November 21, 2010

Krugman & the Wal-Martians

I don't know if you've seen the email-forward shtick called "Wal-Martians," but they're making the rounds in various formats and iterations, the one here being a rather tame depiction of one of your fellow Americans shopping at America's biggest chain (and biggest employer!). Wal-Mart is not only a huge purveyor of imported Chinese junk, but also sells more groceries than Safeway, Ralph's or the A&P.

Where I live we have CostCo, Home Depot and other Big Box, but no Wal-Mart. It's an attitude thing, I think. It's as if the locals consider it the Line in the Sand: if Wal-Mart arrives, the game is up. Civilization as we've known it ends. Personally, I think that's a little delusional. All the other signs of the End Times are here in force; what difference does it make if we add Wal-Mart to the mix? Still, we must take our comforts in American culture where we can find them. There are no Wal-Marts within ten miles of my house - hooray for us! I realize, of course, that the prejudice works both ways. Wal-Mart knows that we're not really their target demographic. Why waste a big, ugly warehouse on us?

The lady in the picture is Wal-Mart's target demographic. Camo shorts, huge caboose, and all on patently obvious display. As I say, these pictures can be multiplied ad infinitum. Largely speaking (ahem), what these specimen slides reveal is rather pathetic and touching, in their way. For what they are actually portraying is a subcategory of Americans (increasing in number by the minute) who are victims of America's agribusiness-sponsored reliance on high fructose corn syrup as a major food stuff, combined with our atrocious system of public education (indeed, our public schools are main purveyors of junk food). 43 million Americans are on food stamps, and a lot of that subsidy goes to buying crap at Wal-Mart. Perhaps you have read about the legions of food stamp zombies who roam the aisles at Wal-Mart at midnight on the last day of the month, waiting for their credit for the next month to kick in.

So in an overall sense, what we have here are people who are unable to defend their alimentary canals from the propaganda and market dominance of ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland. Diabetes, obesity and premature death are the direct results.

While considering these pictures of Earth-bound extraterrestrials, I was also thinking about that redoubtable economist at the New York Times, Paul Krugman, who has become, in his pugnacious way, the favorite intellectual piƱata in the blogosphere and beyond. Krugman takes his field, economics, pretty seriously, which is hilarious in its own way. He regards it as "science," and he wrinkles his rather low brow and pontificates to anyone who will listen to him on a very regular basis, including twice a week in his column, which is actually the same column published twice a week. These essays, which are atrociously written, have a "Groundhog Day" feel to them. Every Monday and Friday, Krugman writes that the stimulus should have been bigger. That's it. I don't know how his editors let him get away with it, but he won the Nobel Prize, so I guess they have to. At any rate, Krugman believes that if the Chinese would just stop manipulating their currency, and the Republicans would cooperate, the United States could borrow more money, pump it into the American economy, and we would recover promptly. Unemployment would be cut in half faster than you could say John Maynard Keynes.

Personally, I'm not so sure. That's where the Wal-Martians come in. Granted, one should not impute too much importance to anecdotal evidence and impressionistic conclusions. These are just pictures of fat people at Wal-Mart, after all. But you see, I can't help thinking that the "science" of economics posits or presupposes some sort of Ideal Actor for its neat formulations to work, some sturdy, moderately-well educated, healthy Person to carry out the actions implied in the formulae. You know? And such animals are in short supply in American society. Wal-Martians are not really Bell Curve outliers anymore. In Krugman's Princeton Ivory Tower, he is somewhat shielded from this reality, which the rest of us live with daily. To him, a statistical cohort is a statistical cohort: Standard Man.

Nope, that ain't right. I can see where Krugman and his ilk would rather not think about this reality. In the first place, how do you statistically "model" Wal-Martians? More important, however, is that Krugman is one of those "globalists" who infest the editorial pages of the New York Times. A free trade advocate, an "internationalist," a bigger-is-better apostle of worldwide integration. He doesn't allow himself to think too much about what those movements have done to the United States, the offshoring of all our productive jobs, the hollowing out of the American economy, the reduction of our business activity to "financialization" and multinational corporate headquarterism. Krugman goes in for a lot of jingoistic attacks on China (and now Germany), but these are red herrings resulting from his willful blindness about his own complicity in the destruction of America.

What did these clowns think would happen if we encouraged a system where Detroit line workers competed head to head with Chinese laborers willing to work for a couple of bucks a day? Globalization has been a disaster for the United States, along with refusal to enforce our anti-trust laws, so that we have now, as Roy Zimmerman sings, "One World, One Bank." 24% of the country's wealth is concentrated in 1% of the population, the average CEO makes over 500 times as much as whatever line workers are left. The elites make their huge salaries and bonuses playing globalist games; the rest of the country is moving to the Red Planet.

Sorry, Paul, but transfusing blood into the American cadaver isn't going to get the job done. That high unemployment is here to stay, along with printing money to pay bills. Keep up the Harry Potter good guy/bad guy tropes and memes, but if you want to see what's really happening, go buy a 50 pound package of frozen Nachos at your local Wal-Mart.

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