I wrote the following piece in 1993 for Loki Hall’s now defunct Zine, Bummers and Gummers. Of course there are a few sentiments that make me wince a bit, but for the most part I think it holds up. And, this was written before the criminal Tech Bubble and Sub-Prime scandals drained wealth from normal people and gave it to rich people.
Molotov Cocktail Anyone?
“Workers of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your chains.” So said Karl Marx, the eternal pariah of the failed communist movement. Poor Karl, had he simply cranked out his scholarly works guys like Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp, and Rush Limbaugh would be praising him today. But when Karl, and his wealthy benefactor, Fritz Engels, thought they could change the world and wrote their manifesto they doomed themselves to capitalism’s discard pile. Bad move fellas: try to change the world, try to shake the system and you get people upset. Try to challenge the notion that rich people are rich because they deserve to be and poor people are poor because they’re stupid and lazy and you’re going to get in trouble. But rejoice rejoice, communism is dead, the Cold War is over and free trade is the buzzword religion of the new age welcoming youthful generations of entrepreneurs into its church. I’m happy aren’t you?
With a growing economy-“Up, almost 7% in the final quarter of 1993” and no slowdown in sight, it looks like things are on the upswing in the “Global Economy.” Remember, what’s good for General Motors is good for the United States, Taiwan, Rwanda, Italy, or the Baltic Republics. Soon we’ll all be swimming in prosperity and I can’t wait. “Prosperity?” you say. “Where do I fit in? Can I get a position? Are they taking applications? Do I submit a resume?” Well, it’s…not…so… simple. There are a few things you need to know.
So without further delay- let’s get to the game that guides you through the basic principals of the Global Economy. It’s called-BULLSHIT! I describe something happening in the world and when I stop you say “BULLSHIT.” Also, there’s a short list of key words that you’ll need to know. The words are downsize, comeback, efficiency, productivity, competitive advantage and inflation. Don’t be afraid of these words-even congressmen have learned them.
I love this game so much I often play it while listening to the radio, watching television, or reading the newspapers. Let’s begin. A recent article in the paper described the 1993 profit “comeback” of the Fortune 500 companies. It seems that after losing money in 1992, these 500 giants of American capitalism (the winners of the Cold War) turned a tidy little $62.6 billion profit in 1993. Not bad! Proof that all you need in America is a little initiative. The article also said that these same 500 companies “downsized” (fired, bought out, or layed-off) from 11.3 million to 11.8 million workers in the same time period. That’s a loss of up to 500,000 jobs in one year! (and you passed on investing in pink slips…) This “trivial” loss of jobs shouldn’t be cause for alarm when weighed against the downsizing benefits. Downsizing increases “efficiency” (wrings more profit out of fewer workers) and “productivity” (squeezing blood out of a human turnip) by restoring the “competitive advantage” (ability to squeeze said blood) of American companies. Get ready. It’s almost your turn. And before anyone gets the foolish idea that $62.6 billion is too much profit, the article went on to say these profits simply represent savings realized through the above mentioned layoffs and doesn’t mean things will always be so good. The final statement in the article was that “the last thing anyone should conclude about the Fortune 500’s rebound is that these companies are making too much money.” (Who would think that?) Okay, it’s your turn ——–! Good, I think you’ve got it!
Isn’t that fun. I think you’re ready for the advanced game. Recently, the Federal Reserve (the big guys who control the cabbage) hiked the cost of money to “head off” inflation. They said that while at present there was no inflation, prices were stable, and the economy was growing at a fantastic rate (except for all those nasty little unemployment claims), it was necessary to anticipate and thwart any inflationary trends. (I must confess, for years I have been trying to make sense out of all of this. I often approach big scale economics the way a duck approaches quantum mechanics- my eyes roll back in my head and a dumb look attaches to my ignorant face) Forgive my simplistic view, but how can the economy be growing while decent paying jobs are being lost by the hundreds of thousands, and the few new jobs offer completely inadequate pay and no benefits? Sounds like the old joke about the surgeon who staggers from the operating room and is asked”Doctor, was the operation a success?” To which the doctor confidently replies “The operation was a complete success but the patient died.”
