Saturday, 21 January 2017

Reality Check

I was a little disappointed by the meagre musical score in the film La La Land but, on the other hand, I was delighted by the male protagonist’s passion for jazz and his enthusiastic attempt to promote it to a wider audience – even though, in the real world, it seems doomed to remain a minority interest. But we all have our own personal La La Lands: mine is one in which Brexit Remoaners get to choose individual membership of the EU, becoming, in return for an annual fee, EU citizens, allowed to roam freely across borders to work, play and attend rallies of like-minded internationalists. But it seems that, like jazz, internationalism is a minority interest – and not only among the British. The USA is about to shoot itself in the foot by reverting to insularity in a big way.
It looks as though the new President of the USA was elected by two very different groups of voters, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and, of these two groups, it is the ‘have-nots’ I fear for. Their version of La La Land is one in which they expect Mr. Trump to bring back low-skilled manufacturing jobs. It won’t happen. His promise is doomed to failure because it can only be achieved by protectionist trade tariffs. This is a flawed strategy and here’s why. Competitors with lower costs will always be able to undercut you. It is better to create alternative, higher-value jobs than to subsidise those which are destined for a lower-wage economy elsewhere. In any case, the robots are coming to take all those jobs soon. In the short term, of course, continuing unemployment or poorly paid alternative jobs will be the fate of those whose industries close because they are no longer viable. But the long term must be taken into account – otherwise administrations will be incessantly patching-up society with costly but futile short-term measures.
And if the workforce cannot appreciate this logic it is the fault of government for providing a poor basic education to those who cannot afford to buy it privately. To some extent this may be deliberate: if the workforce was more enlightened, politicians such as Trump would stand less chance of being elected. They rely on what Isaac Asimov called the cult of ignorance ... nurtured by the false notion that democracy means “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.
As for Trump’s rich supporters, what do they know – or care – of the plight of society? As the stupendous wealth generated by capitalism becomes increasingly concentrated into the possession of a tiny proportion of the population, their disconnection from the economic plight of the many seems to become more acute. There is a charitable tradition in the USA, as exemplified by Andrew Carnegie (d. 1919) who advocated that surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community, but there is, apparently, no evidence that Trump is inclined to agree with or to participate in such a philosophy.
Charity is, in any case, only part of the solution. A more equitable distribution of profits is a better way of narrowing the gap. And it’s not a new idea. In 1914 the Ford Motor Company doubled wages at a stroke, citing its belief in social justice and the equitable sharing of present profits and future prospects. The move was denounced by the Wall Street Journal which claimed it was wrong to apply biblical or spiritual principles into a field where they do not belong...(Ford has) committed economic blunders, if not crimes. Ford actually doubled its profit in two years.
One hopes that Trump won’t have things all his own way and that some remnants of a compassionate society will survive his term of office. Or is that simply another version of La La Land?

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