Posted tagged ‘Obama’

US WATCH: S & T CUTTING EDGE EROSION

July 22, 2008

Erle Frayne  Argonza y Delago

 

As I’ve been stressing in previous articles, “it’s the economy” that count much as top agenda to be addressed by policy makers, bureaucrats and growth stakeholders in the USA. And this should be the primary concern of the political bigwigs when election comes by the end of the year.

 

A policy shift that will veer away America from the destructive flames of the ‘virtual economy’ founded on predatory finance, back to the ‘real economy’ based on tangible outputs in manufacturing, agriculture, infrastructures, S & T, and transportation & communications.

 

This time around, do make reflections on the S&T facet of America’s economy and society. For over two (2) centuries the USA was a hallmark of development, precisely due to the ingenuity manifested by its entrepreneurs who built the mighty industrial economy. The S&T facet of production has been a well established fact-of-life in America, and I should stress that facet here means ‘cutting-edge’.

 

Without S&T cutting-edge, America would still be a backwoods economy today, much like some backwoods states there. But since the founding fathers of America laid down the foundations of growth and prosperity—foundations based on the ‘real economy’ or ‘physical economy’—and propelled by the collective will to drive relentlessly till the grand visions are achieved, America has risen meteorically to where it is: a mighty economic juggernaut, the object of high esteem by many nations.  

 

But when the ‘virtual economy’ began encroaching on every economic sector there, most specially after the collapse of the gold standard, gradually did the priority for developing S & T erode. Today that erosion is severely felt, as many analysts from the West have heralded the admission that Asia had already surpassed the essential technological cutting edge of the West as early as 2007 yet.

 

Let’s take solar technology for instance. Solar panel design had already reached maturity in California, home to solar energy development. The early take off of the industry there prompted the investors to immediately establish branches overseas, one of which is the Philippines. One leading company was so surprised that its Filipino engineers (Philippine-based) had already surpassed the innovation designs of their California counterparts (Americans) before the end of 2007 yet.

 

Now, as you go from one economic sector to another, most specially the productive sectors, and assess the cutting edge situation of technologies, then you can see the reality that America & EU (West) were already surpassed. It won’t take long before the wealth boosted by the Asian cutting edge will move up, making Asian regions surpass both the US and EU in terms of GDP.

 

Well, the other option is the ‘neo-con’ option: nuke all competitor nations back to the stone age. If you do so, say if you nuke the Philippines today which designs and produces ½ of the worlds Intel chips, think of the consequences. Nuke India, China, ASEAN, South Korea, come on demonic neo-cons! Enjoy your Nero madness with wild abandon!

 

I’d rest my case.

 

[07 June 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

US WATCH: INFRASTRUCTURE DECAY, NEEDS MASSIVE REDEVELOPMENT

July 19, 2008

Erle Frayne  Argonza

A bridge has fallen, the Mississipi river flooded Orleans like some pathetic third world city, airports are too cramped up as they are incapable of containing the surge in passenger & cargo levels, the East Coast experienced the emergency shut down due to grid overload (causing massive blackout), railway tracks are thinning out and overall capacity is on downward trend, and more.

They seem to be unrelated, but for economists and sociologists the trends all tell the same story. Pieced up together, they indicate crumbling infrastructures. Not because the structural engineers of America are sloppy, and definitely not that the heavy equipment sector couldn’t provide quality machines to reinforce the burgeoning infrastructure need of the juggernaut US economy.

The true story is that, as the economy shifted to the ‘virtual economy’, there was the systematic abandonment of infrastructure as a priority for fiscal and budgetary allocations. “Leave that to the private sector!” was the slogan for infrastructure. Even the famed fast lanes of America are already being sold out one after the other to the highest bidders, financial speculators all led by the likes of Felix Rohatyn & partners, thanks to deregulation and liberalization.

The thing is, most of America’s major infrastructures—airports, wharfs, roads, bridges, dikes, dams, power distribution, and more public works—were built in the 50s and 60s yet, at the height of the post-war boom under the aegis of the New Deal. Such infrastructures now require massive renovation, with entire replacement for those decaying beyond salvaging.

