zaterdag 21 november 2020

Remember Frank Westerman's Terrorisme

Ruim vier jaar geleden schreef ik het volgende op deze weblog:

The essential component of totalitarian propaganda is artifice (het toepassen van kunstgrepen. svh). The ruling elites, like celebrities, use propaganda to create false personae and a false sense of intimacy with the public. 

The emotional power of this narrative is paramount. Issues do not matter. Competency and honesty do not matter. Past political stances or positions do not matter. What is important is how we are made to feel. Those who are skilled at deception succeed.
Chris Hedges. The Illusion of Freedom. 18 augustus 2016
http://www.truthdig.com/report
/item/the_illusion_of_freedom_20151227

Treffende voorbeelden van hoe weinig feiten nog een rol spelen nu van doorslaggevend belang de vraag is ‘how we are made to feel,’ geven de laaiende enthousiaste recensenten van Een Woord Een Woord (2016), geschreven door de journalist Frank Westerman. Zo resumeert de uit Oost-Souburg afkomstige ‘correspondent goede gesprekken’ Pieter Alexander (Lex)  Bohlmeijer op het ‘online journalistiek platform’ De Correspondent Westerman’s boek over ‘het terrorisme’ als volgt:

Over de botsing tussen terreur en beschaving… Wat kun je uitrichten met het woord tegenover iemand die de wapens opneemt? Hoe moet je omgaan met aanhangers van Islamitische Staat? Westerman komt niet met een eensluidend antwoord, maar beseft dat dit de keerzijde van de beschaving is: we zijn weerloos geworden tegen zaaiers van dood en verderf. Aan de andere kant: stoppen met vertellen verandert de wereld ten kwade.

Uitgaande van Bohlmeijer’s beschrijving geldt voor Westerman dat het relatief kleinschalige terrorisme een ‘botsing’ is ‘tussen terreur en beschaving.’ Het probleem alleen is dat hij kennelijk er vanuit gaat dat het grootschalige terrorisme van de Verenigde Staten in bijvoorbeeld Noord Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Afghanistan en Irak een beschavingsoffensief was, dus het tegenovergestelde van ‘terreur.’ Wetenschappelijk verantwoorde berekeningen schatten evenwel dat het aantal 

North Vietnamese civilian deaths resulting from US bombing range from 50,000–65,000. Although information is sparse, American bombing in Cambodia is estimated to have killed between 40,000 and 150,000 civilians and combatants.

18.2 million gallons of Agent Orange (Dioxin) was sprayed by the U.S. military over more than 10% of Southern Vietnam, as part of the U.S. herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam's government claimed that 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of after effects, and that 500,000 children were born with birth defects.

Door Amerikaanse soldaten gepleegde bloedbad in het Vietnamese My Lai.

Als gevolg van het Amerikaanse geweld in Zuid-Oost Azië zijn volgens officiële Amerikaanse bronnen vele miljoenen burgers gedood. Ook hier is daarom voor een serieuze journalist de vraag: ‘Wat kun je uitrichten met het woord tegenover iemand die de wapens opneemt?’ Maar omdat Westerman en Bohlmeijer de veelzeggende feiten verzwijgen, kunnen ze suggereren dat het terrorisme beperkt blijft tot bepaalde groepen ‘non-state actors,’ en dat westelijke staatsterreur überhaupt niet bestaat. Dat heet in het jargon van mainstream-journalisten dan ook ‘ordebewaking’ of ‘vredestichting,’ of ‘het verspreiden van mensenrechten en democratie,’ of het 'herstellen van de stabiliteit' in één of andere regioetcetera. Daarbij worden de ruim 500.000 Vietnamese kinderen met geboorte-afwijkingen gekwalificeerd als ‘collateral damage,’ oftewel ‘bijkomende schade’ van in werkelijkheid puur ‘terrorisme.’ Maar ‘journalisten’ van het allooi Westerman en Bohlmeijer verzwijgen het bestaan van deze geterroriseerde slachtoffers van de westerse ‘beschaving.’ Waar het volgens hen werkelijk om moet draaien, is de vraag: 

Hoe moet je omgaan met aanhangers van Islamitische Staat? Westerman komt niet met een eensluidend antwoord, maar beseft dat dit de keerzijde van de beschaving is: we zijn weerloos geworden tegen zaaiers van dood en verderf.

Die geclaimde weerloosheid neemt bij Westerman een centrale plaats in. Zowel tijdens interviews als in zijn boek hamert hij erop dat ‘het terrorisme’ de ‘beschaving’ bedreigt. Zo schreef hij in Een Woord Een Woord:

We reden de buis van de Schipholtunnel binnen. Ik keek op naar de neonverlichte perrons van de luchthaven, het gedrang van de reizigers en realiseerde me ineens hoe kwetsbaar we zijn voor een aanslag.

En in een interview merkt hij op: ‘We zijn best weerloos.’ Maar hoe ‘weerloos’?  Laat de feiten voor zich spreken:

Considering Islamic terror killing an average of 3.2 Americans per year (45 deaths divided by 14 years) since late 2001, here are ten causes of death more worthy of their fear:

7. Car accidents: Though most Americans are aware of the high risk of death by car accident, this knowledge doesn’t mitigate their extreme Islamophobia. The Association for Safe International Road Travel estimates about 37,000 Americans die each year in vehicular accidents, over 11,562 times the number killed by Muslim fanatics.

8. Heart Attacks: Heart attacks are one of America’s leading killers, claiming 190,625 times more American lives than Islamic terror. 610,000 Americans die from heart attacks per year. Cancer kills 589,430 Americans annually, and diabetes is the main cause of death for 69,071 Americans per year. They are responsible for astronomically more fatalities than radical Islamic terror.

9. Police: According to a three-year average of American police killings logged by killedbypolice.net — a more comprehensive database than the federal government’s — police killed 998 people on average per year from 2013-2015. That’s roughly 312 times the average annual number of people killed by Islamic extremists since 9/11. The average number of people killed by Islamic terrorism in the last three years is 7.7 — including the recent shooting in San Bernardino — and by that parallel measure, police are still about 130 times deadlier than terrorists.

10. Prescription Painkillers: The CDC estimates that 44 people die per day from overdosing on pharmaceutical painkillers. Never mind that that number is almost 14 times the number of Americans killed by Islamic terrorism each year. Based on the CDC’s figure, about 16,060 Americans die annually from painkillers — making the Big-Pharma money-makers 5,019 times more deadly than the Islamic terror that has Americans trembling whilst hiding under their blankies.



Kortom, het verkeer, kanker, de politie en pijnstillers zijn veel dodelijker dan ‘het terrorisme.’ De kans dat een doorsnee Amerikaan dodelijk getroffen wordt door terreur is immens klein. En dit geldt al helemaal voor een Europeaan. Desalniettemin creëren  Westerman en de rest van de mainstream-media zoveel mogelijk angst door te herhalen ‘hoe kwetsbaar we zijn voor een aanslag,’ en doen zij het voorkomen dat ieder beschaafd mens in zijn voortbestaan vooral bedreigd wordt door ‘zaaiers van dood en verderf.’ Opnieuw een citaat uit de recensie van ‘correspondent goede gesprekken’ Lex  Bohlmeijer:

Westerman bedrijft niet alleen verhalende onderzoeksjournalistiek, maar ook zelfonderzoek. In die zin leest zijn boek als een essay. Hij probeert greep te krijgen op de ontwikkeling die hij zelf heeft doorgemaakt. Van de jonge pacifist die op Cuba de revolutie vierde, tot de man die de Nederlandse antiterrorisme-eenheid als redders van het vrije woord ziet. Het eindigt in ambivalentie: zonder wapens gaat het niet. Maar zonder taal ook niet.

