Will the Collapse of the Western Manufacturing Base Create a Worldwide Depression?

by John Brian Shannon

The Eastern economies have traditionally been the manufacturers and purchasers of downmarket goods in their own region, while Western economies have traditionally been the manufacturers and purchasers of upmarket goods in their particular region.

Over the past 40 years Asia has taken much of the West’s upmarket manufacturing base, so much so, that the West has lost fully 50% of the manufacturing jobs it once enjoyed previous to 1980. That is the single most important reason why there is significant unemployment, under-employment and worryingly, under-reported unemployment (people who no longer look for work) stats in the Western economies.

Which obviously leaves a big hole in the economy of the West, translating into lower Western economic performance and recessions in North America, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand since the 1970’s.

The fact that many Western corporations are making huge amounts of money at this (outsourcing their manufacturing to Asia – resulting in better corporate profits due to the much lower labour rates there) is now a complete side-issue.

It has now come down to this; The once broad base of Western consumers with generous amounts of disposable income is changing to an ever-broadening base of Western consumers without much disposable income.

If things continue, soon it will impact the Eastern economies — as there won’t be enough people in the West with enough disposable income to afford much of those upmarket goods and services! Translating into reduced economic performance there.

For now, China and India are the only significant economies in the entire world which maintain a healthy growth rate. They have been the economic engines of the world since 1998. Here in the West, we have suffered two recessions since then — and that, with China and India firing on all cylinders and their admirable growth rates of at least 8% per year and sometimes much higher than that.

The U.S. growth rate was an anemic 2% last year and is expected to come in at 1.5% to 1.6% next year. The U.S has not seen any growth rate over 4% since the 1980’s. Europe and Canada have posted similar percentages over that same time-frame.

If demand for Eastern-produced goods slackens any further in the West, the Eastern economies will see recession too. At that point, with the West still mired in the fog of recession — the entire world economy will tailspin resulting in a worldwide depression. This is the fear of many economists — including economists in Asia.

Which is why I favour keeping some significant amount of manufacturing here in the West, as manufacturing produces (relatively speaking) a lot of jobs — while removing resources from the ground and shipping them to Asia produces relatively few jobs.

Oil refineries here cost 12 – 13 billion dollars, while in China they cost 1 billion dollars. No new refineries are planned for the West for obvious reasons. As much as I’d like to say otherwise, there is precious little chance of adding value to our petroleum exports when new refineries are so expensive here.

Which is why we need to find ways to add value to our other resources.There are many North American resources that are being exported away and some would say, squandered away. We need much more focus on a value-added economy. We need to add value to our diminishing resources before they leave our Western economy.

One way, is to manufacture products out of our resources — and then sell them abroad, to enhance our balance of payments, which would contribute to enhancing our GDP, thereby lowering our overall debt-to-GDP ratio. Those ratios are killing us right now in the West.

Another good way to improve our Western economic picture is to tariff all resource exports and use that money to fund infrastructure projects, which would contribute much to the economy, but only temporarily. After all those projects reach completion in about ten years, workers (consumers with disposable income) will again be unemployed or under-employed, just as they are now. What then?

Some economists have suggested a Goods and Services Tax for the U.S. economy and to use those windfall tax funds for national infrastructure programs, as was done in Canada so successfully from 1990 – 2004. I am one of those people. However, with the latest projected U.S. growth rates set to be 1.5% to 1.6% for next year, that means there is a lot of fragility in the economy and some economists say a large, useful Goods and Services Tax might stall the recovery process. A smaller tax would be much less useful, but the taxation rate could be increased as the economy builds positive momentum. Even with those limitations, it is still a good option for the U.S.

It keeps coming back to the fact that we need to add more value to our economy, especially to our export economy on a long-term sustainable basis. We need to create MORE jobs from the resources we extract and from our agriculture and forestry industries — or eventually there won’t be enough demand for Asian-produced products and when those Asian sales sag due to lack of demand in the West, it will hit the fan everywhere.

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John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, the Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.

Check out his personal blog at: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Check out his economics blog at:
https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Follow John on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

The Canadian Austerity Success Story

The Canadian Austerity Success Story | 12/07/12
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

The Canadian success story on deficit elimination, debt reduction and significantly, strengthening the economy by adding jobs and improved economic performance during troubled economic times has been well-documented.

The Canadian icon known as MacLeans Magazine featured an outstanding piece by LEAH McLAREN in the October 10, 2011 edition entitled I told you so – which covered Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron‘s speech to a joint session of the Canadian Parliament (both the Senate and the House of Commons) where PM David Cameron made a number of positive comments regarding Canada’s economic success.