Did the civil engineers of America speak about the matter clearly? They did, and they have been saying alarming things since the 1990s yet. At the height of the ‘bridge over troubled water’ fiasco, they came out with the report that ¼ of America’s roads and bridges needed major repairs and replacements as soon as possible.

The other sectors’ experts have spoken as well. In the airlines industry, no less than state officials have forewarned that if no renovations (toward expansion) will be done on airports in 10 years’ time, there will be major crisis in the airlines sector. The possibility of emerging markets overshooting the USA’s cutting edge in air transport delivery also looms ahead in the short run.

With no reversal of policies in sight, chances are that, in 20 years’ time, the USA will be an apocalyptic landscape of fallen bridges, impassable roads, rotten wharfs, fallen dikes and inoperable dams, rotten buildings left to nature, and forest cover claiming back once bustling cities.

Only a timely policy reversal can nip the apocalyptic future in the bud. That is, if the political bigwigs in the coming election—McCain and Obama—do their homework well, comprehend the problem deeply, and begin large-scale strategic solutions to colossal problems in infrastructures.

[Writ 06 June 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila.]  

US WATCH: AGRICULTURE DECAYS, BIOFUEL MATTERS MOST!

July 18, 2008

Erle Frayne  Argonza

Agriculture remains to be among the most protected sectors of the US economy. Enough to cause ceaseless chagrin on the members of the WTO, who have been demanding that the EU-USA-Japan trilateral belt better play by the rules and remove the trade barriers in agriculture.

But the overall alarming trend in America’s agriculture is the rapid shrinking of arable lands altogether. Lucky enough that America is blessed with millions of acres of arable land, but the liberalization of land use conversions affected this mighty economy strongly like in other countries. Prime agricultural lands are being transformed into commercial and residential lands, most specially those southern regions that practically fed the whole America for nigh centuries long.

Agriculture is following a general trend of economic decay. The historic practice of mono-cropping alone had already created havoc on the soil quality in many places across the US. Compounding the decay problem is the pressure by WTO members for the sector to bring down the trade barrier, thus possibly bringing in floods of cheap food imports from Europe and the south.

Just recently, the inflated marketability of biofuels led many a planter to shift to massive corn production, for the sole purpose of raking profits on alternative fuels. Of course, many hedge funds and enthused investors had cashed in on the biofuels craze, and news came out that even Bill Gates had invested in this ‘greenfield’ energy source.

Estimates put the amount of corn planted to biofuels as more than enough to feed over 110 million people. That’s a lot of mouths to feed for sure! But feeding mouths is hardly the priority in the US agriculture today, the core focus being the next round of looting on the consumers’ purse by driving food prices upwards both due to the biofuels craze and speculation on food stocks.

So, what say you, voters of America? Let’s just hope the political bigwigs contesting the presidency will indeed take the interest of ‘food security’ at its core. Failing to do so, America itself might end up with inflated food prices in the couples of years ahead, and believe it or not, the Depression era of seeing people without food on their plates may come back. The difference being that the Great Depression was only quite temporary, while this coming ‘food insecurity’ will be around for a very long time.

This brings to mind what the late John Meynard Keynes declared cryptically, “in the long run, we shall all be dead!”

[Writ 06 June 2008, Quezon City, MeroManila]

US WATCH: DE-INDUSTRIALIZATION

July 14, 2008

Erle Frayne  Argonza

The public (in America) is of the broad position that the NAFTA was responsible for the folding up of many factories and the transfer of jobs to Mexico/South. This NAFTA-bashing has some validity to it, but the semi-economic integration alone with Mexico and Canada isn’t a sufficient reason for the bigger problem of de-industrialization.

Once robust and colossal, the industrial sector of the USA contributed over 50% of the Gross Domestic Product or GDP, and employed half the labor as well. As early as the mid-50s, the futuristic sociologist Daniel Bell already warned that the trend wouldn’t hold long enough, as the ‘post-industrial society’ was already knocking its doors on the USA. Not only that, he also forecast that by the 21st century, the center of global economic growth would be the Asia-Pacific, while labor would shift to the services sector.