Het geweldsapparaat van de staat als redding ‘van het vrije woord.’ Het staat er echt, gevolgd door de overtuiging ‘zonder wapens gaat het niet.’ De suggestie is hier dat de met massavernietigingswapens uitgeruste NAVO -- onder aanvoering van de Verenigde Staten dat meer dan de helft van zijn ‘discretionary federal budget’ aan het militair-industrieel complex besteedt -- ‘het vrije woord’ zal verdedigen. Op dit punt aangekomen omtstijgen 'we' het domein van de rationaliteit en betreden het rijk van de waanzin, of zoals de Duitse filosoof Peter Sloterdijk het in zijn boek Kritiek van de cynische rede (1983) formuleerde:

Met de atoombom verlaten wij het gebied van de praktische rede, waar men doeleinden met gepaste middelen nastreeft. De bom is al lang geen middel tot een doel meer, want zij is het mateloze middel dat elk mogelijk doel te boven gaat. Juist omdat zij echter geen middel tot een doel kan zijn, moet zij veranderen in een medium voor de zelfbeleving. Ze is een antropologisch gebeuren, het toppunt van objectivering van de machtsgeest die aan het werk is achter de drift tot zelfbehoud. Als wij haar geconstrueerd hebben om onszelf te 'verdedigen,' dan heeft dat ons in werkelijkheid een onvoorstelbare weerloosheid opgeleverd. De bom is een voltooiing van de mens in zijn 'slechte' vorm. Slechter, intelligenter en defensiever kunnen wij niet meer worden…

Onze enorme bewapening maakt ons zo weerloos dat wij weer zwak worden, zo zwak dat wij verstandig worden, zo verstandig dat wij bang worden. De enige vraag die blijft is of wij de uitwendige weg kiezen, of de innerlijke — of het inzicht vanuit de bezinning zal komen, of uit de vuurgloed boven de aarde.

In tegenstelling tot de bewering van Westerman dat ‘we’ voor het terrorisme ‘best weerloos [zijn],’ krijgt bij Sloterdijk het begrip ‘weerloos’ een reële inhoud. De dreiging van een nucleair armageddon van de grootmachten tegenover de opgeklopte angst van de kleinburger voor ‘het terrorisme.’ De atoombom versus de bomgordel. Honderden miljoenen doden tegenover enkele tientallen of honderden slachtoffers. De irrationaliteit van een massavernietingswapen versus de rationaliteit van de autobom. Massamoord tegenover ‘targeted killing.’ Het meest opvallende is hier dat de kernbom geen politiek doel meer dient, en ‘het terrorisme’ wel. De bomgordel is het wapen van de machteloze die beseft dat ‘we’ alleen in de dood gelijk zijn. Intussen geldt voor de ‘beschaving’ in het Westen dat er 

enormous profits and much power [are] to be gained from war and rumors of war, from the militarization of society (including the police forces), and from the incessant stoking of fear at home and abroad. It is scarcely a secret that the United States has turned itself into a nation whose economic and political structures are now dependent on a globe-straddling system of military and economic domination. Over the past century, America’s ruling elite have come to believe that the United States can only survive through domination, through the constant expansion of American hegemony across the earth, like a Great White shark unable to stop moving and devouring. And as we have seen over the decades, our elites are willing to kill an inordinate amount of human beings to prove their own noble commitment to the betterment of humanity. They are even willing to flirt with world-destroying nuclear war –- as Obama is doing now with his genuinely insane policy of military brinkmanship with Russia –- to keep the hegemonic shark in motion.

Maar die terreur wordt door Westerman en de mainstream-media onzichtbaar gemaakt via onder andere het verleggen van de aandacht voor grootschalig terrorisme naar kleinschalig terreur. Al doende reduceren Westerman, en in zijn voetspoor Bohlmeijer, het fenomeen terreur tot het geweld van De Ander:  

De jongens die de treinkapingen en de andere gijzelingsacties op touw zetten, kwamen uit dezelfde stad. Westerman kende ze. Een van hen was zijn leraar handarbeid. Is het mogelijk om begrip op te brengen voor mensen die onschuldige burgers doden om gehoord te worden?

Deze retorische vraag wordt gesteld aan een mainstream-publiek dat door culturele deprivatie zich niet realiseert hoe groot de eigen verantwoordelijk is. De voorstelling van zaken is oneindig absurd wanneer ‘we’ het volgende weten:

In 1945, after two world wars killed 100 million people and left much of the world in ruins, the world’s governments were shocked into a moment of sanity in which they agreed to settle future international disputes peacefully. The U.N. Charter therefore prohibits the threat or use of force in international relations.

As President Franklin Roosevelt told a joint session of Congress on his return from the Yalta conference, this new ‘permanent structure of peace… should spell the end of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balance of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries – and have always failed.’

The U.N. Charter’s prohibition against the threat or use of force codifies the long-standing prohibition of aggression in English common law and customary international law, and reinforces the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy in the 1928 Kellogg Briand Pact. The judges at Nuremberg ruled that, even before the U.N. Charter came into effect, aggression was already the ‘supreme international crime.’

No U.S. leader has proposed abolishing or amending the U.N. Charter to permit aggression by the U.S. or any other country. And yet the U.S. is currently conducting ground operations, air strikes or drone strikes in at least seven countries: Afghanistan; Pakistan; Iraq; Syria; Yemen; Somalia; and Libya. U.S. ‘special operations forces’ conduct secret operations in a hundred more. U.S. leaders still openly threaten Iran, despite a diplomatic breakthrough that was supposed to peacefully settle bilateral differences.


President-in-waiting Hillary Clinton still believes in backing U.S. demands on other countries with illegal threats of force, even though every threat she has backed in the past has only served to create a pretext for war, from Yugoslavia to Iraq to Libya. But the U.N. Charter prohibits the threat as well as the use of force precisely because the one so regularly leads to the other.

The only justifications for the use of force permitted under the U.N. Charter are proportionate and necessary self-defense or an emergency request by the U.N. Security Council for military action ‘to restore peace and security.’ But no other country has attacked the United States, nor has the Security Council asked the U.S. to bomb or invade any of the countries where we are now at war.

The wars we have launched since 2001 have killed about 2 million people, of whom nearly all were completely innocent of involvement in the crimes of 9/11. Instead of ‘restoring peace and security,’ U.S. wars have only plunged country after country into unending violence and chaos…

Until the American public, our political representatives and our neighbors around the world can come to grips with the normalization of deviance that is corrupting the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, the existential threats of nuclear war and escalating conventional war will persist and spread.

This deviant culture is sociopathic in its disregard for the value of human life and for the survival of human life on Earth. The only thing ‘normal’ about it is that it pervades the powerful, entangled institutions that control U.S. foreign policy, rendering them impervious to reason, public accountability or even catastrophic failure.

The normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy is driving a self-fulfilling reduction of our miraculous multicultural world to a ‘battlefield’ or testing-ground for the latest U.S. weapons and geopolitical strategies. There is not yet any countervailing movement powerful or united enough to restore reason, humanity or the rule of law, domestically or internationally, although new political movements in many countries offer viable alternatives to the path we are on.

As the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned when it advanced the hands of the Doomsday Clock to 3 minutes to midnight in 2015, we are living at one of the most dangerous times in human history. The normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy lies at the very heart of our predicament.

Maar dergelijke relevante informatie wordt verzwegen door Lex Bohlmeijer, terwijl hij toch zo'n hoge pet op heeft van zijn eigen kunnen, en zichzelf publiekelijk prijst door op 25 juni 2016 het volgende te adviseren: ‘Luister naar mijn goede gesprek met Frank Keizer.’ 

De tijdgeest is bij Westerman en Bohlmeijer die van het monomane egocentrisme, waarbij het slachtofferschap de identiteitsloze massamens een valse identiteit geeft, waaraan hij zich krampachtig vastklampt. Daardoor weet hij aan de eigen verantwoordelijkheid te ontsnappen. Alleen op die manier kan hij zich onschuldig blijven voelen. Bijna een kwarteeuw geleden waarschuwde de juriste Heikelien Verrijn Stuart voor het gegeven dat 

Slachtofferisten via erkenning of genoegdoening uit [zijn] op macht. Een macht die zij menen te hebben verdiend door een onschuld, die is geconstrueerd door hun slachtofferschap.

Zij bestreed vooral 'het excuus dat het slachtofferschap bood om zich niet verantwoordelijk te hoeven voelen.’ Een paar jaar nadien wees de Duitse filosoof Peter Sloterdijk erop dat 

Verantwoordelijkheid steeds lager [wordt] ingeschat, terwijl het slachtofferschap steeds hoger wordt gewaardeerd. Het is een ontwikkeling die buitengewoon gevaarlijk is voor onze samenleving. Deze slachtofferistische manier van denken is de belangrijkste vorm van ressentiment geworden… Het slachtofferisme, het verleidelijke gevoel slachtoffer te zijn, kan men overal om ons heen waarnemen, en is een extreem morele kracht geworden.

