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(DV) Sandronsky: Classes and Currencies







The Yuan of a New Day?
Classes and Currencies

by Seth Sandronsky
July 25, 2005

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I read in the morning paper about the People’s Bank of China’s decision to end its tie of the yuan, the Chinese currency, to the U.S. dollar. The article mentioned the old and new value of the yuan per dollar. This move, I read, will make exports from China to the U.S. more costly. Meanwhile, U.S. exports will become less costly. The new price of the yuan could make the jobs of U.S. manufacturing workers more secure, the article noted.

Moreover, the rising U.S. trade deficit, the nation’s excess of imports over exports, may be corrected with the newly priced yuan. Perhaps  the U.S. reliance on foreign lenders that include China’s central bank to finance that deficit would fall. Crucially, the millions of human beings who labor to make the goods that are bought and sold in China and the US. were faceless and nameless.

Thus the nature of their working lives did not appear. What these millions of workers with ideas and personalities do on the job and what their laboring time does to them is simply not news. What is news is the price of the yuan and the dollar in relation to the commodities that working people make with their daily energy to be exchanged in the marketplace.

Since the people who create the goods for exchange that are priced in dollars and yuans are not newsworthy in the article I read, one could say the news is really about China’s place in the global economy. Yes, and also about the societies of both nations. What is assumed about the class relations within “communist” China and capitalist America requires explanation.

In both nations, the class that calls the shots from the top got there and stays there thanks to human labor. Such relations can be hard to see by looking at the surface appearances of the market, or the prices of goods and services being exchanged. Case in point is children’s toys made by Chinese workers for Mattel and sold by U.S. workers employed by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Market competition enforces the class relations that result in these working folks making and selling such commodities. Many, however, see only the prices in the marketplace, including those of the dollar and the yuan.

In the meantime, there are cheers in the U.S. for the change of China’s currency from the appointed and elected representatives of the U.S. upper class -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Treasury Secretary John Snow and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York. On the surface, these three claim to speak for the national interests of the U.S. Yet the nation’s populace is hardly in the same boat by any stretch of one’s imagination.

The lack of economic security burdening the vast majority of people in the U.S. is the polar opposite of the massive gains in wealth and income being amassed by the nation’s moneyed elite, whose interests are looked after by Greenspan, Snow and Schumer. Thus the price of the Chinese and U.S. currencies is a distraction of sorts to the expansion of class consciousness in the global superpower.

The new monetary policy of Chinese elites means the market will have a bigger effect than before on yuan’s price. Presumably, the more the market’s influence on a commodity -- from a currency to a technology -- the better. The less interference there is for the forces of supply and demand in the marketplace, the more investment, jobs and output will emerge. If such market outcomes do not materialize, it is due to deviations from this model of the marketplace. The market rewards all in the long run.  Be patient. Do not fret.

Well, China’s currency is a kind of political whipping boy for some of the U.S. upper class. It seeks to direct popular attention to a foreign location. Against this backdrop, declining factory employment in the U.S. reflects a trend long underway by corporations shifting production abroad to super-exploit foreign workers. On that note, imports made by low-wage workers abroad have helped to reduce U.S. manufacturing jobs from 828,000 in May 1995 to 258,000 in May 2005.  Author Michael Yates further details this process in his book Naming the System: Work and Inequality in the Global Economy (Monthly Review Press 2003).

The curve of history in which China’s peasants are becoming factory workers while the U.S. de-industrializes certainly includes the prices of each nation’s currencies. Critically, however, working people in each country did not and do not participate in decisions concerning how and where production of what they have been and are employed to do. Such social inequality is the canvas for visions of a new society. Meanwhile, the price of the Chinese and U.S. currencies is the focus of American officialdom. And as a way to maintain and increase their class power, who can blame them?

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at:

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