20th Century Thinkers in the 21st Century

by John Brian Shannon

Many people in this 21st century would be surprised to hear they are deeply immersed (and some would say, horribly stuck) in 20th century thought, a century where for ninety of those hundred years, the endless game of nation-state vs. nation-state was played, and often played with brutality. Nation against nation, democracy competing with communism and authoritarianism, freedom vs. repression and ‘the West’ against ‘the East’, or occasionally, ‘North’ against ‘South’ — these were the headlines of a turbulent century.

All these battles were fought diligently, usually for valid reasons (but not always) by nation-states, their citizens, and soldiers, all over the world from about 1914 onwards.

In terms of the success against such social ills as world war, small hot wars, the Cold War, fascism, tribal wars, poor governance and even poorer economics, plus a low global standard of health care, we have come far in the past 100 years.

The problem is, some just don’t realize how far we have come and are still ‘fighting the last war’ to use a military euphemism.

The last war is well and truly over. Unfortunately, some have utterly missed that, profound as it is.

Illogically, many of these people are still holding positions of power, many of them from the baby-boom generation, that for now at least, continue to call the shots for the rest of the world.

A world of change has occurred, and yet many of those holding either political office or powerful unelected positions are completely blind to it, as their hatred for their former enemies burns so bright.

In the West, for just one example, most citizens are pleased that Vladimir Putin is running Russia. We all know that Russia is experiencing the problems associated with a former Soviet-era economy, but that they are recovering nicely from it. We also know that they are dealing with incredibly rapid economic growth – which is a great problem to have! If your country must have a major problem to deal with, that’s the one to have.

And many people in the West and around the world, socialize with Russians every day, online, in the workplace or at universities around the world. Everyone is getting along just fine, thank you.

Спасибо, очень понравилось! (Which is Russian for, “Thank you, very much!”)

But are Western political office holders or powerful unelected leaders happy about any of that? For the most part, NOT! And therein, lies a tantalizing clue about what ails the geopolitical world in this century.

The people in (elected and unelected) positions of power in the West today are the same generation that taught us to fear, hate, and fight, the Soviet Union at all costs (one of those costs being lessened Western civil liberties from the onset of the Cold War right up to the present day) — and the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists and communism in modern-day Russia is about as important as it is here (it’s not) does not decrease their deeply-held hatred of our former enemy.

The better the Russian economy does, the more they hate Russia. The more Russian citizens smile on TV, the more they castigate Vlad Putin. As Russia became the 13th most powerful economy in the world, some in the West were tearing their hair out. Russia is on-track to become the 10th most powerful economy in the world within the next decade. Can’t wait to see the contorted faces then!

And it is getting increasingly difficult for certain Western news outlets to show recent pictures or videos taken in and around Moscow, without the many Mercedes Benz and BMW cars and SUV’s driven by ordinary Russian citizens ‘crapping up the frame’ – thereby contradicting the verbal op/ed piece.

No! All those Mercedes and BMW’s are NOT driven by “filthy rich Russian oligarchs with ‘dirty money’ or high ranking KGB officers that hate Fox News… er… America.”

That was LAST century.

The real story, in case you missed it, is that it is no longer about nation-state against nation-state (although, some people are desperately trying to make it ‘still that’), nor is it even, democracy against practically all other forms of government (although, some people are desperately trying to make it ‘still that’), nor is about some well-intentioned fight against horrible social ills such as apartheid, which is mostly won at this point (although, some people are desperately trying to make it ‘still that’).

What it is about, is that 98% of the world’s citizens want their governments to stop fighting the last war, to cease with the old hatreds and prejudices and get on with clearing a path for citizens, so that they can progress — financially, socially, and for those who want it, spiritually.

Feudalism was replaced with something better (from the point-of-view of 98% of the world population back in the day) which manifested itself as freedom and democracy in half the world, while the other half endured communism, which was still a lot better than feudalism, for most citizens. The governance systems in use in the 21st century are mostly democratic ones — and the ones that aren’t, are reforming at different speeds towards democracy anyway — whether we bomb them or not.

Our representative governments must begin to focus on what democracy was originally created to achieve. Can anyone even remember what this was, this far out from democracy’s beginnings? In general terms, it was to bring freedom, the rule of law, education, economic prosperity, and the pursuit of pleasure to the vast majority of citizens (the 98%) living within that voluntary state of governance.

But truth be told at this point, citizens around the world would settle for this generation of powerful elected and unelected people stuck in their 20th century mindsets, just getting out of citizens’ way and letting individuals and families solve their own issues and get to their goals, themselves. A new generation will soon take the reins.

In the meantime, try not to blow up the world with your 20th century thinking. Thanks.

Signed, the 98 percent.

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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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

Communist Price — or Western Value?

by John Brian Shannon

Hey, stop, what’s that sound? Take a look around. Is everyone driving the cheapest car or carrying the cheapest handbags?

Hell no!

And why is that, exactly? Why isn’t everyone driving the latest Chery car — which is an extremely affordable car built in communist China? Or, why isn’t everyone buying the blue communist party uniforms made from a long-wearing material that will stand up to the elements for decades? Why are people all over the world buying expensive cars, handbags, jewellery and electronics, just for a few examples?

The reason is; There are effectively, only two kinds of markets in the world. Upmarket and downmarket and there are legitimate reasons for the existence of both markets.

On the one hand, you have upmarket goods and services, which have traditionally been the preserve of the rich Western nations along with an entire middle class in the West able to well-afford those upmarket goods and services. How convenient!