Weer later adviseerde de in asiel levende joods-Russische dichter Joseph Brodsky vlak voor zijn dood in de essaybundel On Grief and Reason (1997)

Probeer ten koste van alles te vermijden dat je jezelf de status van slachtoffer toestaat… probeer te onthouden dat menselijke waardigheid een absoluut begrip is… Bedenk tenminste, als dat andere je te hoogdravend in de oren klinkt, dat je door jezelf als slachtoffer te beschouwen alleen maar het vacuüm vergroot dat door gebrek aan persoonlijke verantwoordelijkheid ontstaat en dat demonen en demagogen zo graag opvullen.


Amerikaanse special forces lachend urinerend op gedode Afghanen. De westerse beschaving.

Vanuit deze context wordt duidelijk dat als Frank Westerman stelt dat hij en zijn publiek ‘best weerloos [zijn],’ dit niet meer is dan een gevoel, een kleinburgerlijk sentiment, dat moeiteloos inspeelt op de georchestreerde angstjagerij van de staat en de mainstream-media. De commerciële pers die Westerman’s boek over ‘het terrorisme’ bespreekt, constateert dat de boodschap van deze journalist de afgelopen drie decennia radicaal is omgeslagen, en dat hij na eerst ‘geld' te hebben ingezameld 'om wapens te kopen voor de burgeroorlog in El Salvador,’ daar ‘nu wroeging [over] heeft.’ Jeroen Vullings van het financieel en journalistiek failliete Vrij Nederland voegt hier met een zelfgenoegzame betweterigheid aan toe ‘Het was de tijd, zullen we maar zeggen,’ daarmee aangevend dat de opportunistische Westerman probleemloos met de omslag in de tijdgeest is meegedreven. Hoe is deze karakterloosheid te verklaren? Om dit te kunnen beantwoorden, moet ik eerst een stap achteruit doen. Vanochtend luisterde ik op het terras van mijn hotel in een Italiaans kuuroord naar een oudere, erudiete heer uit Pisa die, na de krant te hebben gelezen, meer dan een uur lang vertelde over de verschillende culturele uitingen in zijn land, over de verrukkingen van provinciale gerechten, Venetiaanse maskers, het gesloten banksysteem van Siena, de Italiaanse infrastructuur die zich rond rivieren opbouwde, etcetera. Met een bewonderenswaardige intellectuele distantie wist hij een wereld te openen die voor de buitenstaander nagenoeg onbekend is. Na zijn uiteenzetting begonnen andere terrasbezoekers hun gedachten te formuleren, en merkte ik opnieuw dat veel Italianen in staat zijn om door de uiterlijke vormen heen te kijken, een zekere scepsis bezitten ten aanzien van de officiële versie van de werkelijkheid. In tegenstelling tot Nederlanders zijn de Italianen een oud volk, dat uit ervaring weet hoe de wereld een commedia dell’arte is, een gemaskerde werkelijkheid. Vandaar het belang van de schijn, het fenomeen ‘bella figura.’ De vorm is belangrijker dan de inhoud omdat uiteindelijk de inhoud altijd een afschuwelijke leugen blijkt te zijn. Alleen via de vorm kan de leugen verzacht en dragelijk worden. 

Toen ik naderhand een korte wandeling met onze hond maakte, moest ik denken aan de opmerkingen van de Italiaanse auteur en politicus, wijlen Luigi Barzini, die in zijn fascinerende boek Gli italiani. Virtù e vizi di un popoio (1965) op het volgende wees:

De troost die Italië zich altijd permitteerde is oneindig dierbaarder geworden dan ze ooit was. De westerse wereld voelt zich diep ongemakkelijk. Hij begint het nut en onschendbaarheid van sommige van zijn traditionele deugden in twijfel te trekken, die waarop het zijn morele rust en zijn zelfrespect baseerde. De ijver en spaarzaamheid van de bourgeoisie worden in toenemende mate gezien als schadelijk voor de samenleving; de onverschrokken heroïek van de soldaat is niet langer meer vereist. Ongebreideld patriottisme heeft de mens en naties geleid tot tragische vergissingen; moraliteit is iets van haar glanzende zekerheid kwijt; wetten zijn rekbaar geworden; niemand weet meer of er één waarheid bestaat. Het tijdperk van de machtige staten, trots op hun raciale superioriteit, bazen van hun eigen lot, is afgelopen. Het leven van eenieder wordt geregeerd door de besluiten van ver levende en praktisch onbekende mensen, even machtig en onbereikbaar als Karel de Vijfde leek voor de Italianen in de zestiende eeuw, die ons rijk of arm kunnen maken, die ons kunnen laten leven of ons, slapend in onze bedden, kunnen laten vermoorden. De reglementering van een industriële massamaatschappij wordt meer en meer verstikkend. Mensen worden als galeislaven uit de oudheid aan het werk gehouden door hun begeerte om steeds meer opzichtige materiële bezittingen te veroveren. Ze worden gevoed door pasklare ideeën, ze worden voorzien van door de autoriteiten goed gekeurde kunst, vermaakt door dezelfde shows, verblind door dezelfde ceremoniën, opgezweept door dezelfde slogans, gemobiliseerd door dezelfde collectieve emoties. De moderne mens raakt verdwaald in een doolhof van steeds grotere anonieme organisaties. Eenzaamheid en verveling omklemt ieder van hen zodra hij lang genoeg uit het tumult kan ontsnappen om over zichzelf na te denken. De levenskunst, deze verwerpelijke kunst ontwikkeld door de Italianen om de reglementering te verslaan, wordt een onschatbare gids om te overleven. La dolce vita verspreidt zich naar landen waar het veracht werd en gevreesd, of steekt de kop op in landen die graag dachten dat het daar niet bestond. Overal proberen belastingbetalers hun heilige plicht te ontduiken. De kleine pleziertjes in het leven hebben een nieuw belang gekregen, voedsel, wijn, een dag in de zon, een mooi meisje, de nederlaag van een rivaal, goede muziek.

Tegelijkertijd, zo stelde Barzini, kan de 

Italiaanse manier van leven niet als een succes worden beschouwd behalve door passanten. Het lost geen problemen op. Het maakt ze erger. Het zou een soort succes kunnen zijn als het op zijn minst de Italianen gelukkig maakte. Dat doet het niet. De resultaten zijn duur, flinterdun en van korte termijn. Zeker, de mensen genieten van de kortdurende voordelen, zonder die zouden ze het leven niet kunnen verdragen, maar ze worden permanent gekweld door ontevredenheid. Ze gaan tekeer tegen hun huidige lot als ze altijd al hebben gedaan... Het is de Italiaanse manier van leven die alle wetten en instituten gebrekkig doen functioneren. Het is de illusie van een oplossing… De onopgeloste problemen stapelen zich op en veroorzaken om de zoveel tijd onvermijdelijk catastrofes. De Italianen zien de volgende ramp altijd met een scherp oog aankomen, maar kunnen, net als dromers in een nachtmerrie, niets doen om zich ervoor te behoeden. 

Hij merkte tevens op dat elk jaar meer mensen naar Italië trekken:

they are drawn to the place where the new perplexing problems of the contemporary world are familiar monsters, problems with which the natives learned to live long ago. Other Western men are newcomers in the New Barok age. Many are still reluctant, incredulous and unprepared newcomers, who cling to the old approved ways of doing things and are perpetually surprised to discover that they no longer have the same power to attain results. The Italians have invented ancient ruses to defeat boredom and discipline, to forget disgrace and misfortune, to lull man's angst to sleep and comfort him in his solitude. They still remember the age of Saturn, and reconstruct it longingly in a perennial Saturnalia. They do not make the mistakes some eager foreigners make, who rush blindly into new paths and accept indiscriminately all corrupt and cynical solutions. The Italians know the relative utility of all the tricks, know which ones are dangerous and which are deceptive.

Dat laatste is een kenmerk van volkeren die getekend zijn door de tragiek van de geschiedenis. De Duitse auteur Hans Magnus Enzensberger signaleerde al meer dan een kwarteeuw geleden datgene waarvoor de Nederlandse mainstream stekeblind is, namelijk dat de

samenleving het geloof [verliest] als zou de overheid in staat zijn de problemen op te lossen. De mensen proberen er zich op eigen houtje doorheen te slaan en de centrale systemen te omzeilen. Er ontstaat een bont patchwork van met elkaar in strijd zijnde individuele belangen, van dwaze culturen en subculturen… 

Tegelijkertijd, zo schreef Enzensberger in 1987, wordt de Europeaan geconfronteerd met het 

[d]reigend bankroet van de sociale staat, toenemende strijd om de verdeling van het geld, bezuinigingsplannen op kosten van de zwakken: het lijkt er wel heel erg op dat 'linkse,' egalitaire en 'morele' opvattingen over de manier waarop een rechtvaardige samenleving eruit moet zien, in heel Europa toenemend onder druk komen te staan, en wel tamelijk onafhankelijk van de vraag welke kleur de partijen hebben die op een bepaald ogenblik de regeringsmeerderheid vormen. Niet alleen waar de neoconservatieven het heft in handen hebben, worden de tegenstellingen tussen arme en rijke stadswijken en streken scherper. De idee van de solidariteit wordt een pure frase. Luxe consumptie en verpaupering, misère en verspilling doen zich in een obscene symbiose voor en vormen een explosief mengsel.   
                          
Op zijn beurt eindigt Luigi Barzini zijn boek The Italians met de ontnuchterende conclusie:

Politicians eternally tinker with laws and institutions. But the fundamental cause escapes everybody. It is the Italian way of life, which make all laws and institutions function defectively. It is the illusion of a solution, lotus-eating, the resigned acceptance of the very evils man has tried to defeat, the art of decorating, ennobling them, calling them by different names and living with them. 

They can only play their amusing games, try to secure their families against the coming storm, and delude themselves for a time. They console themselves with the thought that, when the smoke clears, Italy can rise again like a phoenix from its ashes. Has she not always done so? The tenacity and the eagerness with which the individual pursues his private interests and defends himself from society, his mistrust of noble ideals and motives, the splendid show, the all-pervading indulgence for man's foibles make Italian life pleasant and bearable in spite of poverty, tyranny and injustice. They also waste the efforts and the sacrifices of the best Italians and make poverty, tyranny and injustice very difficult to defeat. 

Een Italiaanse of zelfs een Amerikaanse intellectueel zou nooit met zo weinig intellectuele distantie een boek hebben kunnen schrijven over ‘het terrorisme’ als Westerman heeft gedaan, en de ‘politiek-literaire elite’ van grote cultuurlanden zou een dergelijk boek nooit zo hebben bejubeld als de Nederlandse. Er bestaat een wereld van verschil tussen de journalist Westerman uit de cultuurloze polder en auteurs uit grote cultuurlanden. Wanneer 'onze' Frank op zo’n typisch Hollandse manier beweert dat ‘[w]e best weerloos’ zijn, dus heus wel of echt wel ‘kwetsbaar’ zijn dan doet hij een beroep op het gecultiveerde slachtofferschap, en weigert hij de eigen verantwoordelijkheid te aanvaarden. In dit opzicht zijn de Italianen veel volwassener. Zoals Barzini stelt kunnen zij zichzelf slechts enige tijd misleiden; uiteindelijk dwingt de ingeboren scepsis hen tot het onder ogen zien van de werkelijkheid, 

[t]hey do not make the mistakes some eager foreigners make, who rush blindly into new paths and accept indiscriminately all corrupt and cynical solutions. The Italians know the relative utility of all the tricks, know which ones are dangerous and which are deceptive.

Nu ‘[l]a dolce vita’ zich heeft ‘verspreid naar landen waar het veracht werd en gevreesd, of de kop op’ heeft opgestoken ‘in landen die graag dachten dat het daar niet bestond,’ hebben de kosmopolitische Italianen een geweldige voorsprong, doordat ze zich bewust zijn van de illusies die zij koesteren, terwijl een provinciale Drent als Frank Westerman nog steeds schijn en werkelijkheid niet uit elkaar kan houden. Hoewel zijn houding even corrupt is als die van de eerste de beste mafioso, doet deze journalist uit hervormd christelijke huize het voorkomen alsof hij recht in de leer is, onder andere door zijn 'zonden' van weleer publiekelijk te belijden, zeer tot het genoegen van de al even onnozele mainstream. En wanneer de Vrij Nederland-journalist Jeroen Vullings, in navolging van W.F. Hermans, concludeert dat ‘[w]e door gevaarlijke gekken [zijn] omringd,’ en stelt dat ‘Westerman’ met dit feit ‘boek na boek grandioos zijn voordeel mee [doet],’ dan heeft hij zonder het zelf te beseffen volledig gelijk, want inderdaad, ‘de werkelijkheid’ is ‘van een afstand bezien krankzinniger dan menig verzonnen verhaal.’ Op dit punt aangekomen dient de vraag te worden beantwoord waarom de journalist Frank Westerman van ‘jonge pacifist die op Cuba de revolutie vierde,’ veranderd is in ‘de man die de Nederlandse antiterrorisme-eenheid als redders van het vrije woord ziet.’  Het antwoord lijkt mij het volgende:

Frank Westerman is een Drent die door een christelijke opvoeding tijdens zijn adolescentie-jaren onrecht niet klakkeloos kon accepteren. Maar toen hij als provinciaal in de grote stad arriveerde merkte hij al snel hoe in werkelijkheid de kaarten zijn geschud en leerde hij zich razendsnel aan te passen. Met het ingeboren minderwaardigheidscomplex van de Drent wordt Westerman gedreven door het verlangen geaccepteerd te worden door de zelfbenoemde ‘politiek-literaire elite’ in de Randstad. Niet het fysieke ‘geweld’ van ‘terroristen’ maakt hem ‘weerloos,’ maar het psychische ‘geweld’ van zijn brandende ambitie, zijn drang om erbij te willen horen, om geprezen te worden door de kleinburgerlijke randstedelijke ‘intelligentsia.’ Om het in bijbelse beeldspraak te stellen: voor dertig zilverlingen verkocht hij zijn ziel. Dat is niet vreemd in een piepklein land, waar iedereen die meetelt ieder ander die meetelt kent, en waar de peergroep — meer dan elders — bepaalt wat de grenzen van de consensus zijn, en welke vrijheden het individu in de polder zich kan veroorloven. Wanneer Westerman zichzelf de vraag stelt wat je kunt ‘uitrichten met het woord tegenover iemand die de wapens opneemt,’ dan slaat dit alleen op kleinschalig terrorisme, maar absoluut niet op het massale terrorisme van een grootmacht als de VS. Met het ene oog op zijn geldbeurs en het andere op zijn imago was de keuze al snel gedetermineerd. En dus onderging hij een metamorfose, van ‘pacifist’ werd Frank een propagandist van het grootschalig ’geweld.’ Als Westerman een echte schrijver was dan zou hij dit thema tot literaire non-fictie kunnen uitwerken. Al was het maar om  ‘iets hoopvols’ naar zijn ‘dochter’ uit te stralen. Anders dreigt ook zij straks mentaal ‘weerloos’ achter te blijven. Volgende keer meer.

New Fault Lines in a Post-Globalized World

 

MAKE IT RIGHT
The following essay was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of American Affairs journal.
Click to read the article online.
New Fault Lines in a Post-Globalized World
By Marshall Auerback and Jan Ritch-Frel

November 20, 2020

The economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic has upended the global economic system and, just as importantly, cast out the neoliberal orthodoxy that dominated the industrialized world for the past forty years. But Covid-19 has only accelerated a process that was already well underway, impacting trade negotiations between China, the United States, and the European Union and spreading throughout the world’s largest economies. Although many defenders of the old order lament this trend, it is as significant a shift as the dawn of the era of global trade that began with the birth of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Economists, politicians, and pundits are often tempted to see new economic patterns through the lens of the past. Thus, we are likely to hear that we are returning to nineteenth-century mercantilism or that we will see a revival of 1970s-style stagflation. But this historical view misunderstands our present moment; the motives now are different, and so are the outcomes.