Cameron commented:

“Canada got every major decision right” in the past few years of global market turmoil. He lauded the strength of both the Canadian banking system and our economic leaders, who, he said, “got to grips with its deficit” and were “running surpluses and paying down debt before the recession, fixing the roof while the sun was shining.”

Cameron’s admiration for Canada’s relatively peachy fiscal position stands in stark contrast to his dim view of his Eurozone neighbours. On the topic of Europe and the U.S. getting their own houses in order, Cameron said; “This is not a traditional, cyclical recession – it’s a debt crisis…”

He went on to say;

“When the fundamental problem of the level of debt and the fear of those levels, then the usual economic prescriptions cannot be applied.” – MacLean’s Magazine.

Read the entire article here…

MacLean’s is not the only publisher to write on this topic. Canada’s Globe & Mail have also published articles discussing the Canadian economic success story of the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

A seminal article by LOUISE EGAN and RANDALL PALMER ran in the Nov 21, 2011 edition of the G&M entitled The lesson from Canada on cutting deficits — a short excerpt of which appears below. Please take the time to read and save the entire article.

“Finance officials bit their nails and nervously watched the clock. There were 30 minutes left in a bond auction aimed at funding the deficit and there was not a single bid.

Sounds like today’s Italy or Greece?

No, this was Canada in 1994.

Bids eventually came in, but that close call, along with downgrades and The Wall Street Journal calling Canada “an honorary member of the Third World,” helped the nation’s people and politicians understand how scary its budget problem was.

“There would have been a day when we would have been the Greece of today,” recalled then prime minister Jean Chrétien, a Liberal who ended up chopping cherished social programs in one of the most dramatic fiscal turnarounds ever.

“I knew we were in a bind and we had to do something,” Mr. Chrétien, 77, told Reuters in a rare interview.

Canada’s shift from pariah to fiscal darling provides lessons for Washington as lawmakers find few easy answers to the huge U.S. deficit and debt burden, and for European countries staggering under their own massive budget problems.

“Everyone wants to know how we did it,” said political economist Brian Lee Crowley, head of the Ottawa-based think tank, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, who has examined the lessons of the 1990’s.

But to win its budget wars, Canada first had to realize how dire its situation was and then dramatically shrink the size of government rather than just limit the pace of spending growth.

It would eventually oversee the biggest reduction in Canadian government spending since demobilization after the Second World War. The big cuts, and relatively small tax increases, brought a budget surplus within four years.

Canadian debt shrank to 29 per cent of gross domestic product in 2008-09 from a peak of 68 per cent in 1995-96, and the budget was in the black for 11 consecutive years until the 2008-09 recession.

For Canada, the vicious debt circle turned into a virtuous cycle that rescued a currency that had been dubbed the “northern peso.” Canada went from having the second worst fiscal position in the Group of Seven industrialized countries, behind only Italy, to easily the best.

It is far from a coincidence that the recent recession was shorter and shallower in Canada than in the United States. Indeed, by January, Canada had recovered all the jobs lost in the downturn, while the U.S. has hardly been able to dent its high unemployment.

“We used to thank God that Italy was there because we were the second worst in the G7,” said Scott Clark, associate deputy finance minister in the 1990’s.

Canada’s experience turned on its head the prevailing wisdom that spending promises were the easiest way to win elections. Politicians of all kinds and at all levels of government learned that austerity could win.”  read more…

For those unfamiliar with examples of successful austerity, Canada holds great promise. There are others to discuss in the coming days – which will illustrate austerity can actually lessen the unfavourable effects of decades of excessive spending by governments and improve the economic position of a nation.

JOBS: The Key to Capitalism’s Success

by John Brian Shannon

As we all know, several political/economic models are in use in the early 21st century. A little refresher for you first, if your high-school political science classes didn’t especially thrill you.

The capitalist system employed by the Western nations and some other nations, is often referred to as the Free Enterprise system, the Free Market system, Wealth Accumulation, Capital Accumulation or the Open Economic model – depending on the context of a conversation. Politics can vary within capitalist systems – which are often a variant of democracy (civil rights enshrined in a constitution, the right to vote, rights to property and person and freedom of expression) form part of this model. Socialist parties represent the “left wing” and conservative “right-wing” parties are represented along with independent candidates as elected by the registered voters.

In the capitalist system, greed is the primary agent of economic change. If you want to eat, you work for money to buy your food. If you would rather drive to work than walk, you work for money to buy a car and insurance. An individual “works” to earn “profit” to purchase goods or services. The underlying premise being, that if an individual has a decent education and works “smart” and “hard” you will accumulate wealth over time. Western corporations and governments operate in a similar fashion.

So, why isn’t it working?

“It IS working!” wealthy Western individuals emphatically state.

“It IS working!” Western corporations emphatically state.

“It IS working!” Western governments emphatically state.

And in those cases, it most emphatically IS working!

But the rest of us are not. Working, that is. You know… jobs, working, making a living, paying the bills, making the rent… and all the rest of it.

You will recall my words from a previous paragraph; “An individual “works” to earn “profit” to purchase goods or services. The underlying premise being, that if an individual has a decent education and works “smart” and “hard” you will accumulate wealth over time.”

All good there. Except what happens in the capitalist system when there aren’t enough jobs?

The short answer is; A failed economic system. Ever more wealth becomes concentrated in a ever smaller percentage of the general population. You guessed it — 1% of the Western population will always agree that the Open Economic system works well for them.

For Western nations it is death by a thousand cuts and only in the interests of economic survival will our present system evolve into something very unlike the present model and it may take as long as 50 years to do so.

Let me back up a bit.

I promised you a political science refresher and here is the other half of it. The Communist system, sometimes called the Statist model, the Centralized Economic model, or the Closed Economic model, does not employ greed as the primary driver of human activity. Profit, either at the individual or corporate level is unknown and all economic activity is considered the property of the state. The only things that really matter to a communist is the national GDP and the sovereignty of the country. Of course, civil rights and personal freedoms are enshrined in the constitutions of communist countries – although at the end of the day personal rights can be and often are subjugated in the best interests of the state.

For one example of this, in the former USSR alcoholism rates were astonishingly high. But this was never reported in the Soviet media as it was thought that publicizing this knowledge would emotionally depress workers across the nation – and thereby suppress economic output. Therefore and officially, in the former USSR there was no alcoholism – and hence, the government-owned hospitals failed to devise a treatment for a disease which only occurred in the decadent West! If a citizen of the former USSR arrived at a hospital or doctor’s office for treatment of his alcoholism, he was told that he suffered from “an imaginary disease” and was counseled to stop “trying to get attention” by emulating Western behaviors. And no doubt put on some sort of watch list for good measure.

Eventually the former USSR collapsed mainly due to internal forces. However, some communist nations remain and are thriving. China has surpassed India, France, the UK, Germany, Japan and every other country except for the United States in GDP and accumulated wealth – and has done so by employing the statist economic model. According to most economics Professors, China will surpass the United States GDP by 2040. That’s 28 years from now in case you are a Chinese economist counting the days.

The main reason for the dramatic growth-driven economic performance in China is that many Western corporations have chosen to do business in China rather than the West – due to lower land and construction costs, lower labour rates, the lower costs associated with a relaxed or non-existent regulatory environment (depending on the industry and region of the country) and other cost-lowering factors associated with operating a business in China.

Beginning about 1999, U.S. corporations especially, have embraced the opportunity to lower their costs by closing their North American factories and building brand-new factories in China – sometimes with significant communist Chinese government assistance! Other western corporations too, have been closing our factories by the thousands in America and Europe and relocating their manufacturing operations to China – and on account of this economic activity, the Western economies combined are at present, 150 million jobs short of full employment. This trend of creating jobs in communist China whilst simultaneously creating higher unemployment in the Western democracies will continue as long as Western voters don’t complain too much.

By 2030, the Western democracies will be much-weakened in comparison to a still-booming China and the other Asian nations. At that time, Asia will be supplying almost all the manufactured goods for the Western economies which will by then, have lost 300 million jobs to Asia.

Also by 2030, perhaps as many as 700 million Westerners will be retired persons receiving some form of Social Security – while millions of younger people won’t be old enough to join the workforce. It will be a time when less than half of the West’s population will be employed and able to support the Western economies. From the Western point of view, this trend gets worse until 2060 when economic performance is expected to plateau in Asia.

A paradigm-shift has been taking place right under our Western noses for three decades now and we have just now begun to notice. China will soon be the dominant world power – and we handed it to them in exchange for higher profits for Western corporations.

It’s said; “He who has the gold makes the rules” – and it is shaping up to be a very different world indeed.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

Another Bank Bailout – MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

MY COMMENT ON PROFESSOR PAUL KRUGMAN’S ARTICLE BEGINS…

The great sucking sound that everyone is hearing these days is the sound of capital leaving the Western economies by the billions – perhaps trillions of dollars – over the past few decades.

Money goes where the investments pay the best returns – and these days that means the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and other rapidly developing economies. As uncountable billions leave the Western economies, the jobs attached to those mega-billions go with them. Is it any wonder then, that some of the weaker Western economies have been in free-fall for some time? No, it is not.

A great deal of lamenting has been gone on in recent months – but the geomacro-economy has been changing and will continue to change as it reflects the new and evolving reality, for one simple reason – “If we continue to do what we have been doing, we can continue to expect the same results.”

And what is that result, exactly?

I quote Professor Paul Krugman – arguably the leading economist alive today: “An old routine plays out in Spain, with the banks getting help while the unemployed continue to suffer.” Read Professor Krugman’s excellent article here…

Bought anything lately that ISN’T Made in China? Clothing labels or manufacturing stampings could also read Made in India, Indonesia, or any number of other fast-growing economies.

Our consumers demand lower-priced goods and services, so foreign nations have gratefully fulfilled those requirements – effectively transferring Western wealth to third-world nations in huge, glorious gobs of U.S. and European bank notes!

It is said in China these days that one must watch the sky carefully for all the Manna falling from Heaven – which is falling in the form of chunks of gold large enough to take out entire city blocks!

Lest you think this is a recent development, it all started in earnest about 1973 shortly before the Arab Oil Embargo, when oil prices suddenly shot up and Detroit’s thunderous, but thrilling V8’s became unaffordable for millions of workers in nations used to interstate highways serving distant suburbs, spirited driving on the autobahn, and long summer vacations involving hundreds of miles of travel.

Japan at the time and still to this day, exports huge numbers of cars to the West and enjoys a growing market share of (mostly) fuel-efficient vehicles – and the ones that can’t boast good fuel economy, can certainly brag about outstanding reliability and brand-loyalty.

Since the 1990’s, South Korea, China, Indonesia, India and others have also stepped up to fulfill the wants and needs of American and European consumers with everything from home appliances and personal electronics, to tools, clothing and just about anything else you might purchase. Lower labour rates and production costs in Japan, then Korea and now, China, India and Indonesia, allowed more R&D spending, better products and lower prices for consumers and business alike.

Of course, those are all great things. It has been a decades-long bonanza for consumers, businesses and even the governments of the Western world are able to lower their costs by purchasing cheaper and often, more reliable goods from Asia.

American and European corporations have gladly followed this trend and contributed mightily to those developing nations attempting to service the wants and needs of Western consumers. If you doubt me on this – just do a Google search on Apple Computer for just one of many examples of U.S. companies which have elected to have their goods manufactured in China or other rapidly growing nations, instead of the U.S. Check Apple’s stock price in 1990 (mostly U.S. production) vs 2011 (mostly Chinese production). Impressive by any standard but not unusual, in fact, this Western-inspired trend is well established and continues to this day.

One day soon, there will be no manufacturing capacity in the U.S., Canada or Europe. It is dramatically cheaper to have it all done inside the BRIC countries and export those products to the West. Costs are so low, that shipping millions of products thousands of miles across entire oceans, becomes a tiny factor of the final price paid at U.S. or European cash-registers.

The “real price” of that huge manufacturing shift continues to play out in the daily media – higher Western unemployment rates, longer welfare rolls, lower domestic production, real-estate bubbles, bank failures, bank bailouts and so far, about one decade of destroyed dreams for families and small businesses.

But, man, did I get a great deal at the mall today!

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

B.C. Premier Plans Liquefied Natural Gas Exports – MY COMMENT

My comment on an article in The Huffington Post

Read the original article here

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Premier of BC, Christy Clark – hits a home-run!

Of course, it goes without saying that we should all wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, including natural gas which is (arguably) the cleanest of all the fossil fuels.

I’m hoping that one day, especially as solar, wind, geothermal and hydrogen, approach price parity with convention­al power plant fuels – that fossil fuel use will decline.

Until then, for each gigawatt of power produced by power plants in China, natural gas is many times cleaner that the fuels they are using at the moment.

Switching to natural gas benefits China’s environmen­t, but on account of the vast quantities of dirty fuel they presently burn for power, it has a world-wide (positive) effect when they switch to a much cleaner fuel.

One of the best things about LNG, in case of pipeline accident, LNG dissipates into the atmosphere instead of flowing into creeks, rivers, drinking water wells, onto pasture-la­nd and into the ocean as crude oil does during a spill event. No mass deaths of living animals such as was seen during the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Unless ignited, (high-pres­sure LNG does burn) merely shutting off the tap and waiting for the vapours to clear, is enough to solve the problem until the pipeline can be repaired.

So much better than a crude oil pipeline to our “tourist-m­agnet” BC coastline! There is really no comparison­.

Congratula­tions, Premier Clark.

johnbrianshannon@gmail.com