for their own interests? Ironically, many ‘Canadian’ manufacturers have their products produced in China or in other countries that provide them with tax breaks, lax labour and environmental laws, and cheap labour in export processing zones. And just because a corporation has a head office in Toronto and is technically a Canadian corporation that doesn’t mean that its prime motivator is to serve Canada as a country. No, its prime motivator is profit and as long as a Canadian head office serves its interests that’s fine, the moment it doesn’t do that anymore, its ‘loyalty’ will dissolve as quickly as salt in water and it will move its head office elsewhere. More to the point, of course, is that much of ‘Canadian’ manufacturing is controlled from abroad. That led Harold Innis (Google him) to note in the late 1940s that Canada is a country with its brains spread all over the globe.
Economists and journalists need to give their head a shake and stop letting corporate capital and its governmental lackeys lead them around by the nose.
Following my last post where I look at Statistic Canada’s analysis of intergenerational income in Canada without coming to any conclusions, today, I intend to make one specific point. That point also relates to a Statistics Canada post today on labour productivity in Canada.
The point I want to make has already been make frequently enough. Harold Innis, the pre-eminent political economist who worked at the University of Toronto and who died in 1952 and his mentor and predecessor, Thorstein Veblen, the even more pre-eminent economic historian who taught in various American universities and who died in 1929 both in their own ways decried the use of statistics on a purely national basis. The transnational nature of corporate power and control has been studied carefully by scores of scholars over the decades. See in particular the work of William Carroll at UVic and the network of scholars with whom he is associated worldwide. In my own dissertation (1981) I argued following Innis that the weather doesn’t stop at national borders, nor should statistical analysis.
In an age where corporations are spread all over the globe and where a head office may be in one country, research and development in a couple of others and commodity production in several others, how does it make sense to talk about the ‘Canadian’ economy? If StatsCan wants to get with the times it needs to begin to follow corporations in the various parts of their businesses wherever they happen to be. It’s telling that the former Canadian Manufacturers’ Association is now the Canadian Manufacturers’ and Exporters Association. With the massive reductions in value-added production in Canada over the past half century, the concept of ‘Canadian’ manufacturing is losing its relevance. This is even more true when we consider that the extractive industries in Canada, especially in the petroleum industries are 95% under foreign control.
There is no such thing as the Canadian economy. The sooner we accept that and change our patterns of gathering data the sooner we will get an accurate picture of the global reality of ‘the economy.’ Of course Statistics Canada is there to serve the Canadian government so it’s by it’s very nature political. Harold Innis warned decades ago that scholars should not let politicians lead them around by the nose. It seems like that’s exactly what has happened for a long time now and is still the driving force of data collection in StatsCan.
I deal with this topic in several posts. Check my archives for more.
Time to get back to writing. Several ideas have come to mind as themes for blog posts. One is mapping. In the 1980s and 90s I taught mind mapping, a note making method created by Tony Buzan, and that spurred me to research mapping in general as a means of understanding the world using line and metaphor. That, in turn, motivated me to look into language, semantics and semiotics. That led me to the work of Alfred Korzybski and especially his book, Science and Sanity (I have a copy). He coined the famous phrase: The Map is not the Territory. It is one of the most complex books I have ever read on mapping and metaphor and destroys the myths we have about sanity, insanity, science and reality. It also dissects the idea of science. I also discovered many books by the likes of Umberto Eco (The Theory of Semiotics), Mark Johnson and George Lakoff. Lakoff and Johnson wrote one of my favourite books. It’s called Metaphors We Live By. I used all of these books – and hundreds of others, of course – extensively in my lectures. Words are metaphorical by their very nature as are maps and all representations. Dictionaries are essentially closed systems of metaphors. There’s lots more to be said on this subject, making it a strong candidate for future blog posts.
Another theme, one that I’ve already addressed quite a lot, is the relationship of nationalism and capitalism, especially as they relate to the rise of global finance capital and what we call globalization. The rise of global finance capital was bound to produce the kinds of backlash among the working classes of the world as labour becomes an increasingly smaller component of capitalist production. The general public tends to cling to the notion that the nation-state is a means of controlling and promoting economic production and jobs in the face of growing finance capitalist expansion. People don’t think using highfalutin terms like I use here. They do, however, know that their world of work has become more and more precarious, tenuous and fragile. They know that little by little jobs ‘Canadian’ jobs are being eliminated by automation and exportation. They don’t know that there are no “Canadian’ jobs, just jobs in the capitalist world. They have also been convinced that having a job is the way to happiness. Anyone in their right mind knows that ‘work’ is not often a means of acquiring happiness, whatever that means.