Instead, what we are experiencing is the realization by governments of developed countries that new technologies enable them to expand or initiate new and profitable production capacity closer to or within their own markets. The savings in transportation, packaging, and security costs that come with domestic production, along with benefits to regional neighbors and to domestic workforces, will increasingly enable developed nations to compete with the price of goods produced through the current internationalized trade system. American politicians from Donald Trump to Elizabeth Warren are increasingly joined by a chorus of European and Asian politicians who see the long-term political benefit of supporting this transition.

Today, the “New World Order” looks old. Offshoring and global supply chains are out; regional and local production is in. Market fundamentalism is passé; regulation is the norm. National security considerations supersede untrammeled foreign investment flows. Public health is now more valuable than just-in-time supply systems. Stockpiling and building industrial capacity suddenly make more sense, which may have future implications for the recently revived antitrust debate in the United States.

Biodata will drive the next phase of social management and surveillance, with near-term consequences for the way countries handle immigration and customs. Health care and education will become digitally integrated, as newspapers and television were ten years ago. Health care itself will increasingly be viewed as a necessary public good, rather than (as has heretofore been the case in the United States) a private right predicated on age, employment, or income levels. Each of these changes will produce political tensions both within particular political constituencies and demographic groups and also in the society as a whole, as people adapt to the new normal.

This political sea change does not represent a sudden, total conversion to “socialism”; it is simply a case of minimizing future risks and accepting that old arguments can no longer be taken for granted.  For example, as Michael Sandel has argued, one is inevitably led to query the moral logic of providing coronavirus treatment to the uninsured, while leaving health coverage in “normal periods” to the market.

Internationally, there will be many positive and substantial shifts to address global public health needs, just as accords will be struck in order to mitigate climate change. And it is finally dawning on Western and Western-allied economic planners that the military expenditures that have made so-called cheap oil and cheap labor possible are vastly higher than investment in advanced research and next-generation manufacturing, much of which (such as 3D printing) has the potential to unravel existing global supply chains.

This also means that the old division between the developed world and the emerging world, which long occupied scholars and policymakers in the post–World War II period, will become increasingly stark again—particularly for those emerging economies that have hitherto attracted investment largely on the grounds of being repositories of low-cost labor and commodities. These nations will now find themselves picking sides as they seek assistance in an increasingly divided and multipolar world.

The fault lines of the next economic era have already begun to develop, creating friction with the previous international structure of finance, trade, and industry. These tensions arise not only from elites and critical industries, but from the increasing instability of the global poor and working class. The proletariat has become the “precariat”: the quality of their employment has rapidly deteriorated as countless nations have sacrificed their manufacturing capacity—and with it secure blue-collar employment—on the altar of globalization.

In the United States and Europe, there is now a staggering number of service economy workers who will quickly be politicized by the shortfalls: these workers have seen a collapse in their income and have suffered failures in their access to education and healthcare.  Various political policies and corporate tactics—union busting, pension fleecing, austerity budgets—have inflicted real harm on workers and have been implemented alongside the development of new technologies that concentrate wealth away from labor. The growing gap between the wealthy and the working class has created a circumstance where ownership and profit models must be revisited if any sort of social stability is to be maintained.  The current crisis will likely prompt geopolitical and economic shifts and dislocations on a scale that has not been seen since World War II.

The Death of “Chimerica” and the Rise of New Regional Production Blocs

One of the biggest casualties of the current order is likely to be the breakdown of “Chimerica,” the  decades-old nexus between the American and Chinese economies, along with other leading countries’ partnerships with and dependence on Chinese manufacturing firms. While the geopolitics of blame for the origins and spread of Covid-19 continue to shake out, the process that saw a decrease in exports from China to the United States from $816 billion in 2018 to $757 billion in 2019 will accelerate and intensify over the next decade, along with a reduction in foreign direct investment (FDI). This is likely to be accompanied by the rise of regional trade blocs—notably in Asia, the Americas, and the European Union—as countries will increasingly come to recognize the inherent vulnerabilities of supply chains that are dispersed among too many far-flung parts of the globe.

In the regional bloc of the Americas, Mexico will likely remain a leading recipient of American FDI. It already has a $17 billion medical device manufacturing industry and is sure to absorb much more capacity in this sector from Chinese competitors. This change has already begun as a result of the recent United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (usmca). The needs of the U.S. healthcare industry and other businesses in the face of Covid-19 pandemic have only accelerated the process, as the Washington Post reports: “As demand soars for medical devices and personal protective equipment in the fight against the coronavirus, the United States has turned to the phalanx of factories south of the border that are now the outfitters of many U.S. hospitals.” This increase in trade and investment between the two countries comes in addition to the thousands of assembly plants already in place in Mexico since the inauguration of the original North American Free Trade Agreement (nafta). Indeed, if jobs that had previously relocated to China continue to move toward Mexico and other Central and South American states, the resulting economic boost experienced in the latter will likely address many longstanding social and political tensions over immigration, management, currency imbalances, and black-market industries in the Americas.

The dissipation of “Chimerica” need not point to the armed conflict that some fear may be inevitable. It is likely, however, that a Cold War-style competition between the two powers may emerge as a new global fault line. In the words of David McCormick, Charles E. Luftig, and James M. Cunningham, “The economy has become the primary arena for great power competition given the integration of global markets, the emergence of transformational technologies and the pervasiveness of cyberspace.” But just as the Cold War did not preclude some degree of collaboration between the United States and the former Soviet Union, so too today there may still be areas of cooperation between Washington and Beijing, in fields such as climate policy, public health, advanced research, or weapons nonproliferation, albeit collaboration that is circumscribed by the geopolitical realities freshly exposed by Covid-19.

While this shift does not necessarily spell the sudden collapse of Chinese power or influence—it has a colossal and still-growing domestic market and is an international leader in a wide range of advanced indicators—its status as the world’s most desirable offshore manufacturing hub will face increasing challenges, as will the economic stability that came along with steady inflows of foreign capital. Additionally, Beijing is more likely to show a renewed susceptibility to domestic stress.  The recent revival of last year’s Hong Kong protests in response to the introduction of a new national security law for the territory, along with the greater geopolitical profile accorded to Taiwan in the wake of its successful Covid-19 policy response, provides a hint of what is in store if the Chinese Communist Party leadership fails to respond adequately to the new realities it faces, including slower economic growth, decelerating foreign investment, and declining international prestige.

As investment flows turn back to industrialized countries, there will likely be a corresponding diminution of the global labor arbitrage emanating from the emerging world.  In general, this will be a negative development for the Global South but a potentially positive one for workers elsewhere, whose wages and living standards have stagnated for decades as they lost jobs to competing low-cost overseas manufacturing centers. (The jobs that return will not be the same as those that were lost, to be sure, especially considering the decline of labor unions.) But, given that manufacturing incomes in general exceed those of the service industry, these jobs will almost certainly provide the workers of developed nations with more secure and better-paying employment.

National Security Concerns Drive Economic Nationalism

As each country adopts a sauve qui peut mentality, businesses and investors are drawing the necessary conclusions across the globe. Covid-19 has been a wake-up call, as countries trying to import medical goods to their domestic markets from existing global supply chains have experienced a shortage of air and ocean freight options.  Even a long-time champion of globalization, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, has conceded, “In general, economic thinking has privileged efficiency over resilience, and it has been insufficiently concerned with the big downsides of efficiency.” Policy across the globe is therefore moving in a more overtly nationalistic direction to rectify this shortcoming.

Long viewed as major beneficiaries of globalization, several Asian governments are now manifesting distinct signs of economic nationalism. In Japan, the government recently announced its plans “to spend over $2 billion to help its country’s firms move production out of China,” according to Spectator Index. Additionally, Tokyo has also announced new restrictions on foreign investment which, at face value, seem to violate the provisions of the World Trade Organization agreement. Of course, the Japanese authorities have justified these restrictions on the vague grounds of “national security,” a term that is likely to take on a substantially different meaning in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Hence the country is unlikely to face any serious challenge from other WTO members;  national-security exceptions have been around since the days of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the WTO’s foundational agreement governing international trade in goods. In prioritizing domestic industries and investment, Japan’s policy makers understand that there is little point in devising an economic reconstruction plan if there is nothing domestic left to reconstruct. The government therefore wants to avoid this scenario by tightening the investment screening regime around a dozen vital sectors (e.g., power generation, military equipment, computer software, and high tech), in effect prioritizing the claims of domestic manufacturers on national security grounds.

