Friday, September 5, 2008


(Week 6 - Friday, Sept. 5)

The Maquiladoros is a huge industrial district in Mexico which stretches along the U.S./Mexican border. It consists of thousands of factories that are foreign-owned, and were attracted to the country mainly by the "lower production costs" (a euphemism for "cheap labor"). The output of these plants is largely exported to the United States and other countries. This is where many of the factories that used to be in Flint, Michigan were relocated.

It would be difficult to find a place in the world where the evident contrast between "first world" vs. "third world" economics (high-value vs. low-value currency) is more starkly drawn. In San Diego on the U.S. side of the border, the average home is priced at upwards of a half-million dollars, while wages in the often horrific working conditions of the Maquiladoros on the Mexican side average $3.70; not per hour, but per day.

Most of the Mexican labor force consists of hard-working folk who have been driven out of the countryside because, as farmers, they could not compete with the heavily bankrolled and highly-subsidized agribusiness production of basic farm commodities on the American size of the border (where, at the same time, American family farmers have been losing their farms in large numbers because they can't pay their loans to the banks).

Perhaps the most ironic outcome of this process is that many of the Maquiladoros industries are themselves now being closed and relocated to other locales (mostly to China) in the never-ending corporate search for even "cheaper labor." As the Maquiladoros is shut down, thousands of displaced Mexicans feel compelled to cross the border into the U.S., where, if they make it, they will likely find economic opportunity that is relatively better than the desperate options in their home country, but they will also find themselves in the position of being re-exploited, as they are obliged to do the most difficult, dirty and dangerous work for whatever wage and working condition they can find. They have little recourse because they have scant political rights, being that they are not only "cheap labor," but "illegal labor."

Where is all this going? We can see in the Flint-to-Maquiladoros-and-beyond economic progression a compressed view of what is happening under the influence of the private "debt"-money system. The world is dividing ever more starkly into the "rich" vs. the "poor," the "haves" vs. "have-nots"; those who use money to make money vs. those who earn money by doing the work. This is not a matter of good people vs. bad. It is rather the virtually inevitable outcome of an inequitable monetary order.

To put it simply, the "haves" are those who are the recipients of the "interest" payments on money that is issued as "debt." The "have-nots" are the ones who make what is increasingly a less-than-living wage doing the basic work necessary for the maintenance of society, while making the "interest" payments on money they are forced to borrow into circulation to live.

The vaunted American work ethic is increasingly being rendered moot, as wealth accrues, not to productive labor, but to the exploitation of labor (i.e. ownership of the contracts for "debt" which those who labor are obliged to take on merely to live).

We are becoming a "civilization," both in America and throughout the world, in which the wealthy few dominate, through their privileged niche in the monetary order, the working many. There is still enough distribution of wealth in America to make it look like a middle class society, but the middle is eroding, as the many who are struggling just to maintain their lifestyle (or stay in their home) often attest.

The jobs that pay a living wage are disappearing, the work is being done by immigrants who are working for inadequate wages, and the middle class is struggling to hang onto its lifestyle (for now) by taking on more "debt." There is a relatively small (and shrinking) percentage of the population that is growing wealthy by "living off the interest." All are basically good people, but they are caught up in a dysfunctional economic order they don't quite understand, and more-and-more can't seem to control. Its mounting inequities are ultimately a threat to everyone, and are rooted in how our money is created, issued and controlled. That is the lesson of the Maquiladoros and Flint.

Richard Kotlarz

The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites:

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