Lucky for me, National Public Radio (Propaganda for College Graduates) brought a spokesman from the Federal Reserve to explain things. The spokesman said that because the economy was growing rapidly there would soon be a drop in unemployment rates (That sounds good!). Further, if the unemployment rate dropped below 6% companies would have to compete for workers (Competition- the foundation of freedom and capitalism. Another good sign!). And then he said that’s bad because if companies have to compete for workers they have to pay them more money and this causes inflation! Yowza! Did I really hear that? Yes! The Federal Reserve was raising the cost of money to slow the economy (keep unemployment high) so you don’t get a pay increase! Government economists are not concerned about rising profits (see the above paragraph), when goods cost more and profits increase- that’s not inflation. But, when YOU get paid more, that’s inflation and they will act to head it off. Thanks for being patient- it’s your turn again. Sounds like a big load of ——–!
Now that you have a PhD in economics lets turn to the international course. N.P.R. (sorry guys, but it’s true that you always hurt the ones you love) ran a deliciously uncritical story recently about economic problems in Germany. Poor Germany, prosperous for so long and expected to lead the European Community’s assault on American economic dominance. Poor Germany is mired in their own recession. It seems the cost of bringing all those wayward socialists from East Germany back into the fold has strained the budget. That, and an overpaid, “highly benefited” workforce- imagine, they actually get paid maternity leave, 4 weeks paid vacation (minimum), holidays, health care…hmm can’t stay competitive that way. Especially with all those wretched, starving and desperate for work ex-socialists nearby in Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Baltics are ready and willing to work for so much less. They’re even educated-the dumb socialists actually valued education and technical training- foolish yes?). Well, if they can’t get workers cheap in Europe they can get them here in America. Bavarian Motor Works (B.M.W.) and other German manufacturers are threatening labor that they can relocate to America where the conditions are more favorable (lower pay and fewer benefits). Why not! If Germans don’t give up their benefits the companies will just ship the work to the United States where workers are getting used to poor pay and no benefits. And if that’s not enough, the big boys in Germany want to revamp the daily life of their sweet and contemplative citizens. Germany actually has laws that close stores at nights and on weekends. No 7-11’s! If you want to go shopping you’d better do it during the week. Weekends are left for relaxation, hobbies, and enjoying the benefits of a civilized society. Those poor Germans, they can’t even buy a quart (liter) of milk for the kinder (kids) after 2 o-clock on Saturday. This must change! If they want Deutschland Uber Alles they better start around the clock shopping!
I know you are tiring of this. With a magazine filled with all those tips on getting pigs moved, tractors unstuck, articles on the true nature of poverty, and quaint local film societies, who wants to take time to look at large scale economic forces? After all, we’re all swimming in money here in Wiseacres, Lake Wobegon, and other mythical Utopian Communities. We’re immune from the problems brought about by large scale economic forces. After all, we moved here to find sanctuary and enjoy the tranquility of a quiet little rural community. Certainly the problems of millions of others will never effect us. You all have no mortgage, or concerns about yours or your children’s future. But maybe, just maybe, before we place the “One Planet, One People” bumper sticker on the car, maybe we should consider how removed we are from these things.
If you are at all like me the world is sometimes a scary place. When I’m not planting potatoes I look around and I’m horrified by the increasing social violence and failing societies. There is too much infighting and senseless brutality happening in places no less serene or stable as the United States, and places as serene as (gasp!) Wiseacres. And I see economic violence driving stable, hard working people into economic desperation as the underlying cause of that violence. Forget ethnic cleansing: people with adequate income, who have enough to eat, adequate shelter, and the means to raise their children in a hopeful way, do not riot or kill their neighbors. They may still hate each other, they may poke fun at each other behind closed doors, but they won’t take to the streets to burn each others homes.
Maybe before we scrap all that stuff Karl and Fritzy wrote about, we should consider the value of a livable wage. Maybe we should look at poor people and rich people and see why some are getting fat and others are getting thin. Maybe a little more inflation and a little less downsizing is in order. Maybe we don’t want to work for B.M.W. and Germans should keep their benefits and have to buy their milk on Friday evening. Maybe we should remind the rich guys that when things get too out of whack poor people get pissed off and start to point fingers. Maybe there is such a thing as too much profit, especially if it doesn’t get spread around. Maybe we should remind everyone that when too many people become desperate- things get ugly and heads roll. And when heads start to roll it’s often hard to stop the rolling. Or maybe you disagree and think this is all just another load of ——–! Thanks for reading.