Employment is alienating, no matter how we cut it. Work, however, is a different thing and humans by their very nature are producers of goods, makers of things (homo faber).
As we get squeezed between the need to pay our rents and mortgages and the increasingly insecure labour market, something has to give. The tension brought on by ‘austerity programs’ and ‘structural adjustment programs’ imposed on debtor countries by the World Bank and other transnational organizations in cahoots with national governments will be released somehow. Can you say ‘open rebellion’ and ‘violence in the streets’? Trump’s disaffected followers are just the spark that could ignite and then fan the flames of violence in America. People will find scapegoats upon which to heap their fears because they have no idea who their real enemy is.
Part of this theme revolves around the nature of capital and the evolution of social, economic and cultural systems. This form of evolution has been a major theme in my teaching practice.
I just might pick up this theme again in future blogs.
How could I leave out sex? Of course I will deal with sex and its role in our lives in future blog posts, but I want to also consider aspects of our language around sexuality and the pornography industry in particular. Why do we so often refer to sex as dirty? And what do we make of the fact that we are born between shit and piss? How do we culturally and psychologically address the mess that happens in labour with the wonderfulness of babies and their eventual and necessary deaths?
Contradictions abound in our cultural creations around sex and sexuality. We love the act of sex and lovemaking, but we are supposed to do it in very prescribed ways between approved partners. Tell that to teenagers with sex pheromones bleeding out of every pore of their bodies and it becomes ludicrous. Bodies will trump social rules more often than we would like to consider. Of course, sexual mores have become increasingly lax over the last few decades, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve completely vanished.
[I published this post in November of last year on another one of my blogs now defunct. I thought I’d publish it again, because I think it is relevant now.]
I write. I used to teach. I suppose that in some individual cases I may have even convinced a few people to change their minds about the way they perceived the world. Mostly my efforts are and were in vain.
Our dominant ideologies around possessive individualism, the nature of countries and what we value in life are so powerful as to frustrate and flummox the efforts of the most competent of teachers to get people to change their minds about anything.
I’ve changed my mind a number of times in my life but generally in line with added knowledge gained from reading and researching writers and authors who compelled me to see beyond what I had previously accepted as true. I came to understand fairly early in my career that there is no absolute truth, only tentative truth which must be abandoned when confronted with superior ways of explaining things.
For the first few years of my career as a sociologist I was a Marxist through and through. That early dedication to Marx’s work was soon tempered in many ways by the works of Harold Innis, Thorstein Veblen, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Szasz, R. D. Laing, Erving Goffman, Ernest Becker, Otto Rank and many others. It’s been a ride. Although I’ve gone beyond Marx in many ways, I still often come back to one of Marx’s aphorisms about history in which he said (and I paraphrase): Human history will begin when we stop being so barbaric towards one another.
He was an optimist who actually believed that this would come to pass with the eventual eclipse of class society, a time in which there would no longer be any reason to kill and exploit because of the rise of technology and the elimination of labour exploitation.
Faced with the litany of accounts of death and destruction perpetrated by groups of people over the face of the earth going back millenia and it becomes difficult to accept Marx’s promise. I also being an optimist agree for the most part with Marx on this especially given globalization, the concentration of capital, the erosion of national sovereignty and the degradation of the natural world. These aren’t particularly uplifting processes for me, but they all point to a time in the future where capital will do itself in by increasingly attenuating the profit margin.
Strangely, I write this knowing full well that the vast majority of people who on the off chance might read this will not have read Marx and will have no idea of what I’m writing about here. People are generally quick to dismiss ideas that don’t agree with their preconceived notions about things. That’s certainly true when it comes to Marx’s work. People can easily dismiss Marx (and most other fine writers in history) by thinking they know what Marx (and most other fine writers in history) argued and can therefore cheerfully scrub him (and the others) from their minds. Or they think of themselves as anti this or that, in Marx’s case ‘anti communist’ so that anything that Marx argued just cannot be ok. Mind shut, let no light enter.
