Wednesday, July 24, 2013

As Detroit goes, so goes...

Nice house of cards, America! If we look at how the deck is holding those chairs on our Titanic ship of state, we might figure out what happened to the former Jack of Diamonds, Detroit, which is not just bankrupt; it is Out of Service.

Streetlights are out. Pensions are lost. Social workers are considering emigrating to China. The Motor City has no economic engine.

What happened?

The military-industrial complex happened. By its nature, it is literally and economically a boom-and-bust phenomenon. We invented cars--well, OK, the Germans did, but Ford developed mass production of them. We used our military might to control the global oil flow, more or less, from at least the late 1940s until the early 1970s. The US oil corporations flourished. We kept it cheap, literally fueling a massive artificially jacked-up economy, and everyone had cars. Detroit cranked them out. US auto corporations flourished.

The World War II loser in Asia, Japan, was forced to stay out of the military business, so turned to civilian products. Those products were cheesy and cheap when I was a boy in the 1950s. Made in Japan was the joke. As the US focused on military and ignored efficiency because their military control of much of the planet allowed profligate waste, Japan got very good at two things: electronics and automotive efficiency. So, when the darn Arabs and Persians started to join with the Venezuelans and others, starting in 1960, to form the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the writing was on the wall. Endless supplies of cheap oil were going to falter. By the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, OPEC cut off oil to the US for its military aid to Israel, showing the US consumers and showing Detroit a glimpse of the future. A few squinted and began to change. Most burped, averted their gazes, and chugged ahead with high-powered, inefficient, gas guzzling production and consumption.

The Jimmy Carter effort to help America plan strategically was a flop. He told us he wanted 'mandatory conservation'. You could hear the giant collective 'No thanks!' and we brought in a man for the 80s, Ronald Reagan (well, the 1880s, but still...). Reagan focused on two things: building a nuclear arsenal that made nuclear war more likely and more likely to end life on Earth, plus his obsession with Nicaragua and those Sandinistas who were warming up their old Chevies to drive north to invade Texas, obviously. His Middle East policy was to suck wind in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution and send thugs to sell arms to 'moderate' Iranians and use the profits to bolster the civilian-killing Contra in Nicaragua. Brilliant. Efficiency was completely ignored. The Japanese made quiet gains as Detroit kept its ostrich approach.

Clinton made some desultory weak and thready attempts to address the slight problem of America and Detroit increasingly getting its butt kicked by Japan and now South Korea. He was easily rendered impotent by the auto/petroleum lobby. The Bushes, of course, had their own brilliant 41 and 43 combo: reward inefficiency and bomb the Middle East, alienate South America and militarize Africa. They subsidized SUVs and other gross-out gas-gluttons and now we see Detroit going belly-up.

Shocked--SHOCKED, we tell you. You could not possibly have predicted this before 1961.

But with the US savings account all liquidated to build up the military and the US debt massively swollen to do the same, we've got more impoverishment, more economic crashes to come. Every single one of the factors that is going to bring us to bankruptcy and grind us to a crawl will relate to our devotion to violence and the threat of violence. Without some basic transformation in our conflict management practice as a nation, we slowly enter the American Era of Bankruptcy. Detroit is only the first--Wait! It's the 36th since 2010. This Era is underway.

We need a new vision and new commitment. In blighted and bankrupt Detroit, some have begun.
Do we all need to wait this long?

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