When I was about six years of age, my uncle showed me something that made my eyes bug and my mind boggle: four beans that moved on their own. Leaping legumes!
It wasn't trickery, but an odd twist in the natural world that creates the novelty of "Mexican jumping beans." They're not beans — they're brownish seedpods from a desert shrub in northwest Mexico. A larva from a small moth invades the pod, attaches itself to the inner wall with a silk-like thread, and waits in relative coolness for its metamorphosis into mothdom. When you hold the "bean," however, the warmth of you palm discomforts the larva so that it twitches and pulls on that thread, causing the pod to "jump."
Decades later, I find myself wide-eyed again, astonished by the odd movements of a news species of Mexican jumping bean I've named corporados greedyados. Far from being a creation of the natural world, these jumpers are enormously profitable. Native to our land, they've long reaped the benefits of U.S. corporations, including having high-skilled and loyal blue-collar workforces, corporate-friendly labor and consumer laws, publicly funded education and training, an interstate highway system, extensive tax breaks, on-call police to safeguard their corporate order, military defense of their worldwide commercial pursuits, and more. But now they're twitching in the conglomerate pods and abruptly jumping to Mexico. Giving no more notice than a cursory shout of adios, they're leaving U.S. workers, communities, the future of our middle class, and our unifying ethic of fair play in the dust of their corporate greed.
Perfidious corporations have been jumping to cheap-labor countries for years, particularly since the North American Free Trade Agreement, China's admission to the World Trade Organization, and other polices incentivizing corporations to export our blue-collar jobs. Since NAFTA was signed in 1994, over 50,000 U.S. factories have closed and more than 5 million jobs have been lost to offshoring.
Unfortunately, that was just a warm-up. During the past decade, corrupted and compliant legislatures, courts and regulatory agencies have effectively removed our society's reins on these profit seekers. Not since the robber barons of the 1800s have those in the executive suites felt so free and entitled to work their will on the rest of us. And they're not hesitating. The corporations' recent surge in abandonments of the Good Ol' U.S.A. is different from the offshoring of only a decade ago — bigger, cruder and wholly narcissistic.
The real difference is a fundamental, regressive shift in the ethos of the elites who run major corporate empires. These investors and executives believe that what they think and do is what's best, and everyone else should get out of their way. This has led them to adopt a thoroughly unethical code of social irresponsibility, unilaterally decreeing through a hokey doctrine called "shareholder hegemony" (shareholder hegemony asserts that corporations exist strictly to benefit shareholders — i.e., maximize profits no matter what this costs everybody and everything else) that they and their corporate entities owe nothing to the country and the people who have nurtured them, even coddled them.
Consequently, we're witnessing the murder of our country's manufacturing prowess by our industry's own leaders. CEOs of America's most iconic brands have gone bonkers, asserting a "moral duty" to shut down factories here, dump the workers, desert our hometowns, and hightail out of the country to any low-wage, low-environmental-standard refuge on the map.
Of course, the beneficiaries of this Kafkaesque doctrine of shareholder supremacy include not only the large stockowners, but also the very CEOs whose paychecks and bonuses depend on jacking up stock prices at our expense. It's a socially suicidal system, proving both an irresistible incentive and a moral excuse for executives to commit corporate treason, even as their moves expand the ever-widening chasm of inequality that cleaves our society. And, by the way, CEOs and billionaire shareholders aren't moving south with their bottom-wage factories, preferring instead to enjoy their life in America the Beautiful. Apparently unaware that their elimination of middle-class wages is eliminating their own customer base, they also expect you and me to continue being the primary buyers of their now foreign-made products.
And The Powers That Be wonder why an angry populist rebellion is spreading like a prairie fire. To learn more about rebuilding a strong manufacturing economy in the USA, visit: www.AmericanManufacturing.org.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)
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