It is endlessly interesting that, when I tell someone that I live “in the middle of nowhere,” they always act as if they know exactly where that is. I suspect that many people think they know what “nowhere” looks like. It is an image in their minds of what they imagine an American Hell to be — a place where boredom is never relieved, where time crawls, and where no one exists to blame for one’s agonies except oneself.
I am approaching my first year in the land of nowhere, and have discovered that nowhere is actually somewhere. For me it is in a small town in the Midwest on the edge of the Great Plains. One of the first things I noticed when I moved here permanently from the Philadelphia area is that the rural world made me extremely aware of the temporality of life. Cattle trucks roll by, and one is acutely aware that the cattle are on their way to be slaughtered. Thousands of acres of corn and soybeans are planted in the spring, but by late fall the land has become barren again. I also became aware of the fact that there is rarely ever the right amount of rain; the ground is either too wet or too dry. In a large city the main concern is generally the cost of water, not its existence.
My first month in the land of nowhere I had to take my car to the local car repair shop for a minor repair. Like many car shops around here, it is an old service station that still pumps the gas for its customers. On that particular occasion, an elderly man behind the counter wrote down what needed to be done to my car in a spiral notebook. The shop did not have a computer. The elderly man behind the counter was interested in me because he had never met me before. He came out from behind the counter and told me a story about his father and him working on a car together when he was a teenager.
Less than a month later, I found out he had died from cancer. I did not notice sickness when I met him. Nevertheless, the story I was told was that he had been sick for a good while, but he liked working and meeting people, so he worked in the shop. Another local man who went to my church was killed in an accident at the age of eighty-two when he was cutting down a tree on his farm. Eighty-two. In a large city, one always has the feeling that a human being can be replaced; when a person dies here, that is not always the case. One begins to sense that a human life is not always replaceable. The American belief that something better is always on the way loses its grip under these circumstances.
But there are many in the nation beside me now who do not believe in the ever better future for America, and the economic reports coming out now are certainly no reason for optimism. The American corporate structure is revealing what may be in store for America in the foreseeable future. In summary, while the corporations of the world are moving the world’s industrial base to Asia, the Western capitalist world is going to try to survive as the financial capital of the world. The are many among us in the banking world who are not sure this will work, but on this particular occasion, I figure that it could be interesting to consider what this means for the land of nowhere.
The landscape of middle America is dotted with abandoned factories. The reason for this is has been debated for years and will likely be debated for years to come. In political terms, both the left and the right take credit for de-industrialization and refuse to take the blame. As I have discussed in other articles for America’s Right, the left blames the right for de-industrialization in its need to squash American labor under its capitalist boot. For years the right-wing banking wall street gangs promoted the idea that America no longer had the political and social atmosphere to promote sound business models, and took their money elsewhere. At the same time, the left promoted world economic equality. In my years in college in the 1970’s the left never stopped preaching that America consumed too much of the world’s resources in an attempt to promote its version of a Western imperialist model. (Now, it seems that the left has shifted gears ever slightly, preaching preservation of resources in an attempt to foster a new age of global socialism.)
What both sides ended up doing was terrible, if not cruel, to much of the American middle class. Both the left and the right knew that even if jobs were lost and thriving lives were diminished, no one in America would literally starve because the government would feed them. To put it bluntly, the right and the left both believed they could dump huge portions of the middle class on the government and get away with it as long as the American public bought into the idea that the world was changing, that we were in a period of readjustment, and that things would get better in the future.
But now there are those who feel this readjustment is permanent and may never end because there is nothing on the horizon to fill the empty factories. (One of the reason Americans have managed to survive at all is that ten-dollar-an-hour American workers are buying goods from countries that pay their workers one dollar per hour.) A recent Associated Press piece demonstrates the problem. In Where Are The Jobs? For Many Companies, Overseas, AP Business Writer Pavalli Gogoi provides the following quote from Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute: “There’s a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American economy.” (Stocks are up because overseas sales are up.)
We all need to understand that there are millions of people in the world that love American money, but have no loyalty to America. Consider the now-famous line from the Watergate era: “follow the money.” Right now, the money is heading far from the American shores. A great deal of this is simple math. I heard an economist admit a couple years ago that Americans need to be realistic. India and China, he pointed out, have a combined population of three billion people. If ten percent of them have a college education, that comes to three hundred million college graduates — almost equal to the entire population of the United States.
Why would anyone want to mess around with lazy, greedy, bloated Americans when corporations have millions of needy people in the world ready to climb out of poverty? Gogoi, in the aforementioned article from December 28, 2010, maintains that “[b]y 2015, for the first time, the number of consumers in Asia’s middle class will equal those in Europe and North America combined.”
This is the world the Republican Party faces as it begins this new 2011 legislative session in the House of Representatives, back to work after the hiatus brought about by the terrible shooting in Tucson, Arizona. The GOP has a daunting task before it — it has to figure out how to stop this transfer of American labor and talent to the life of waiting for that government check to arrive. In the most recent tax deal, the Republicans agreed to extend unemployment benefits once again, so I’m not so certain that they’re up to the challenge. Is anybody? Is there any common ground the Democrats and Republicans can find to end this economic vicious cycle of unemployment and rocketing debt?
We shall see, but the problems are obvious. An aging population, overprinting of dollars, massive bad debt in the banking industry, and an uncooperative corporate sector that simply wishes to boost stock prices by taking their business elsewhere. Good luck to all the Republicans, new and old. Well, frankly, luck won’t do. There has to be a comprehensive policy of spending cuts and American corporate resurgence at home.
A final story from the land of nowhere — On a lovely summer night in July of 2010 I stopped by to chat with a neighbor who was working on his car. He was ready to have a smoke and talk about “things.” In our conversation he mentioned he was having a terrible time getting health insurance. He told me that some of my neighbors and him were already preparing themselves for jail time when the Obama health plan would require health coverage or else.
It was hard for me to believe how resigned he was to the idea of being arrested for not having health insurance. The Republicans need to do better that this. Even for people who live in the middle of nowhere.