One of Marx’s most important ideas was that the division of society into classes would inevitably be relegated to the dustbin of history and along with it barbarism of all kinds. I like that idea, but ‘inevitably’ in this context will probably still be some time in the future. There’s plenty of time left for ignorant, highly suggestible “cheerful robots” (a term from C. Wright Mills) to commit mass murder or other kinds of atrocities in the name of eliminating the evil that they feel is blocking their prosperity or their road to heaven.
Probably the most influential writer for me over the last 40 years of my career has been Ernest Becker. His little book Escape From Evil published in 1975 after his untimely death in 1974 of cancer at the age of 49, has most profoundly influenced my way of thinking and seeing the world. Escape from Evil, in my mind contains all the knowledge one would ever need to explain the bloody massacre in Paris on November 13th or all the other atrocities ever committed by us towards others and vice-versa over the last 10,000 years, or for the time of recorded history, and probably even further back. It’s all there for anyone to read. But people won’t read it and even if they do, they will read it with bias or prejudice and will be able to dismiss it like they dismiss everything else that doesn’t accord with their ideology or interests. And there’s the rub.
It’s people’s interests rather than their ideas that drive their capacity to change their minds. Change the way people live and you just may change the way they think. It doesn’t work very well the other way around.
Given Marx’s long term view on barbarism and senseless violence we cannot hope for much in the short term. We just have to wait it out. Of course our actions speak louder than our words, so within the bounds of legality, it’s not a bad idea in my mind to oppose talk that can incite some unbalanced people among us to violent action. It’s also a good idea to support peaceful solutions to conflict rather than pull out the guns at the first sign of trouble. Violence can easily invite violence in retaliation. We can resist that. It’s tough when all we want to do is smack people for being so ignorant and senselessly violent, but we can forgive rather than fight, tough as that may be. Turn the other cheek as some historical figure may have said at one point a couple of millenia ago.
We will be severely challenged in the years to come to keep our heads as globalization increasingly devalues our labour and the concentration of wealth makes for more and more poverty. Sometime, somewhere we will have to say enough is enough and mean it in spite of the forces trying to divide us. We can regain our humanity even though it’s tattered and in shreds at the moment. It’s either that or we won’t have much of a future on this planet.
What is the Significance of Britain leaving the EU?
Not much in the long term. In the short term, there will be some consequences, but probably not many for ordinary folks. Nobody’s going to war over this one although the political map may see some ‘adjustments’. One might argue that this is just a slight correction, a reminder to the 1% and to finance capital that globalization will not be an easy, carefree ride into a glorious future of one world for the benefit of capital accumulation. There will be push back by the people negatively affected by globalization, especially the poor and those workers who can easily be replaced by automated machines.
The European Union is just one of several political structures that, at least in political and financial terms, override countries and their sovereignty. But there is a whole new level of organizations like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization that has been messing with national sovereignty for decades in the name of securing the free flow of capital and labour in increasingly global markets. When the World Bank can impose austerity measures and structural adjustment programs on countries who have borrowed money from the WB and are having trouble paying it back, you know that national sovereignty is on borrowed time.
That said, countries come and go. Nothing is permanent in our world. There was no Canada before 1867 and Newfoundland was a British colony until 1948 when it voted by a squeaker of a margin to join Canada. The UK used to have a vast empire spanning the globe. Not so much anymore. Now it seems Brits want to pull back into insularity but they can’t hope to get their empire back. Get their country back? Hardly, because they never actually had control of it. Parliament, voting, elections, politicians are there to draw attention away from the real action and that happens behind closed doors in corporate boardrooms everywhere. There is no democracy in finance. Money knows no borders. Democracy is for us, and is meant to give us the impression that we have some control over our lives. Of course, sometimes people take that impression very seriously and Brexit is a consequence of that. In the long term, Brexit won’t change anything. In the short term, things can get ugly especially with people like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump fanning the flames of popular discontent.