From Japan’s perspective, the new approach also entails limiting ties to China as part of its future global supply chain. Tokyo has begun discussions with India and Australia on launching a trilateral Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) to reduce dependency on China.

This new posture favoring national security concerns in trade and economic policy is motivating a number of other countries to join Japan in reducing their dependence on Chinese manufacturing, particularly in the telecommunications and pharmaceutical industries. The government of Australia has banned Huawei from providing 5G equipment amid concerns that such equipment could allow Beijing to hack into the country’s power grids and other critical infrastructure. Canberra has also recently outlined additional prerogatives to scrutinize new overseas investment and even to force foreign companies to sell their assets if they pose a national security threat. These proposals come in the wake of an intensifying trade war between the governments of Beijing and Canberra, alongside “a dramatic increase in the number of foreign investment bids probed by Australia’s spy agency, ASIO, over fears that China was spying on sensitive health data,” as reported in Australian media. At the same time, Australia has seen an overhaul of thought with regard to manufacturing, which has historically not been a major sector of its domestic economy. The headlines from Australia are beginning to look a lot like the Area Development stories in the United States.

Likewise, India is phasing out equipment from Huawei and other Chinese companies from its telecoms networks, in part due to the recent escalation of its longstanding border dispute with Beijing. No formal edict has been issued, but industry executives have indicated that local telecom companies should avoid using Chinese equipment in any future investments, including in 5G networks.

Taiwan, which had been a net importer of surgical masks before the pandemic, created a state-led domestic mask manufacturing industry in just a month after registering its first Covid-19 infections last January. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said Taipei plans to repeat that approach to foster other new industries. The country’s dominance in semiconductor chip manufacturing through the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is likely to make it a fulcrum point in the mounting concerns about the vulnerability of globalized supply chains and rising geopolitical tension between Washington and Beijing.

Similar concerns about foreign investment and global supply chains have intensified as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in North America. The Canadian government has recently announced plans to enhance foreign investment scrutiny “related to public health or critical supply chains during the pandemic, as well as any investment by state-owned companies or by investors with close ties to foreign governments,” according to the Globe and Mail. This attempt to disaggregate beneficial foreign investment flows from those deemed contrary to the national interest used to be a common feature of government policy in the post–World War II period. Canada established the Foreign Investment Review Agency in 1973 because of mounting concerns about rising overseas investment and the growing dominance of U.S. multinationals.  Its provisions were repeatedly downgraded in subsequent decades as pressures toward globalization intensified, but its value is now being reassessed as a possible means of promoting national health policy and resiliency in manufacturing chains. Predictably, pharmaceutical independence is high on the list.

In Europe, member states have experienced competing pressures in recent years: on the one hand, the economic disruption and supply chain vulnerability that resulted from globalization have given the member states of the European Union cause to form a stronger regional bloc; on the other, economic and political nationalism is also on the rise within the several member states. In terms of trade policy, EU leadership has been publicly discussing additional subsidies and state investment in European companies to prevent Chinese buyouts or “undercutting prices,” a move that was supposed to represent a pan-European effort and lead to a strengthening of intra-EU cooperation. But the policy response to the pandemic has been increasingly driven at the national level and has highlighted internal divisions. Consequently, it is starting to fracture the EU’s single market, which has long been constructed on an intricate network of cross-border supply chains.

In response to French finance minister Bruno Le Maire’s rallying cry to the nation’s supermarkets this past March to “stock French products,” French supermarket chain Carrefour has already moved to source 95 percent of its fruits and vegetables from within the country. Le Maire also cited pharmaceuticals, the automotive sector, and aerospace as three economic sectors where the country needs to reassert sovereignty—i.e. localize production in France. Going further in a national TV interview, the finance minister said that it was “unacceptable for France to rely on China and South Korea for 80 percent of its electric battery supply, praising a new France-based battery-making facility that would come onstream in 2022.”  He also approvingly cited French pharmaceutical manufacturer Sanofi for saying recently that it intends to “re-localize” some of its production back to France. French president Emmanuel Macron has likewise called for France’s “health sovereignty” after the coronavirus exposed the reliance of his country on imported medical supplies. His agriculture minister Didier Guillaume told political news channel Public Senat that “while France could not be self-sufficient in all food products, it would look at being more autonomous in areas such as plant protein,” according to a recent Reuters report.

Even Germany, which has a vibrant export sector that has long made it a beneficiary of globalization, has indicated that it wishes to move more in the direction of economic independence.  In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, the country’s economy minister, Peter Altmaier, said he wanted “to support pharmaceuticals companies that are dependent for key reagents on imports from Asia to rebuild their production sites in Europe.” In broader terms, part of the government’s overall response to the Covid-19 pandemic has featured €400 billion in state guarantees to underwrite the debts of companies affected by the turmoil. A goal of this package is to prevent a “bargain sale of German economic and industrial interests,” according to Altmaier.

Considerations of economic nationalism are also driving a shift in Britain’s negotiating stance in its current Brexit trade negotiations with the EU. The UK clearly has chosen to prioritize national sovereignty over frictionless free trade with its former single-market partners, even at the cost of a so-called hard Brexit—which at this writing appears to be the likeliest outcome of the negotiations. The EU’s single market rules preclude state aid to specific industries if it undermines the operation of the single market. But the UK’s chief negotiating officer, David Frost, has made it clear that the ability to break free from the EU’s rulebook was essential to the purpose of Brexit, even if that meant reverting to the less favorable WTO trade relationship that exists for other non-EU countries. James Forsyth, a columnist for the Spectatornotes that this freedom has taken on a new importance in the wake of a global pandemic: “EU law . . . denies to member states what one cabinet minister refers to as the ‘geostrategic premium’ of encouraging domestic production of personal protective equipment. In the single market, the NHS cannot buy solely from British suppliers to try to build up a domestic manufacturing base; it has to accept bids from any company based in the EU.”

“Buy American” Becomes Bipartisan

Over the past forty years, this kind of overt economic nationalism, especially regarding domestic manufacturing capabilities, has generally been eschewed by the U.S. government—at least until Donald Trump entered the White House. In part, the unique, hegemonic position of the United States made it seem unnecessary.

But national security considerations have still occasionally superseded America’s default stance in favor of global free trade. Such considerations lay at the origin of Sematech, a government-industry consortium created in the 1980s to successfully revitalize American semiconductor manufacturing, after the Pentagon deemed it to be a strategically key industry. The Sematech consortium represented a great success in national industrial planning, as it enabled the United States to reestablish its global dominance in high-end semiconductor production and design. Another example, even more germane to the current pandemic, is a new ventilator developed entirely in New York in less than a month.

Today, formulating sensible economic-nationalist policy also entails examining why American companies went offshore in the first place, and under what conditions they might be likely to return. Research and development tax credits alone are unlikely to induce the requisite shift, as these can easily be matched by other governments. The state can and must drive the reshoring process in other ways: local content requirements, tariffs, quotas, and/or government procurement requirements. And with a budget of over $750 billion, the U.S. military will likely play a role, as it too ponders disruptions in equipment procurement from overseas supply chains.

National security considerations in the semiconductor industry have been revived in the wake of the Trump administration’s growing dispute with Chinese 5G telecommunications equipment maker Huawei. The U.S. government is working to limit Huawei’s access to technology and to global markets. The Commerce Department has now mandated that any semiconductor chip manufacturer that uses any U.S. equipment, IP, or design software will require a license to ship its products to Huawei. This decision has forced the world’s biggest chipmaker, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), to stop taking fresh orders from Huawei, as it uses U.S. technology in its own manufacturing processes. According to Reuters, “The administration will also add 38 Huawei affiliates in 21 countries to the U.S. government’s economic blacklist, the sources said, raising the total to 152 affiliates since Huawei was first added in May 2019.” As in the case of TSMC, many Asian, European, and domestic Chinese chip developers may all have to abide by the rules if their chip development involves U.S. software or technologies. The number of firms affected by this rule is potentially vast, including mobile chip developer MediaTek, image sensor provider Sony, sensor supplier STMicroelectronics, as well as key memory chip manufacturers Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix, Kioxia, and Nanya Tech. Paradoxically, the Trump administration has exploited preexisting global supply connections in the furtherance of a more robust form of economic nationalism.