Could it have been planned this way? Why yes, it was. It has been the economic miracle of recorded history.

On the other hand, downmarket goods and services which have traditionally been manufactured and sold in the developing world — are priced according to local market conditions there. Very convenient for the developing world.

Since the industrial revolution, this is how the marketplace has worked. Upmarket goods were manufactured and sold in wealthy Western countries and downmarket goods were manufactured and sold in poorer countries.

Until now.

Suddenly, many upmarket goods are being manufactured in developing nations and a small but growing percentage are being purchased in developing nations.

The West used to own this part of the market, but for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the East is increasing it’s ownership of this formerly Western-only marketplace. At the same time, the downmarket goods and services haven’t gone anywhere and are still being manufactured by and sold in the developing nations.

Translating into ‘a loss for the West’ if you see things through the Western prism. If you see things through the Eastern prism, you might call it, ‘Advantage East’ or something like that. I call it something else, but more later.

Let me speak clearly on the situation the West now finds itself in; When you haven’t manufactured downmarket products in the first place, but then relatively suddenly, you lose fully half of your upmarket manufacturing to the developing world — that can only be called a paradigm shift in the marketplace.

Some Western politicians, corporations and junior economists have looked at this and in a panic, have announced that we must lower our costs — to match our competitors costs in the developing world! And, either by lack of action, or by actively supporting this line of thought, they have allowed this trend to continue in the Western nations and over time the problem has become much worse. Unwitting traitors, all.

Wages, benefits, unions, workers, unemployment, health care, retirement age, the housing market, traditional Western upmarket manufacturers — all these have felt the winds of change blowing in from the developing nations. It’s a race to the bottom.

“We must compete with China, we must match their labour rates, lower our social entitlements, we must lessen our national infrastructure spending — otherwise we will be beaten in the international marketplace by countries which already have those lower costs built right into their economy” — or so the thinking goes.

Which is wrong.

Rather than call this new paradigm, ‘Advantage East’ or ‘Loss to the West’ — I call it what it really is, ‘Opportunity Knocks‘ for that is what it is. The shift in the world economy is not a time to recoil in horror and then race to the bottom to try to match our competitors costs.

It is a time to do what we do best. It is a time to do what we do better than any other nation or bloc of nations. It is time to remember what has made us great since the beginning of the industrial revolution — and profoundly, do more of it.

If the great wisdom says that we must win, or at least compete in the great race to the bottom by lowering our labour and other costs and manufacture products of lesser quality, why aren’t we all driving Chery cars and buying no-name handbags?

Why are car companies like GM, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Land Rover, Toyota, Lexus, Infiniti and the like, selling at near-record volumes and recording great profits? Why are Chanel, Louis Vuitton, lululemon and many others selling their wares at good volumes and profits?

Value vs. price.

In the race to the bottom, the only thing that matters is price. Price of labour, materials, production line, merchandising and profit. Price, price price, comrades!

If price was all that mattered, wouldn’t we all be driving cars built by China’s Chery Motors, or India’s Tata Motors? But, we’re not. And that is not to knock those cars — as I said above, there is a legitimate market for BMW’s, just as there is a legitimate market for economically-priced cars.

If price was all that mattered, we would all wear the blue communist party uniforms, which cost the equivalent of $2.00 U.S. dollars. But, we don’t. Many of us in the West think nothing of walking out of the mall with a $60.00 pair of jeans, or a $100.00 pair of dress shoes. Why? The ‘price-only mindset’ says it is illogical to spend money on clothes.

But we do, because we know the value, of, well, value. If you are fortunate enough to own a Toyota or a Mercedes, you know that you enjoy the ownership experience of a quality vehicle, that you will be well-protected in case of a crash, it will last a long time (assuming you do the proper maintenance) and you can in good conscience, gift it to one of your kids after they graduate and know that they will have a safe, reliable car to drive to college and it will still be in great condition many years later.

Why do many women buy a Louis Vuitton handbag? Why not a purchase based on price alone? Well, I can’t answer that question for you. But, I notice those bags continue to be very popular and it is the rare woman in this part of the world that doesn’t have at least one. It is completely illogical from the ‘price-only’ perspective.

Which is my entire point. The price of something is just the price. Anybody with any disposable income will always opt for a better-quality ownership experience and will pay more for a better quality product  and sometimes, much more!

Which proves it’s not about price. It’s about value for money. So, let’s stop trying to compete on price.

Our economists must convince government policymakers of that fact. We need to stop trying to out-compete the communist system and their communist-priced products. It is a battle we will lose every time, for they have already won that battle. The  downmarket was always theirs. It is a state-subsidized market. We can’t compete in that low-profit world, unless we merge our corporations with our government to create our own communist state. Not many takers on that idea, I’ll bet. Goodbye Louis Vuitton — goodbye Mercedes!

We need to compete on what we do best. And why not? The statists compete on what they do best.

Here in the West, we build quality. It costs a little more. Our products have something intangible, something that will convince people to pay more — and that intangible is called value. This is what we do best, so let us return to compete on what we do best. We not only build products — we build value.

Let’s not race to the bottom trying to beat state-subsidized companies. We can’t win there. Rather, let’s create products with value, not only for Western consumers — but for a huge, new and growing middle class with real disposable incomes — the (conceivably) five billion (non-Western) consumers in the developing world, many of whom are approaching middle class status in their respective countries.

And, lets keep the manufacturing of our value products here, to provide jobs to Western citizens — so that the West can continue to have a middle class too!

.

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