Archive: Feb 2009

dsc_2214While writing this I am listening to the gentle ocean surf under a bright blue sky.  My wife and I are enjoying a lovely 2009 Valentine’s Day, along with hundreds of other Americans, some of whom came to get married on the sand to the gentle rhythm of the breakers and Reggae music in the distance.

        I heartily recommend a Valentine vacation in Montego Bay to every American, but don’t wait very many years because Jamaica may become something like a province of China.

        The headlines of the local papers in Montego Bay blasted the news of China’s Vice President Xi Jinping visit to celebrate China’s grants and loans of $140 million (USD) to Jamaica. Shovel in hand VP Xi announced China’s gift of a new convention center. China aid to Jamaica far exceeds American aid this year.

        At the very time that the USA cannot afford the luxury of lavish foreign aid, China steps in and helps out our trading partners, as if they were altruistic and just trying to help. China, like America, tends to attach strings to its aid. The strings are trade obligations and implied allegiance.

        Our current financial collapse stems from overdependence of the US economy on financial services rather than manufacturing and knowledge production. Financial services have, in turn, been over dependent on public addiction to needless consumption. Through all of this financial debauchery, China has been standing nearby like a bartender serving us drinks and taking our money.

As of this past November, China held almost $700 billion dollars in securities of the US government debt.  Foreign countries own $3 trillion of the U.S. treasury, but China owns more of that than any other country.

With our economy teetering on the brink, aid to developing countries inevitably will take a hit at budget time. It is a wonderful time for China to fill the gap and build “partnerships” with nations in our “backyard.” Jamaica is only a hundred miles from both Cuba and Haiti, and about 300 miles from Florida.

It would be a mistake not to note the long history of the Chinese in Jamaica. In the late 19th Century as thousands of slaves were shipped from Africa, a large number of Chinese were imported as indentured servants. Now Jamaica has an estimated Chinese population of 70,000.

China’s cozy foreign policy with the Caribbean since 1990 is no secret. Not only have the Chinese acquired important natural resources like asphalt from the region but they have had several military exercises there as well. China is Cuban largest trading partner apart from Venezuela. Caribbean nations see China as an alternative to heavy dependence upon the United States.

Fortunately, America sends more than tourists to Jamaica. The Peace Corps has sent 3,400 volunteers to Jamaica and over 100 are now stationed there. They continue to do wonderful things for the Jamaican economy, but they are not as visible as a convention center. Nor are they a match for the thousands of guns donated and sold by the United States to Jamaica and Haiti. In one year, 1999, alone, the USA sold Jamaica $5 million in military equipment.

If we want to preserve the beautiful vacation opportunities for Americans in Jamaica, we should stop the flow of guns and ratchet up the flow of Peace Corps projects ten-fold. Jamaica is in our own backyard, not China’s.



Moments ago President Obama announced several new rules for executive compensation for any corporations receiving “exceptional” amounts of public funds. One rule is that executive pay is capped at $500,000 and their stock options cannot be cashed in until every penny of public money has been repaid. Third, he said executive pay and perks would be public

            While the President did not describe the current executive culture as greedy, he did call it shameful in no uncertain terms. He also used the words “culture of narrow self-interest.” Is it not greed when executives pay themselves many millions and even billions while simultaneously their corporations implode financially and thousands of lower level employees are fired?

            The dictionaries generally agree: greed is an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves.  Last year’s book Richistan, which I reviewed in a earlier post, describes a greed-driven social class of the newly, ultra-rich. An estimated 10 million Americans belong to this social class, some of whom like Madoff ran billion dollar fraudulent schemes, unable to control addiction to money and ultra rich lifestyles.

            The lucky rich, as I dubbed them, are not the only greed-driven Americans. Greed appears to have clouded the judgment of millions of Americans who signed for mortgages they could not afford or put tens thousands of dollars on their credit cards.

            So, greed may be the most succinct lens to view the current financial crisis. Not only does it help to explain why it happened, but it suggests a way to get out of it. Continued acquisition of material goods and services that are not essential would stabilize the economy. It would not return us to the previous growth in GDP, but it would be the foundation for a culture and an economic foundation that emphasizes productivity and social well-being. It would be a society oriented toward the future not immediate gratification.

            This model of society is highly compatible with President Obama’s goals for our country. In his Chicago acceptance speech he advocated a society where we “look out for others as well as ourselves.” Now, that is a recipe to avoid falling into the pernicious pit of greed. And it applies equally to bailed out corporate executives as well as the rest of us.