These efforts in trade policy are being mirrored at the legislative level. The U.S. Congress is taking concrete steps to bring semiconductor manufacturing back home, with the introduction of Senator Tom Cotton’s new bill supporting the domestic production of semiconductors, the American Foundries Act of 2020. This bill proposes spending up to $25 billion in three major categories: $15 billion for commercial microelectronics manufacturing, $5 billion for defense microelectronics grants, and a final $5 billion on R&D spending to secure U.S. leadership in microelectronics. Support for the bill is notably bipartisan: Cotton’s proposed legislation has been cosponsored by Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D), as well as Senators Susan Collins (R), Kirstin Gillibrand (D), Josh Hawley (R), Angus King (I), Jack Reed (D), James Risch (R), and Marco Rubio (R). Likewise, President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled a “Buy American” economic recovery plan, calling for the U.S. government to spend $400 billion on American products and services to increase demand and $300 billion on research and development for new technologies. The proposal also calls for tighter enforcement of existing “Made in America” laws to make it more difficult for companies to exploit loopholes.

The same attitude is now visible with regard to the pharmaceutical industry, and will likely work to the detriment of China and India, as we have already seen in other parts of the world. In July, Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the sweeping Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Defense and Enhancement Act, demonstrating that the U.S. political establishment is beginning to reach a consensus on issues of economic national security—it is no longer the sole province of Trump’s “America First” campaign. “To defeat the current Covid-19 crisis and better equip the United States against future pandemics, we must boost our country’s manufacturing capacity,” Warren said, characterizing the result of decades of policy to offshore economic production as an “overreliance on foreign countries.” Warren’s warnings take on new force in light of Beijing’s threat to restrict American access to medical supplies in retaliation for intensifying U.S. regulations on Huawei.

Rethinking the WTO?

Naturally, if the United States pursues policies of this nature, it will reinforce the actions already undertaken in other parts of the world, which in turn will accelerate the trend toward regionalization in trade. What is more striking in the context of U.S. policy is that this reassessment of the benefits of globalization is running in parallel with a reconsideration of the global institutions that fostered and facilitated the drive toward globalization in the first place. The latest example of this new attitude can be seen in Senator Josh Hawley’s call for the abolition of the World Trade Organization in a recent New York Times op-ed.

But it may not be necessary for the American government to go that far: the problem is not so much the overall WTO treaty as the Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) within it. These are regulations that explicitly prohibit local content requirements, prioritization of domestic firms for public works procurement, foreign exchange restrictions (particularly important for emerging economies that are now totally reliant on the U.S. Federal Reserve to secure access to U.S. dollars to help fund their economic development needs), and export restrictions. In short, TRIMs must be abrogated if countries are serious about reestablishing domestic manufacturing capability.

But TRIMs are only annexes to the main WTO accord and therefore can be abrogated without eliminating the main agreement itself. This means that removing TRIMs does not necessarily presage a return to some kind of “law of the jungle” with respect to global trade. The current pandemic has offered proof of this: virtually all of the TRIMs, especially the export restrictions, have been routinely broken as nations have scrambled for vitally needed medical supplies. Yet the world’s global trading system has not collapsed into a total free-for-all.

The reestablishment of domestic content rules might require U.S. multinational firms to operate in foreign markets through local subsidiaries with local content preferences and local workforces. This would mean a return to a global trade system more like that of the 1920s, in which, for instance, Ford UK was a mostly local British company, which operated independently from Ford USA but with shared profits. That may seem strange given recent practices, but it is not historically anomalous: during much of the post-1945 world, America emphasized free trade mostly in raw materials, not finished goods. The U.S. only adopted one-way “free trade” with its Asian and European allies later as a Cold War measure, in order to accelerate their development and keep them firmly secured within the American orbit. In responding to both the changing state of global markets and the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic, policymakers should not operate under the false historical assumption that our current system, dominated by integrated multinational firms, is somehow natural or inevitable.

Automation as Labor-Enhancing, Not Labor-Destroying

Even if we assume a new trade framework that eliminates the WTO TRIMs, and thereby facilitates local content requirements and other measures to encourage the revitalization of manufacturing in developed countries, we must realize that these countries will also have to embrace a higher degree of automation in the workforce. As Dalia Marin writes, redomiciling will likely accelerate the adoption of robotics and other forms of increased mechanization, with particular concentration “in the sectors that are most exposed to global value chains. In Germany, that means autos and transport equipment, electronics, and textiles—industries that import around 12 percent of their inputs from low-wage countries. Globally, the industries where the most reshoring activity is taking place are chemicals, metal products, and electrical products and electronics.”

Policymakers will have to approach the issue of increasing automation from two principle angles. First, on the ownership side, careful attention must be paid to automation technologies from the outset, because they are able to concentrate wealth at a previously unseen scale—one that would make Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller blush. Governments will have to contemplate rules to limit stock buybacks and other practices that can vastly magnify the profits of a an increasingly small ownership class. It will also be necessary to consider alternative ownership structures, such as Germany’s codetermination (which involves the right of workers to participate in the management of the companies at which they work), in order to ensure a better distribution of wealth and profits among shareholders and workers.

Along similar lines, France’s budget minister, Gerald Darmanin, recently suggested that President Emmanuel Macron’s government should expand the use of mechanisms created by former French President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s to distribute more capital and profits to workers and to redomicile domestic supply chains. Darmanin’s proposals echo the ideals of the American political economist and noted economic nationalist, Seymour Melman, much of whose work largely focused on domestic production and worker-centered economics. Melman contended that the more decision-making power management gave to workers on the shop floor, the better management could maximize the productivity of capital and thereby augment corporate profitability. That is because well-trained and well-motivated workers are better able to prevent problems in production lines from happening in the first place and will react quickly if problems arise.

Antitrust regulation and enforcement may have some role to play here as well, but in general a size-neutral form of oversight and regulation is likely to be more effective in achieving a better balance of income distribution, as well as ensuring an industrial policy consistent with a broader public purpose. This is especially the case in markets characterized by economies of scale  and/or network effects.

On the labor side, machines can either replace labor totally (e.g., washing machines replacing domestic labor), or they can complement labor, allowing one worker to be more productive (as in the case of partly robotic, partly human assembly lines). In the case of the latter, automation can also mitigate considerable health risks to workers, as the heavy automation in Denmark’s own meatpacking industry illustrates: among the eight thousand employees of Denmark’s leading meatpacking company, fewer than ten workers have tested positive for Covid-19, and none of its slaughterhouses has had to close or slow down production. In both the replacement and the complementary models of automation, jobs (or unpaid household labor) are lost, but the mechanisms are different.

The development and adoption of robotics in manufacturing should be directed not toward simple labor substitution but toward tasks that humans cannot perform. The proper metric for evaluating the potential and effectiveness of robotics should be profits generated per worker, as opposed to profits secured via labor elimination costs.

In order to maximize the benefits of automation, it is necessary to reestablish the link between real wages and labor productivity, which was, as the economist Bill Mitchell has argued, vital to the economy for much of the post–World War II period: “Real wages grew in line with productivity growth which was the source of increasing living standards for workers and allowed them to maintain growth in consumption expenditure commensurate with the growing output of the economy.” That link has been largely severed over the past forty years, as business’s attacks on labor and unionization intensified. Furthermore, if productivity-lowered prices give consumers more discretionary income, and they spend it on labor-consuming services, new jobs will be created in labor-intensive sectors or household activities that cannot be automated.

