Friday, September 5, 2008


(Week 6 - Saturday, Sept. 6)

The shutting down of the auto plants in Flint, Michigan, and their relocation to locales (like the desert along the American border in Mexico), in spite of the evidently overwhelming preponderance of physical and human reasons not to do so (see Col. #32), is often held up as a prime example of the "greed and stupidity" that supposedly has infected corporate America. To be sure, it would not be difficult to find justifications to criticize the move, but looked at from a wider perspective, is the matter really that simple?

I was not present at any of the board-room deliberations at which it was decided that the factories in Flint had to go, but I can well imagine that there were present expert accountants with flip-charts heavy with graphics and ledgers full of numbers that presented 'carefully researched facts' and 'reasoned arguments', the 'bottom line' of which gave 'incontrovertible testimony' that GM had no other financial option than to move those plants. Furthermore, I can well imagine that these human beings - accountants, board members, even Roger Smith himself - may have acted, more or less, in what they perceived as good faith. As they saw it, presumably, did they not have a company to save, and would not the continuing 'high cost of labor' that would be incurred by a decision to stay in Flint result in the closing of these plants, and the loss of local jobs, anyway? After all, they had only to look around them and see most of corporate world coming to a similar conclusion in their own respective spheres.

Is it possible that all these supposedly "best and brightest" people in the business world could be "greedy and stupid," or was there some greater reality (real or imagined) at work in this now global economy that they felt compelled to recognize and make the necessary adjustment to? In my experience I have had occasion to work, from time to time, with people from the executive suites (as well as many from the factory floor), and have found them generally to exhibit the same tendencies for human integrity and corruptibility that I find in any group of human beings. I have experienced them on the whole, in the terms of their own perceived worldview, to be fine and conscientious people.

Notwithstanding, the question still remains, how then could such a judgment (abandoning Flint and relocating the plants), which seemingly flies in the face of every physical, human and indeed economic reality that lies around them, seem to otherwise intelligent, knowledgeable and responsible people to be a necessary conclusion?

The answer, I believe, lies in the deceptiveness that is an inherent part of the private-bank-loan transaction. It arises because the transaction is not a common sense borrow-money-and-pay-it-back routine (as it purports to be), but rather a money-creation-and-issuance process by which a compounding fee (called "interest"), that is in a practical sense unpayable, is attached. Thus the terms used to describe this process, such as "borrow," "loan," "debt," "interest," "payback" and "satisfaction," all have a disarmingly familiar ring, but the actualities of the steps they identify do not fit the their common sense meanings or dictionary definitions.

The building of a whole monetary universe on the foundation of an unsound mode of creating and issuing currency, and an inaccurate use of language associated with the process, has spawned a financial culture that is skewed at virtually every turn. There is not room to do the topic justice here (it will be explored as these columns continue), but the extent to which this has compromised the ability of persons in our civilization to think clearly on matters concerning money is jarring to behold. I find this to be true across the full spectrum of society, white collar and blue included.

Not only management, but the participants in the labor movement in America as well, would, I suggest, benefit from examining more closely their roll in the whole Flint drama. Only then will they be able to come to grips fully with the tragedy that has befallen them, and move forward with confidence and clarity into the future. I will take up that thread in the next column.

Richard Kotlarz

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


(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: