From a distance the Chinese mainland appears to be snorting through the global depression like a fire-breathing dragon. But a closer look at internet discourse reveals a giant in the throes of aftershock. When we hear tones of irritation from Chinese officials regarding “dollar problems” we could on the one hand consider their pain.
On the other hand, whether you are listening to pro-dollar or anti-dollar partisans today, there is an eerie agreement between Marxist and Friedmanite alike that return on capital is the main thing. What we need to hear more often from both sides of the global mouth is how capital will only grow through labor.
With the help of Google translate, the average monolingual yankee can cross the ocean and listen to the official pronouncements of ministers for the Communist Party of China (CPC) who have a thousand throats exhorting the masses to keep on the scientific path.
What the scientific path sounds like in China today is a lot like what you hear weekdays over the chatterbox at the Capitalism-Knows-Best Channel (CNBC). For instance, the Chinese “socialist market economy” is being redefined scientifically into a “modern market economy under rule of law,” which is exactly the way they like it at CNBC.
From both sides of the Pacific you get pretty much the same news: double-digit downturns in profits across the board, dozens of gigantic projects suddenly scrapped and unplugged, trade routes collapsing, pages snatched from memories of capitalism past, the better to remind us how to survive.
Even on the question of climate change there is a convergence of policy conviction that “the construction of ecological civilization” will help our damaged economies to “cope with the international financial crisis” through the material re-production of green technologies.
Tuning into the thoroughly capitalized culture at CNBC — coming at you “live from the financial capital of the world”–bust is generally accepted as the price of boom. Mad Money man Jim Cramer said recently that if the stock market were to take another 150-point dive on the S&P 500 Index, investors from the boo-yah land of Cramerica could consider it a gift — “A GIFT!!”
But over on the Chinese mainland, ministers seem to be talking to masses that haven’t quite learned how to appreciate the opportunities of economic collapse. This is the time, say the ministers, to vigorously seek innovations in technology, reconfigure business models, bury dead capacities, and evolve the community through decisive calculations of “M&A.”
In the chatter of Chinese ministers sounds a worry that the “socialist market economy” could come out of the economic crisis fatter than it needs to be and therefore vulnerable to all the lean dogs that global capital is breeding as we speak.
Of course every Wal-Mart shopper knows how much is owed to the enormous Chinese factories that punched out a dozen or so shopping seasons. But Chinese ministers know better how the tiny “Made in China” labels were not attached to Chinese-branded logos. And whereas the great logos of the global economy will likely recover on top of factories somewhere or anywhere (thank you Naomi Klein) there is no guarantee that the factories of China will be serving the logo powers next year.
There is enough worry to go around. In the USA we don’t know if the unemployment numbers will stop in time to provide the baby boom a respectful retirement. In China, the ministers don’t know if plants and projects will stop shutting down in time to prevent a more colossal sacrifice in capital spending.
Matching the positive image of the Chinese minister atop his nearly $2 trillion mountain of dollar reserves is the precise negative image of the average American consumer down in his valley of debt. And where the images should be joined at the middle term is across the rubbed glass surface of the Wal-Mart checkout counter, courtesy of MasterCard and Visa.
Of course, there was a time not too many months ago when the era of dollar-fed arrogance seemed to be stalking the world with unchecked power as “dollar hegemony” rolled around the globe with tsunami force. These days however the dollar gets pulled up off its knees by other currencies at the most curious times, exactly in moments when the whole flow of things seems to shudder with collapsing pipes.
What the dollar needs most right now is a national emergency declared in behalf of jobs. Enough diddling with yield curves and balance sheets already. Whatever it takes, we need folks back at work. Until we are busy creating value through labor, every dollar will stay busy shrinking.
Which brings us to the final correspondence between CNBC and the ministers of China. By and large all these voices fail to inflect the urgency of the single outcome that will count most toward economic health — getting everybody back to work. If you are holding a pile of dollars the immediate question should be how to transform that cash into tools of productivity for workers of the world. Wealth today is paralyzed from not knowing how to become productive. This is the real problem.
So whether you grew up on one side of the Pacific listening to warnings about the Midas touch or you grew up on another side of the Pacific sneaking lessons from Mencius you should know. When you mistake the real value of human economy for dollars, gold, or profit, you shall kill the order of things.
Something about the discourse of crisis is chilling to the ear. Neither side of the ocean is talking early or often enough about how to forge wealth into tools that can be put to work. There is still time perhaps to put jobs first.