Obviously, the ‘leave’ side tapped into a well of discontent among voters. Globalization is changing everything for everybody and the changes are not always comfortable or beneficial to a majority of the population. Employment insecurity tops the long list of grievances that many ‘ordinary’ people feel when their jobs disappear and seem to reappear in China or somewhere else, given to workers who make a fraction of what British, European or North American workers made in the presumed glory days of rapid industrial expansion after World War II erasing important gains in worker safety and security won by unions everywhere. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher rode out of the West to change all of that to launch decades of austerity for workers in ‘developed’ countries. Voters are looking for people to blame for their waning fortunes and are finding them in visible minorities, immigrants, especially from the Middle East and former British colonies and everybody else that isn’t what some consider ‘purely’ British and, of course, China, India and other countries which are presumably ‘stealing’ good British jobs. The ‘other’ is blamed for just about everything. Don’t be surprised by that. Outraged maybe, surprised, not.
Discontent due to disenfranchisement can often lead to conflict and violence given the ‘right’ leadership. Britain has had its share of violence and public insurrection over the centuries. We could end up with more of the same.
The EU is a highly visible and present symbol of globalization and consolidation of power in the hands of global finance capital. What better target for popular hatred? It stands for everything older Brits seem to be feeling pissed off about, but globalization is not going away any time soon, nor is the creation of larger and larger political units like the EU and organizations of global management organizations like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. Work will continue to be moved around the globe as corporations look for cheaper and cheaper sources of labour and resources. No, leaving the EU will not mean an end to globalization for the UK.
That said, human beings live in communities, not in global organizations and labour for most people means employment in local enterprises or government (education, health care, etc.). As I noted above, a consequence of globalization is the disappearance of steady, predictable, good paying jobs, especially for people whose jobs can easily be automated. When we see our communities attacked by austerity measures and global ‘structural adjustment programs’ we get angry. The EU, as a political unit, represents distance and is seen as anti-democratic and it is. The EU is a mechanism for securing the ascendency of finance capital, but it had better be careful not to piss off people who live locally and don’t think globally. It’s hard to convince a bloke who just saw his factory job of 20 years disappear and re-appear in China two months later that globalization is a good thing. For him or her, it’s not. So there is push back.
Part of the push back will be in the form of popular unrest and violence. At the political level, there will be lots of re-negotiating to do as the UK leaves the EU, but at the local level, there may be random acts of violence, but there are some promising developments that should at least get the attention of global capital and that’s the movement to greater and greater local autonomy and control over food supplies, power generation, waste management and social services. People may not get their countries back, but they may, over the long term, get more local control as technologies present opportunities for greater local autonomy.
We are in a period of transition when global capital has proven itself capable of exploiting every part of the globe. I think we are getting close to the end times of the glory days of capitalist expansion when profit margins inexorably diminish because there are no longer cheaper workers to be found or resources become too expensive to exploit and when markets are flooded with consumer products that are increasingly at the margins of utility and no longer producing the satisfaction we all seek in our lives.
That means the opportunities will abound for us in our communities to get creative in finding local solutions to some of our most pressing problems while we connect to the rest of the world on the internet and create communities there as well, communities of ideas and mutual help that don’t imply direct political involvement or control.
I think Brexit is a wakeup call for capital. That is certainly true, but we must find in it a resolve not to descend into xenophobia, racism, brutish nationalism and violence while seeking solutions to problems in our lives for ourselves, by ourselves, ironically using the tools global capital has so generously provided us. We must resist the urge to blame and scapegoat and instead turn our attention to our communities creating in them the means of living meaningful lives.
So begins the endgame for the small retail commodity store. Services will still be immune from this type of shopping, but not most commodity shopping. Hard goods retailers will be especially hard hit. WalMart is not immune although it will take some time to topple that giant.
What is more interesting is the way this website and organization is being promoted – using very nationalistic themes – and how it’s connected to banking. The nationalistic appeal on the YouTube video advertizing this site, which only appeared a couple of days ago, is highly misleading of course. We don’t buy products as citizens, but as consumers. We buy tons of hard goods, services, and other commodities from all over the planet. There is no ‘Canadian’ consumer. There is only a consumer of capitalist commodities. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric. But, it doesn’t matter much. The end result of all of this is a more integrated global social system that is at the same time more local in its meaning for people. We are more and more globalized as we become more and more insular, shopping from home on our computers, iPads and iPhones. The world, she is a changin’. We don’t understand the implications of such a centralized, overarching ‘Canadian shopping experience’ until the deal is done. But there’s no turning back. This is not a moral dilemma. All I’m doing here is observing what’s fast becoming our new social order.