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Letters from Downunder

Relative Success

Submitted by Lindsay, Melbourne Australia!

Success is relative: It is what we can make of the mess
 we have made of things.
T. S. Eliot, 1939

(11/11) Acting on prophecies is dangerous, as King Croesus found out in the fifth century BC when he went to war with Cyrus, the king of Persia. He lost because he misinterpreted a prophecy, and after 2 thousand years not much has changed. Our politicians and their advisors still use oracles and govern in the hope that what they plan for and expect to happen will occur.

And The United States plans. Plans to keep the populace fed, happy, and confidant that they live in the greatest nation on earth. Plans to keep manufacturing, primary production and employment high, with a strong middle class, plans to continue as the strongest power in the world. I'm pretty sure many of you will shake your head in dismay and mutter, "Well, the plans aren't working too well."

And, looking at things in your country from this distance, it is all too easy to see the trouble you are in. The reasons why this is so are many, but boil down to a too great reliance on prophecy. And in your case the main consulter of soothsayers was none other than the renowned secretary of treasury Alan Greenspan, and the oracle he consulted was the computer.

Both Croesus and Greenspan went out to fight the enemy that was threatening to take over their country, and both lost. Why? Well, aren't computers, like oracles, infallible? Presidents, treasury, bankers and financiers thought so, set up complex algorithms to see the future, and behold! Everything they tried proved that their trust was not misplaced. So if the computer predicted that the dollar would rise one cent overnight they could make millions, perhaps billions or trillions. Absolutely no risk, so beg, borrow or steal and put it all on the computer. A zip of excitement ran through the halls of power, and the future was a rosy glow.

Except - (snigger snigger) - computers only do what they are programmed to do, and humans, who do the programming, are fallible, greedy , clever, and selfish. And when they wield the power they make the rules. Because they became so good at making money they became reverential figures, presidents fell in love with them, and they could do no wrong. By and large they were trusted implicitly - but at heart, many bankers, secretaries of finance etc. are really just clever used car salesmen, with eyes only for the next buck. And, like all of us, they cannot foretell the future.

But if they could make billions an hour at home in this miraculous bubble, they could also do it worldwide. The government thought so, the IMF thought so, and Asia, including China, were moved like chess pieces into the new strategy. Too bad if they didn't want to be a pawn, the US called the shots, had the greatest economy on earth, was both king and queen on the board, and could not to be resisted.

Until the flaws became obvious. Asia is not America, outlooks and ways of business are not the same, computer programmes are not infallible, and a decade later the Asian Tiger was on its back, paws in the air, wondering what the hell had happened. Unfortunately, the U. S. of A. that had got the whole circus rolling was itself reeling, victim of its own infallibility, and about to go down for the count - except for one incredible coincidence.

One of the big losers in the bubble had been China. Communist, pragmatic, demagogic, it had had its pride hurt, had lost face with its neighbours, but in true oriental style didn't go weeping to its 'benefactor', but went into its own form of huddle.

Within a few years the tiger was not just up again and running, it was hunting. And it was hunting America. Not with ultimately pointless acts of terror and revenge, but with the thing Americans craved perhaps more than anything else, consumer goods. Give them more of the good life. Revenge was going to be sweets. Everyone except the American manufacturer and worker rubbed their hands.

China went to communistic capitalism, it had the workforce, enforced a berserker kind of manufacturing regime, kept its currency low so it could to supply at a very good exchange rate, then flooded the market. "Made in China" became the same as "cheap" , and once the quality improved not many people cared where it was made. The money flowed from American homes and American debt into China's coffers. No more American recession, ( the rose coloured spectacles were firmly in place), the populace was happy, leaders were happy - and there was a smile on the face of the tiger.

And what did these Tiger folk do with their new found wealth? Build impossible skyscrapers, resorts on the Yangtze, promote tourism? No, they bought American treasury bonds.

What? Why on earth would they do that? Because, my friends, they were buying America. Not real estate, just the government, something Alan Greenspan did not foresee. Something his idol, Ayn Rand, the guru of greed, had not predicted. But how could these brokers of success be wrong? Presidents went on believing them, for money was their god too; borrow, borrow, became the mantra. Would there be a day of reckoning? Who cared - it would not be in their term of office.

So forget the war on communism, they're winning. And the war on terrorism - the Chinese won't allow you to suffer that, as they have their own brand.

Lindsay, who has just realized a beautiful new cook pot was made in Denmark. Wonderful. Written on his made in China computer, with modem, mouse, and software. Ah so.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker