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Is American capitalism waning?

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By Wendy Binnie

And does it matter? It is easy to ignore what is happening in the rest of the world until it comes back and smacks us in the face. It seems that this is what happened a couple of weeks ago as most Americans celebrated President’s Day.

Consider that our troubles have been portrayed as going from Wall Street to Main Street, but that doesn’t begin to outline the problem. No one had thought that maybe it might also affect the Ginza or countless other sections of the world.

That was just not part of our thinking. Actually it never has been – an extremely dangerous, egotistical, snobbish and ultimately damaging attitude on our part. But it has become so.

We need to go no further than what has happened to Japan to understand. Such events force us to remember that the world over the last 30 or so years has become interdependent and intertwined in ways that we could have imagined. Even in 1932, the height of the Great Depression, the bad news was not limited to America, but was, in fact, shared by the world.

In the last several weeks, negative reports submitted by Toyota, Sony and other Japanese giants of business and industry seemed to foreshadow the coming disaster. We learned that Japanese companies were laying off tens of thousands of workers and they had done nothing wrong except to be part of a world economy.

The handwriting was on the wall. What we think of as capitalism is incorrect – conversely what we are told socialism means is equally incorrect.

Japan’s biggest market was hurting. Americans had lost 2.3 million jobs in the last year. The last remaining leg of the economy had collapsed. Home ownership was at issue. And people stopped buying when the credit dried up.

One didn’t need a crystal ball to see that Americans were not only putting off their purchases of cars, they had also stopped buying computers, TVs and other electronic gadgetry. And much of these goods come from Asia.

A friend wrote of his experiences in Japan in the 1950s. “When I tried to explain to my colleagues in the domestic business world that the Japanese were no longer building cheap plastic items but, instead, had shifted to building quality equipment as good, if not better, than anything I could buy in America, they chose not to believe me. Yet, the AKAI, the Canon, and Sony brands were top drawer and included features and quality that surpassed what was available in the U.S.

To their discredit, American manufacturers at the time were very slow to first believe it and, secondly, to do something about it.”

It took 20 years to convince Americans of that, but in the interim Japan became our fiercest competitor. Since then, America has seen the rise of India and China and the “seven little tigers” along with Korea grow as competitive factors in worldwide trade.

While we still think of what happened as mainly between Main Street and Wall Street, the truth is that what happens in America, today, impacts the world. And what happens in the world affects America.

For this to happen in Japan serves only as a reminder that the world has grown smaller and that what happens in China, India and Japan very much influences what happens here and in Europe and vice versa. We have all become people of the world whether we like it or not. We need to keep this in mind as we try to deal with capitalism run amok, a kind of free-wheeling environment where there were no restraints and no oversight where the only mantra was profits.

There are many reasons for the present crisis, and also many challenges to be faced in coping with it. At the core, the creed of greed prevalent among wealthy, corporate America, and the Republicans who supported them; the irresponsible fiscal policies of the Bush administration and 12 years of Republican majority in Congress must be faulted.

Now, with Democrats in control, the task of turning the country around is almost insurmountable; problems to be faced in the coming decades against terrible odds will be huge deficits, a skyrocketing national debt, diminishing energy and other resources, and the threat of global warming. And with billions more humans due in the next few decades, the world will face bigger crises.

One of these days some brave soul is going to have to introduce the unvarnished truth to Rush, Hannity and some Republicans who are throw-backs to the 20th Century. Any takers?

Gov. Jindal’s rebuttal to the president’s speech last week was ridiculous. He decried $140 million to monitor volcanoes (the cost of a fair-sized overpass costs approximately that)  – one wonders if he’s ever seen the sheer force of a pyroclastic flow consisting of deadly lava and ash?

If they finally recognize the truth there will be an explosion of such magnitude that they’ll be glad the volcanic study was in the stimulus package.

And Rush Limbaugh looks to be the new leader of the conservatives – his speech at the CPAC meeting was nothing short of mendacity and appealing to the baser instincts of “comfortable” people. Limbaugh used his self-described “first national address,” to criticize President Obama for inspiring fear in Americans in order to push a liberal agenda of “big government.”

“He wants people in fear, angst and crisis, fearing the worst each and every day because that clears the decks for President Obama and his pals to come in with the answers which are abject failures, historically shown and demonstrated. Doesn’t matter. They’ll have control of it when it’s all over. And that’s what they want,” Limbaugh said.

“They see these inequalities, these inequities that capitalism produces. How do they try to fix it? Do they try to elevate those at the bottom? No, they try to tear down the people at the top.”

Phew! Wouldn’t a Pinocchio-type device be a boon?

… As I was saying …

Wendy England Binnie, a novelist and op-ed columnist, lives in Oak Trace Villas. Contact her at smcnews@earthlink.net.