Had the policy-makers heeded the warning of the likes of Bell then, and fine-tuned the ‘real economy’ principles of Franklin Roosevelt, the de-industrialization of America couldn’t have happened. By the early 1980s, Alvin Toffler added resounding echoes to the forecast of a post-industrial society, by adumbrating the  ‘3rd wave technology’ thesis. Such a thesis expounded that knowledge-intensive technologies would dominate post-industrial society, and will destroy institutions founded on old economic-ideological precepts notably liberal capitalism and socialism.

However, the neo-liberals led by Friedman and Hayek became the dominant Pied Pipers in shaping the public policy of America. All sectors of the economy soon became dog-eat-dog arena for private sector hegemony, leading to the ascent of the ‘virtual economy’ founded on predatory finance. Gradually did the ‘virtual economy’ wreck the classic industries of America, the most exemplary being the steel industry.

The tragic closure of Bethlehem Steel tells it all: that the ‘virtual economy’ has no interest in sustaining strategic industries or to develop their technological edge further. One after the other, manufacturing concerns were closed shop, dis-assembled and re-assembled in emerging markets where labor and factor inputs were cheaper. The ‘industrial belt’ of America—stretching from up New England down to the automotive & machine tool shops of the south—is rapidly evaporating.

The clear message for this year’s presidential poll in America is: resuscitate the industrial sector. Re-tool both the hardware, institutions and human resources to make them competitive again. Revive all the strategic reproducible industries (steel, machine tools, railways, automotive, shipping, airlines, etc.), or else face the specter of ‘third worldization’ of America. A tall order, but what choice does the USA have?

[Writ 06 June 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

US WATCH: CAN THE USA PAY ITS DEBTS?

July 10, 2008

Erle Frayne  Argonza y Delago

Just exactly at what level had the totality of US debts had reached is practically anybody’s guess. So complex is America’s financial system and the mess created by the ‘bubble economy’ over the last three (3) decades, that it takes an enormous amount of research efforts led by top economists and financial consultants to undertake.

One thing is clear though: whoever will be the USA’s next execs must never fail to measure, comprehend, and reverse the debt trends. The estimates today, using combined data from the Fed, the Bank for International Settlements or BiS, and independent researches would put the figure at $50 Trillion.

Measured against the GDP, which stood at around $12.5 Trillion more or less last year, indicates that America doesn’t have the money to pay debts at all, assuming that the bubble bursts and the economy crashes to depression level. Well, the burst began last year yet, the recession is now on, and we need to observe events more closely to determine whether a depression will be at hand.

To say that US savings will salve America’s debt problems is baloney. The savings rate is barely 1%, which accounts for the need for large doses of foreign direct investments and portfolios to cover up for the lack of investible savings. Compare this to East Asia’s average of 30% savings rate, which makes this region’s economy verdantly robust for years to come amid US-EU economic collapse.

On the other hand, to bank on gross international reserves as the source of salvation would likewise bring guffaws. America’s reserves could never exceed $90 Billion at any given time (in real value), which couldn’t even suffice to buy for 1 month’s imports. Compare this to East Asia’s reserves, which range from 4 months imports in RP’s case to at least a year’s for China’s.

So, let us repeat the question, where and how will the US source its funds for salving the debt crisis? What concrete steps will be taken to reverse the debt trap? Who among the political bigwigs in America today possesses the soundest theory and practice for solving the gargantuan debt crisis?

Those questions remain to be answered. Let us hope that the two bigwigs McCain and Obama will do their homework well. The electorates’ expectations are enormously high, and meeting those expectations using traditional, flawed approaches and practices would only endanger both the economic and political stability of this once mighty giant.

[Writ 05 June 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

US WATCH: IT’S THE ECONOMY!

July 7, 2008

Erle Frayne  Argonza

The US presidential polls are approaching. The Democrat Party nomination was recently concluded, and there goes the polls.