As the coronavirus pandemic is illustrating, a viable industrial ecosystem cannot work effectively if it is dispersed across too many geographic extremes or if there are insufficient redundancies built into the transportation networks that bring goods back to the domestic market. Proximity becomes a significant competitive advantage for manufacturers and a strategic advantage for governments. Likewise, regionalization facilitates better consultation between business and labor, whereas globalization disperses decision-making and leads to poorer outcomes—witness the current travails of Boeing as one classic illustration. In his final work, After Capitalism: From Managerialism to Workplace Democracy, Seymour Melman observed that the more that automation is implemented in consultation with the workforce, as opposed to being imposed by management, the better the factory and the better the economy performs. In addition, the more competent the engineers and managers of industrial firms are at organizing production, the better the economy of the country as a whole performs.

But this also entails an expanded role for government in the planning process. The U.S. is still a leader in many high-tech sectors but is suffering the consequences of a generation-long effort to undermine the government’s natural role as an economic planner. In effect, we need a revival of “Tripartism”—what Michael Lind describes as “the collaboration of labor, business, and government in the national interest.”

North and South

What about the rest of the world? Many of the developing nations of the Global South do not have close geographic proximity to wealthy domestic markets or abundant supplies of the key commodities required for twenty-first-century manufacturing needs, or even well-developed manufacturing bases. Most have hitherto been recipients of significant foreign investment solely on the grounds of their cheap labor pools. These countries have faced immediate, enormous pressure as a result of the pandemic due to the collapse in global trade and have experienced severe capital flight that is sure to grow if the virus spreads and lockdowns continue, all while their often underfunded and inadequate healthcare systems attempt to cope with the disease at home.

In the meantime, the multitrillion-dollar market for emerging market debt, both in sovereign bonds and in commercial paper, is perpetually at risk of freezing up in response to shocks, as occurred earlier this year. In many developing countries, the government, through state pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, has become the ultimate buyer for many of the newer asset-backed securities, which had only recently revived after the 2008 financial crisis. This has become a potential new stress point in the $52 trillion “shadow banking” market. The U.S. Federal Reserve has sought to ease the funding stresses of many developing countries by offering liquidity swap lines to their central banks. It has also broadened primary dealer collateral acceptance rules and set up commercial paper swap facilities, all of which have eased short-term funding pressures in the economies that have incurred substantial dollar liabilities. As central banks in the emerging world then start to lend on those lines to their own domestic commercial banks, the shortage of dollars in offshore dollar funding markets should begin to be alleviated. Some easing of stresses can now begin to be seen—notably in Indonesia, which is an exporter of resources more than a cheap labor price economy.

In previous emerging-markets crises China was able to buttress the economies of developing countries through massive investment and development programs such as the “Belt and Road Initiative.” Now, however, Beijing itself is likely to be buffeted by the twin shocks of declining global trade and a reversal of foreign direct investment, which already fell 8.6 percent in the first two months of this year. Over the longer term, many other countries face challenges that are similar in nature to but more severe in extent than China’s: collapsing domestic currencies, widespread debt defaults, and eventually capital controls are likely to become the norm. Possible harbingers of this trend can already be seen across the globe: Argentina, a serial defaulter, has failed to pay its debts again; South Africa has seen its bonds downgraded to junk status; Turkey’s currency and banking system remains vulnerable. The so-called “brics” economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—are all sinking like bricks. Coronavirus (and likely future pandemics) will likely create additional stresses for any developing economies that depend on their labor price advantage in the international marketplace to survive.

By contrast, countries like South Korea and Taiwan have had a “good crisis.” Both have vibrant manufacturing sectors and have established successful multiparty democracies. Foreign investment in South Korea continued to grow in the first quarter of this year, as it rapidly moved to contain the spread of Covid-19 through an extensive testing regime, while keeping its economy open. Similarly Taiwan, by activating a national emergency response system launched in the wake of the 2004 SARS virus, has mounted a  coronavirus intervention of unprecedented effectiveness. The results speak for themselves: as of mid-October, South Korea has registered a mere 444 deaths, while Taiwan, a country of 23.8 million people, has had an even more astonishingly low total of 7 deaths—this despite far more exposure to infected Chinese visitors than Italy, Spain, or the United States.

Of course, the very success of Taiwan’s response revives another potential fault line, namely the tension between Taiwan and mainland China underscored by the latter’s “One China” policy. It is noteworthy that, before the coronavirus pandemic, the WHO would not formally acknowledge Taiwan in its monitoring of global disease. It “even refused to publicly report Taiwan’s cases of SARS until public pressure prompted numbers to be published under the label of ‘Taiwan, province of China,’” according to Dr. Anish Koka. At the very least, Taiwan’s divergent approach and success at fighting the pandemic might bolster its pro-independence factions. The question of whether foreign nations will uphold Taiwan’s sovereignty in the face of Chinese pressure is increasingly thorny, given Beijing’s growing military capacities. This will present an ongoing diplomatic challenge to Western parties that seek to increase engagement with Taipei without heightening tensions in the region.

A Recalculation of “Economic Value”

To be sure, this is not the first time that the sacred tenets of the global economic framework have faced a crisis that seemed as if it would usher in a new era. The same thing happened in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. But that crisis was largely seen as a problem confined to financial markets, a product of faulty global financial plumbing that was barely even understood; today, by contrast, we seem to be witnessing a widespread social collapse directly impacting the “real economy.” The world is now pervasively affected by a lockdown that has not only put the entire global economy into turmoil, but that also was imposed in the context of widespread political and social upheaval and against the backdrop of a faux recovery whose fruits were largely limited to the top tier. A collateralized debt obligation is not intuitively easy for the layman to grasp. By contrast, being forced to stay at home, deprived of vital income and isolated from loved ones, while healthcare workers perish from overwork and lack of protective gear, is immediately and viscerally understood by the public and is perceived as a crisis of a different magnitude.

In time, the pandemic will subside and the lockdowns will cease. But even as we reintegrate, it is hard to envisage a return to the “old normal.” Trade patterns will change. Self-sufficiency and geographic proximity will be prioritized over global integration. There will be new winners and new losers, but it is worth noting that the model of capitalism we are envisioning here—one that does not feature obscenely overcompensated CEO pay coexisting with serf-like labor and the widespread offshoring of manufacturing—has existed in different forms in the United States from 1945 to the 1980s and still exists in parts of Europe (e.g., Germany) and East Asia (e.g., Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) to this day.

To be sure, the discussion has changed for the better, but the national election campaign has largely precluded the United States from taking as many dramatic changes as some of its foreign counterparts. Likewise, various industry groups continue to resist and lobby for to the old status quo ante. In addition, China’s Ministry of Commerce has reported that foreign investment inflows in September jumped 23.7 per cent from a year ago, and the government is using every tool available—direct subsidies, currency devaluation, loan bailouts (and other indirect subsidies)—to revive exports, recover growth, and fill disruptions from Covid-19-induced supply chain gaps. Beijing has been successful: Chinese GDP growth is accelerating again.

Considerably more policy effort will be required for the United States to catch up to China and the rest of the world and to avoid falling into familiar, unhealthy patterns. The former CEO of Intel, the late Andy Grove, warned almost a decade ago that Silicon Valley risked “squandering its competitive edge in innovation by failing to propel strong job growth in the United States,” according to a New York Times op-ed by Teresa Tritch written shortly after his death. Grove’s observations can be extended well beyond high tech. Absent a more broadly-based manufacturing scale-up, America will continue to lose high-paid, highly skilled jobs, along with the ability to sustain dominance in new technologies as the economy’s capacity to innovate dissipates and IP theft accelerates. All of which has both long-term economic and national security implications for the country.

While economists often fret about the costs and inefficiencies of reshoring, they seldom consider the more overwhelming costs associated with the problems cited by Grove. Covid-19 has highlighted America’s vulnerabilities and a belated policy response has begun. The road back to manufacturing relevance is a long one, but it must be sustained. Simply restoring the status quo ante risks exacerbating longstanding existing weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Economic warfare could well degenerate into military conflict if the early efforts are not sustained. There are costs associated with failure that must remain at the forefront of future policy planning, no matter who is governing the country in the years ahead.

Marshall Auerback is a researcher at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, a fellow of Economists for Peace and Security, and a regular contributor to Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Jan Ritch-Frel is the executive director of the Independent Media Institute.
This essay was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of American Affairs journal.
Click to read the article online.

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