Can America stand on its own two feet?
We can’t build enough cars because the chips, invented here in America, are all made overseas. 30% of American oil is now exported by giant oil companies that are driving up our gas prices due to a “shortage”. It’s insane!
How did the Reagan administration and the neoliberals manage to make our nation almost totally dependent on China and a handful of other low-wage countries for everything from chips in our cars to our cell phones to technology needed to build a battleship or a missile? ?
And who entrusted our energy destiny to the Saudis?
Of all the concepts that form the basis of the idea that most Americans have of our country, self-reliance ranks among the first.
Although much of it is based on fantastic ideas and children’s tales about “pioneers” who carved their own lives out of nature (in reality, community was the main value that guaranteed the success of the border towns), nevertheless, it is a core value intrinsic to Americans. concept of themselves.
Self-reliance is also the number one meme promoted by right-wing media and billionaires, celebrated by the Republican Party, and used to market everything from guns to trucks to survival food for Trump-humpers.
“Stand on your two feet! is a favorite GOP mantra, especially when it comes to poor people looking for bootstraps to lift themselves up.
However, autonomy is an entirely different thing when applied to nations.
George Washington understood the concept of autonomy at the national level; when he became president, he asked his treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, to come up with a plan to wean America off British-made products.
Hamilton’s 11-Point Plan for American Manufacturers, also known as The American Planliterally built this country.
From 1793, when the American diet was widely set up, until the 1980s when the Reagan administration began giving it a big meat-axe, negotiating the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, which led to the World Trade Organization) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we built things here.
In 1983 Louise and I moved to Atlanta and a new Wal-Mart had just opened near our home in, if I remember correctly, the suburban town of Alpharetta. The banner hung from the front of the imposing building proudly echoed the title of Sam Walton’s autobiography: “100% made in America! »
But in 1978, Lewis Powell of Memo Powell fame is the author of Boston vs. Bellotti Supreme Court ruling, which doubled down on previous rulings that corporations were persons with constitutional rights. The decision also changed our laws so that when corporations use their profits to buy off politicians, it is no longer about bribes or bribery, but rather constitutionally protected “free speech.”
The result was Ronald Reagan floating in the White House in 1980 on a tsunami of fossil fuels and corporate money and a lobbying frenzy to deconstruct the National Industrial Policy that Hamilton had so painstakingly put in place and backed America. for 188 years.
Arguing that labor was “just another commodity” and that companies should be able to “freely” source the cheapest labor they could find anywhere in the world , lobbyists and corporate CEOs convinced Reagan and Congress to relax or eliminate protective tariffs and other trade. restrictions that have kept American manufacturers here in this country.
The result has been, over the past 40 years (most in the first 30 of those years), the closure of more than 60,000 American factories and the transfer of more than 15,000,000 well-paying American jobs, mostly unionized, in Mexico, China, Vietnam and elsewhere. .
The era was epitomized by GE CEO Jack Welch, who said factories shouldn’t be tied to any country in particular, but, as cheaper labor became available on the horizon, they should just be able to float to that new location.
“Ideally,” said his famous and oft-quoted mantra“you would have all the plants you own on a barge.”
Car prices are about a third of our inflation rate today because supplies are so tight. The raison? We no longer make the chips – invented here in America – needed to run today’s high-tech vehicles. Much of this manufacturing has been sent to China, where labor is cheap and there are no pesky unions to worry about…but the supply chain is now disrupted.
And yet, Americans still believe in self-reliance. It’s been ingrained in our psyches since our early years in school.
During one of my teenage summers, my best friend Clark Stinson, his girlfriend Colleen, and I headed to the Chippewa National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with two 10-foot teepees and 100 pounds of fruit. dry and cereals. With the help of an old trapper who lived there, we took our gear three days into the forest to a small unmarked lake, set up our tipis and lived there for the next few months.
We were both addicted to Emerson and Thoreau, and steeped in Emerson’s essay on self-reliance and Thoreau’s example at Walden Pond, we spent the summer picking wild plants, reading books on spirituality and wilderness survival and meditation.
The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is that on an individual level, autonomy is largely a fantasy.
We all depend on each other, and without the infrastructure of a functioning society, none of us will survive for long. Even the homeless form a community; it is at the heart of our humanity to be interdependent, even though this interdependence is the foundation of our sense of individual autonomy.
The danger of interdependence, however, is when we become entangled with predators. Whether it’s low-income people making do with payday loans and credit cards, workers so intimidated they’re afraid to form a union, or diabetics being charged thousands of dollars a year for drugs that cost pennies to make, when predators have us through our necks all those lofty notions of self-reliance go out the window.
It is the same with nations.
We have become dependent on predators for our oil and manufactured goods, and this has gutted the American working class while placing us in dangerous military and foreign policy positions.
In 1975, during the Arab oil embargo, Congress past the Energy Policy and Conservation Act which compelled the president to put in place rules prohibiting the export of fossil fuels produced in the United States.
This law lasted until 2015, when neoliberal Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota introduced the U.S. Crude Oil Export Equality Act which was, later that year, incorporated into an omnibus spending bill and signed into law by President Obama.
wednesday i suggested that in response to Saudi Arabia’s alignment with Putin, we should repeal Heitkamp’s legislation and resume banning the export of crude oil and gasoline.
In seven short years, we have gone from zero oil exports and total energy independence — self-sufficiency — to exporting fully 30 percent oil produced in America.
Giant international oil companies even refine American crude here, leaving us with poisoned air, waste and cancer, then export the purified gasoline to other countries.
Last year, according to Bloomberg, gasoline exports hit a record high 802,000 barrels per daymost going to Brazil and Mexico.
At the same time, the fossil fuel industry has cut down a huge $138 billion in profits in the past three months alone, gasoline retailers in the United States have raised prices due to an alleged gasoline shortage here. Right.
Now, in a moment of clarity, the Biden administration is considering repeal the Heitkamp Act or the enactment of new export rules to bring America back to energy self-sufficiency.
It can’t come soon enough.
Likewise, we have allowed greedy executives and manufacturing companies to move so much of our production to China and other low-wage countries that little of our nation’s capacity for self-reliance remains.
Congressman Ro Khanna from California published a book on the issue in 2012, Entrepreneurial Nation: Why manufacturing is still key to America’s futureand recently published an article in the Boston Globe outlining his vision for a renaissance in American manufacturing, especially in high tech. He calls it “economic patriotism,” a phrase that should resonate across the country.
The last third of my latest book, The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Drained Americais largely devoted to Hamilton American diet and how he was rejected by Reagan and has lain dormant in every president’s administration since.
This is a cross-party issue. In the 2016 election, Trump campaigned to bring our factories back from China – another Trump lie – and that likely explains why he took several Midwestern states away from Hillary Clinton, who was still defending Bill’s adherence to the ” free exchange “.
The myth of individual autonomy has fueled libertarian and republican fantasies ever since high school kids started reading Atlas shrugged.. Nonetheless, we really are all in this together, and the more the morbidly rich try to shirk their societal obligations, the poorer and more desperate our nation becomes.
But at the level of nations, autonomy is not only good but essential. If China attacked Taiwan and simultaneously cut off all ships carrying goods to America, our economy would be on its knees within weeks. If Saudi Arabia were to cut oil to the United States, inflation would eat us alive.
Americans can have the same idea in two different contexts at the same time: we have for centuries. While embracing interdependence at home, we must also embrace self-reliance on the international stage.