As an observer of ‘US reality’, I’d candidly say that if there’s anything most worrisome in the US right now, it’s the economy. Without the pejorative ‘stupid’ by the way, I leave that to Bill Clinton’s spin doctors.

Whoever wins, and whoever would be vice president, this tandem of statesmen (hopefully) will have to go about moving heaven and earth to salve the ailing economy. The ailment is not just a structural one that will be resolved with some palliatives.

First of all is the recession. There is no more denying about this fact. The more that the fed and monetary officials would deny information, the greater the amount of suspicion, the greater the legitimacy question. It was good that finally, there was the admission about the sad state of the economy.

Now, folks, most especially you American voters out there, the recession may not be the end of the downspin yet. Watch out, for the recession could well slide into depression. A 6-quarter period of sustained depression (which means a contraction below the established average, or below zero growth) could be the final blow to the long-drawn drift towards the total collapse of the once-mighty US economy.

Look at the signs of the times, Joe! After World War II, the US produced 40% of the Gross World Product or GWP. It’s now down to 22%. The EU, by integrating their economies, produce a similar aggregate of 22% of GWP. The trend is still of a downward drift, including the EU’s, over the years, not an upward lift.

As to what has been causing the downward drift, let’s take those matters slowly in quite chewable fashion. For now, it’s clear to this observer that “it’s the economy” and not the war or parochial sectoral matters such as immigration, gender, more autonomy for states and cities, and so on.

[Writ 05 June 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila] 

OBAMA’S DEMOCRAT VICTORY LAUDED

June 5, 2008

Erle Frayne  Argonza

Good morning from Manila!

Senator Obama of the USA finally had his victorious moment recently as he clipped the Democratic electoral primaries’ trophy. He is the Man of the hour in America, the most competent choice to beat the Republicans who must better take the backseat of power.

Being a Filipino patriot and analyst who’s been keenly observing economic, political and cultural events in the USA, I’ve arrived at a conclusion way back in the 1980s yet that I have no sympathy whatsoever for the conservatives of the USA. In both their handling of domestic and foreign affairs of America, they always ended up bungling America’s domestic economy and the USA’s image overseas, and drag down the world into the rut that they create.

The impact of Republican governance to Philippine reality has been so strong and so damaging to say the least. As a colony then of the USA, it has always been Republican policy initiatives that held sway in the colonial government here, initiatives that ensured eventually the power of oligarchic families who have since taken over power after America left in 1946.

Then, after World War II, there came President Truman, another boorish conservative, who implemented wholesale the desires of the Military-Industrial elite to divide the world along the Reds versus Capitalist dichotomy. That act, which bred the Cold War, got us mired into the cul de sac, a tragedy that we continue to suffer from as our local military has been residing in that quagmire and its death squads have been violating human rights so abusively.

Then came Reagan who, alongside her Conservative ally Thatcher of the UK, executed to the letter the financier oligarchs’ wish to liberalize domestic economies. The policies of liberalization, deregulation, privatization, tax reforms, liberalized foreign exchange rate, decentralization and hosts of austerity measures, imposed by the IMF-World Bank group, are the causes of our poverty and developmental delays. Those policies began with Reaganomics, just to remind everyone else.

The latest ‘neo-conservative’ Republican hawkish resurgence, which seems like a reincarnation of the Truman ‘cold war’ doctrine, forced us Filipinos to re-align back to US impositions in foreign policy. This is a total reversal of our independence in foreign policy that we patriots fought for with so much blood and pains. And so many lives we lost overseas due to this kowtowing to conservative-oligarchic dictates of the Military-Industrial elites of America.

It is now time to call for a break from the military-financial madness spawned by the hawkish Republicans. And this can be best done by first of all supporting any party in America other than Republicans.

The victory of Obama in the primaries could be the start of the reform movement in America long waited for not only by Americans but also but other peoples of the planet. Kudos to Senator Obama and his campaign team for a job well done!

[Writ 05 June 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]