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Humboldt County, Localization and Imperialism
October 7, 2010
by William P. Meyers

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Yesterday my dear friend Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, matriarch of Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, posted this on Facebook: "At SBDC's Technology Bootcamp for biz owners and one of the 1st recommendations we're getting is to outsource and hire "virtual assistants" in India for $4/hr or Georgia for $8/hr. And bonus, they can be paid as contractors - so no benefits! Hmmmm."

I have complained about outsorcing in the past, and have actually had work I did, and got paid well for, outsourced to India. But since Kaitlin already expressed that outrage, I took it to the next level, commenting: "An Internet downside for U.S. workers for sure. After 65 years of being privileged workers inside an imperialist economy, we Americans are being tossed back into the international proletariat. Who woulda thought." Lots of other people left interesting comments too.

Of course, a person could offer their services in the $4 to $8 an hour range in Humboldt County. You can't be someone's employee at that scale, it violates the minimum wage laws, but you can freelance for as little as you want. And as long as you don't get sick or have a family to support, and know how to live very frugally, you can live on that scale even in the U.S. I know, I have done it, but I hope to never do that again.

American workers' share in the enjoyment and production of American wealth has had a complicated history. Indentured servants and African slaves obviously produced much but consumed little. The vastness of virgin lands "liberated" from Indian tribes meant family farms could do pretty well until about 1870. Then we had the period of robber capitalism until the Great Depression. A lot of people think the Democrats and New Deal paved the way for the Great Prosperity of 1940 to 1970, but a lot of variables were involved.

Americans forget, or do not know, that two of the world's most historically evil people, Adolf Hitler of Germany and Joseph Stalin of the U.S.S.R. (Russia), nevertheless deserve a lot of credit for ending the Great Depression. Because the U.S.S.R. was communist, its economy continued to grow through the 1930s. Germany had a very bad economic meltdown, which is one reason Hitler came to power, and he basically ordered everyone back to work, so Germany recovered from the Depression years ahead of the United States.

Then World War II came along. Germany destroyed Russia's factories. Their bombers tore up Great Britain pretty well too. German and American bombers destroyed Germany's factories. China was pretty well destroyed, and Japan's factories were bombed, in some cases vaporized, by the U.S.

Come 1946, almost all of the factory capacity of the world was in the United States, and a great deal of what was abroad was owned by American capitalists. Making wage concessions to union, or even non-union, workers in the U.S. was no big deal. Buy peace at home, extract wealth from abroad.

I believe that workers should share the wealth that they produce and that democratic government should be used to control the excesses of capitalism. In fact, I would prefer an anarcho-syndicalist social system, in which people work cooperatively and don't need much in the way of governance.

Localism posits that a healthy economy and society can be built up apart from the global economy and society. Certainly historically some areas have prospered and some areas have failed and most have been somewhere in the middle. So it is a gamble. Make yourself an island and maybe you can pay your workers $20 an hour for work that has a global scale of $4 per hour. On the other hand, you might be setting up a downward spiral towards being one of those places where people would be happy to get $1 an hour and not starve, rather than not working at all.

In 1700, China and India were the wealthiest nations in the world. Their highly paid artisans were reduced to poverty in the next two centuries as manufactured goods from Great Britain replaced local crafts. Today Chindia is rapidly become the world's most important economic region. Contrary to U.S. propaganda, that growth is not particularly fueled by exports. It is mainly fueled by infrastructure development and a growth in internal consumption.

Unionism in the U.S. failed for a variety of reasons, but the main one was that unions never took power from capitalists. Instead, using the profits from imperialism, the U.S. capitalist class bought off sectors of the U.S. workers with middle-class levels of pay. And in the case of AFL-CIO bureaucrats, upper-management levels of pay.

The times they are a changin. Worker pay relative to management and capitalist pay has been declining in the U.S., which should upgrade revolutionary potential. But culture usually lags, rather than leads, economics. Worker culture in the U.S. is mostly looking to a return of the glory days of 1940 to 1970, when you could get a good paycheck without becoming a radical or even joining a union. Unless the U.S. blows up everyone else's factories again, those days are not going to return. The workers' movement has to be based upon the new economic realities. A key question is: can it be a national struggle, a local struggle, or must it be an international struggle?

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