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Weekly Audit: Power to the People’s Republic

by Sara Luckow, TMC MediaWire Blogger

In the past few years, the economic relationship between the United States and China has changed dramatically. As Tim Fernholz writes in the American Prospect: “Chastened U.S. officials who once lectured their counterparts in [China] on financial liberalization are now humbled in front of their largest creditor, reduced to offering promises of fiscal responsibility.” It’s a strange state of affairs. Fernholz rightly argues that:

“The common interest of the peoples, rather than the economic elite, ought to be the driving motivation behind the two countries’ interactions. There is no doubt that economic openness has brought wealth to both countries, and the Obama administration is happy to laud the Chinese for bringing millions out of poverty. But in a relationship between "capitalism with American characteristics" and "socialism with Chinese characteristics," sometimes the people—whether they be workers losing jobs in the United States or the millions of Chinese living without political freedom or prosperity—have interests other than the elites. Today, we’re in an economic crisis, and pragmatism overrides all else. But as recovery continues, the U.S. will require more thought on the strategic track, and perhaps in a few years our discussions with China, as they should be with all our friends, will be more frank.”

But our current economic relationship with China pre-dates President Obama’s "talk first" style of diplomacy. As Robert Scheer of The Nation writes: “Don’t blame any of this on peacenik liberals. The new conciliatory—nay, deferential—tone toward China precedes the Obama administration, having begun in bilateral talks during the last years of the Bush administration as the U.S. economy began its ignominious downfall. It was George W. Bush’s treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, who set the course when the former Goldman Sachs chairman realized how dependent were his Wall Street buddies on Chinese goodwill.”

Strange relations with China aside, things aren’t going so well at home. Rick Wolff, an economist from the New School, says the stimulus package has big problems in a discussion with The Real News. Wolff also notes that we shouldn’t take Wall Street chatter about an economic upswing too seriously. “I think the first thing to remember is the people who are celebrating where we are now are the same people who could not imagine, did not imagine, did not foresee the problem we had last year,” Wolff says.

But what’s going on with our favorite bailout recipients? Talking Points Memo takes on the case of former Federal Pension Guarantor Charles Millard, who exploited his personal ties with employees at BlackRock Capital and Goldman Sachs while choosing firms to manage the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. At this point, both firms “may have run afoul of federal contracting rules in how they courted Millard.”

Goldman Sachs and BlackRock are also on the lookout for the next big economic bubble. Salon reveals that both firms are diversifying their portfolios to include agriculture, in addition to government contracts. “Food is becoming the new oil," especially since the world’s population is expected to crest nine billion by 2050. And a lot of land is necessary to grow enough food for nine billion people. Phillipe Heilberg, founder of American investment firm Jarch Capital, is hedging his bets on farmland in distressed countries. “Instead of buying stocks, the former banker is now speculating on the political future of South Sudan, which he insists will be an independent country in 10 years, at which point land will be far more expensive than it is today.”

It’s abundantly clear that we can’t rely on the economic elite to represent the people’s interests. Tomorrow’s economic structure must be drastically different if the United States is going to thrive. Put simply, we’re going to have to seriously reevaluate our economic priorities and decide who calls the shots. Here’s hoping that everyday people have a say.

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