Advance to the rear 

South surrenders its economy to Yankees and foreigners selling low-wage jobs

Some folks had a political statement to make last week. I know, just about everyone and their mangy dog had urgent political messages they wanted to shout at the rest of the world during the final hours leading up to the election.

But the people who got my attention were manning the Factory Shoals Road overpass on Interstate 20. About a dozen gentlemen and ladies, and a few of their progeny, happily waved what one of them told me was the "real State of Georgia flag" at motorists. We're speaking, of course, of the pre-Roy Barnes banner emblazoned with Dixie's St. Andrew's Cross, look away, look away.

For these indefatigable champions of a lost (and hyperbolically embellished) cause, this was the political issue. It's not one that, only hours before a presidential election, gets me in a lather. I do find it hard to separate that flag from other symbols of hate -- burning crosses, swastikas and Georgia Christian Coalition Fuehrer Sadie Fields' face come to mind. But why, I asked myself, does anyone care about that silly rag as we're about to decide an election that could dramatically alter the nature of our country?

I'll take the overpass "flaggers" at their word that their motive was to preserve their "culture," misbegotten or otherwise. The group was rushing away to their next demonstration by the time I got off I-20 and found my way back to Factory Shoals, but I did manage to yell to one guy as he was leaving, "What if the South had won?" He shouted back, "We'd be free."

Now that's a thought, isn't it? Moneywise, we're not free. We're just cheap.

It's only fair to warn you that in a minute I'm going to talk about weighty matters such as investments and economics. Don't be frightened. I'm going to coat all of the econo-babble with easy words, some from real people I met during a month of travels around the South. (If you didn't read Creative Loafing's "Voices of the South" cover story last week, you can receive absolution by going immediately to atlanta.creativeloafing.com/ 2004-10-28/cover.html.)

The circuitous logic behind mentioning the unreconstructed Confederates is that what they symbolize culturally isn't far removed from the economic policies of Georgia's leaders -- indeed, those of the political bosses of every state south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

That similarity is shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot backwardness. We face the rear and give the Rebel yell, "Charge!" Put another way, just as the flaggers are still fighting a war we lost 140 years ago, so, too, is our economy rooted in decades-out-of-date thinking.

When CL photographer Jim Stawniak and I set off on our 2004 Dixie Tour, we pledged not to argue with people. It was tough to keep that promise. And the question that bugged us most was: Why do Southerners doggedly vote against their own self-interests? True, the Bush camp derided those of us who are "reality based," and Fox News and airwave airheads such as Neal Boortz constantly disgorge fiction and distortion. But you'd think people would at least be able to recognize when economic policies -- I'm talking about how much cash is in your wallet -- are toxic.

One answer to the conundrum -- it's been suggested by Yankee reporters, and a few bred here -- is that Southerners suffer from culturally induced lack of intellectual capacity. After all, Georgia and the other Southern states fight furiously for the privilege of being dead last on almost every scale of academic performance. And, with about a third of the nation's population, we have only an anemic 10 percent of the Nobel laureates.

Repeatedly, Stawniak and I ran into hardworking, salt-of-the-earth Southerners who had been screwed by the economy. They knew, for example, that Bush's tax breaks that gave them pennies larded six-figure benefits onto billionaires who've never had to work. (Don't believe me? The largest single category in the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans is "inheritance.")

But I found only a handful of people out of the hundreds we interviewed that understood the trillions of dollars of deficits swamping America. And no one -- absolutely no one I talked to -- was aware that "debt" is a commodity. Who owns much of the debt Bush has run up? Why, such shrewd investors as the blood-drenched Commie bastards who enthrall more than a billion people in China. They're every bit as awful as Saddam Hussein, but they're our trading buddies so we overlook their little excesses. And since the Red Chinese are our bankers, maybe you can understand why we have such an unlevel playing field in our trading relations. It's going to get worse in January when the final barriers fall on cheap Chinese clothing imports -- and another 600,000 Americans, most in the South, will see their manufacturing jobs go poof!

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