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AseanAffairs Magazine
March - April 2010

The United States is facing daunting prospects in the Asia-Pacific region, a huge market for US goods, while China’s influence is growing as it makes rapid trade inroads in the region. The implications for the US and its need to redefine its ties with Asean are explored in our exclusive interviews with Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser & Director - Southeast Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Founding Partner, Brooks Bower Asia LLC and former President of the US-Asean Business Council, and Demetrios Marantis, Deputy United States Trade Representative for Asia.

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Part I The Evolving Paradigm

The eradication of poverty and the end of racial injustice embodied the noble causes espoused by Lyndon B. Johnson that ushered in The Great Society, one in which all would be protected from the human condition and all would enjoy the bounty of The Great Nation upon which God shed His grace. The questions of who would protect and who would provide were details obscured by a vision of a Utopia that promised everyone their cut of the spacious skies, the amber waves of grain, the purple mountain majesties, and the fruited plains.

The Great Society was not the first great promise proffered to alleviate the pain of the masses and deliver to them “all things good.” There was JFK’s “New Frontier,” much of which formed the basis of the “Great Society” programmes, preceded by Truman’s Fair Deal, Roosevelt’s New Deal, and more. Yes, deals, deals, deals - step right up, everyone’s a winner - a basic tenant we all know is false, if not by reason, then intuitively. Nonetheless, a deal by any other name, (The Great Society), is still a deal, the essence of which comprises parties involved in a symbiotic exchange, satisfying their respective needs. It’s easy enough to understand the allure of such deals for the masses, but exactly what are the needs of government that are satisfied in pursuit of such lofty ideals?

In reality, government has nothing to offer in the exchange associated with any deal because governments don’t produce anything. Whatever they offer must by definition have been confiscated from the productive segment of society by means of taxation, coercion, or manipulation of systems and markets, better framed in simple vernacular as outright theft. The crowning achievement of governments throughout history has been to convince the masses of their need to be ruled. Times of crises, especially war, have always been prime time for governments to justify their existence and to consolidate power by assuming the role of protector and provider through which their “ultimate need”, i.e., government expansion, can be satisfied.

In the United States, this process began with the Civil War and escalated through the two World Wars that followed. Neither conservatives nor liberals are without blame for government expansion that’s out of control. Conservatives point the finger at liberals, claiming that their policies favoring the interests of unions, farmers and other proletariats are the root cause, while liberals point fingers at conservatives for hawking the build up of both the military industrial complex and big business in the interests of national security and American hegemony. Simply put, it is the proverbial tug of war between the welfare and warfare states that provides the placental fodder that gives birth to the “Deals.”

In fact, US Government expansion is rooted in the success of big business efforts to lobby the government for the creation of unfair advantage in its favor. America’s history is replete with instances of industry leaders writing the laws to which they themselves would be subject. One of the most egregious was the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. Authored by the very industry leaders that it was chartered to regulate, it resulted in not just unfair but even worse, monopoly advantage. Such efforts by industry accelerated until they came to a head in 1933 with Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act, the first piece of legislation to openly facilitate collusion between industry and government through the creation of the National Recovery Administration (NRA). Although the NRA was declared unconstitutional in a unanimous supreme court ruling in 1935, causing it to cease operation, many of the provisions it created were incorporated in the National Labor Relations Act passed into law shortly thereafter. Much of the legacy of the National Recovery Act was passed on to The Great Society and on from there to globalization. Today we see that the center of power has been assumed by the government and that the government is used by a coalition of big businesses to operate and manage the economy. The casual observer can see evidence of this in every aspect of government. Indeed, Goldman alumni have infested Washington like cockroaches, while lobbyists and lawyers have been appointed to key posts in the agencies that were established to oversee the very industries from whence they slithered. 


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