One of my very young women friends asked me the other day what I thought about the cougar phenomenon. I said I don’t think about it at all, I’m too busy witnessing the end of civilization as we know it, which I find infinitely more interesting than the distraction of a media manufactured archetype. My poor friend looked confused and a little hurt by the curtness of my tone and as she is a sweetie pie and I love her dearly I apologized for the fact that she had bumped into my bad day, which I was definitely having. I did not however apologize for what I said.
I truly don’t think much about this cougar business because all the celebrities they refer to as cougars are a size zero and have money and access to the best plastic surgery money can buy. I am also not that interested in a man 20 years my junior because he’s not going to get my cultural references and my cultural references are important to me. I also point blank refuse to accept the ridiculously stupid idea that once you’re over fifty it’s over and you have nothing of value to say or share. I am absolutely not the Vargas girl I was in my twenties and thirties but at the same time I have no desire to re-live the salad days of my youth waking up with god knows who, god knows where, or attempting to piece together a booze and drug fueled largely blacked out night before. The fun of that kind of thing wears thin after awhile. Yes, there are things I miss, my perky boobs for one, the sense of new, and the overwhelming excitement of what might lie round the next corner, but definitely not the build-a-career-meet-a-man-get married-have-babies mentality and the addled perspective of believing I pretty much knew and had the answers for everything. What I love most about being my age is I no longer worry about what other people think; it doesn’t mean I’m rude, it just means I don’t care. Needless to say this is tremendously freeing.
I truly do worry about the fate of my beloved country and like so many women my age who’ve lived life outside the box their entire lives I worry a lot about money. On bad nights I wonder where I should move to grow old. I am terrified they are going to warehouse old people after the banks and Wall Street have finished stealing everyone’s retirement funds and the government has obliterated social security and Medicare. I am a lefty liberal but even my brother the attorney, and a right wing Republican at that, has issues with the fact that his retirement fund has been reduced to the point that he has to work for another twelve years rather than three. He says the money has been stolen and the people of this country are little better than sheep to have let it happen. He says we should be marching in the streets. My brother is the best of what the Republicans once had to offer before they turned evil.
I was never an economics person, I didn’t understand the language. Obviously economics has its own kind of language to keep the understanding of economics beyond the reach of the average person. This is important for two reasons, to allow for the creation of the economic expert, and to keep the average person from knowing what the economic experts are up to because if they knew they’d be really, really pissed off. The Tea Party people think they know what’s going on with the country’s economy but they don’t; they don’t even know they’re a populist front funded by evil Republican fat cats (and their economic experts) and that the blind ambitions of the daughters of Phyllis Schlafly they support are being worked by their desire. If you are under fifty you probably don’t know who Phyllis Schlafly is and should look her up. As for the current batch of Democrats, (and their economic experts) who just lost the mid-term elections, they are clearly idiots when it comes to economics and adept to quote my dear friend Andy, ‘at snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.’
What I know about economics and capitalism are a result of life experience and Econ 101A, a class I had to take in college back in the 70’s to fulfill a liberal arts requirement. I always aced the multiple guess exam because like most college students in those days I did copious amounts of speed, stayed up all night, memorized everything, and then regurgitated it the next day. This fucked up the grading curve upsetting the boys majoring in business who would mutter amongst themselves and glare balefully at me in the dining hall. Not that I cared, I was too busy cramming for the next exam so I could keep my grades up and my mother wouldn’t kill me. The fact that I remember anything from Econ 101A is not so much a minor miracle as it is the product of a selective and photographic memory. Ideas held vibration for me, if it held suspended in air, it was a clue and I was always looking for clues even though I wasn’t sure of the puzzle or the mystery I was trying to solve, to understand. The point was I knew I was in the process of solving or understanding something and that process was important to me, more important than a result. This has been a life long theme and is probably why I live on the lower end of the economic spectrum.
What I remember being taught is this; Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership; the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is controlled by private individuals and corporations. Since this has never made any sense to me I decided to do what I always do when I don’t understand something; I draw it, do a lot of research, and then I attempt to translate the language of the ‘thing,’ into look-Spot-see-Jane-run simplicity. As most of the women I know, young, middle-aged and old, don’t have a clue how capitalism works and has worked over the years, they’re curious but too embarrassed to ask questions for fear of appearing dumb, I decided to share my drawing and discoveries. It works quite well as a blueprint and should answer any questions you might have; questions, given the state of things, it’s probably a good idea to be asking.
First I drew a stick figure and wrote owner, then I drew a square and wrote factory, then I drew a bunch of little stick figures inside the factory and wrote workers. Someone has to loan the owner money to buy the stuff for the workers to use to make a product; that would be a bank or investors. I drew two more squares and labeled them accordingly. Both bank and investors expect a return on their money, meaning they expect to make more money than the money they’ve invested, this is called profit. The owner of the company also expects to make a profit. The workers just expect to make a living wage
The workers get to work making let’s say, mascara; just so you know a company that makes something is called a manufacturer. To make the mascara the workers use ingredients bought and paid for by the owner of the company with the monies from the bank and/or investors. I drew another square and wrote ingredient company and drew little workers inside. The ingredient company actually competes with other ingredient companies who also want to sell their ingredients to the mascara company. More squares, more workers. It’s a level playing field, meaning everybody has the opportunity to compete for the job and to set a competitive price for the job. The owner of the mascara company chooses the company that offers him the best service, quality, and price and promises to employ his wife’s errant nephew. The losing companies go off in search of another mascara company that might need their ingredients.
The mascara workers are paid wages, also know as income, for their efforts, also known as work or a job, and their efforts begat many, many tubes of mascara. Now the product, the mascara, has to be sold to a store, which will actually sell it to the consumer; namely you and me. This is the job of the company sales force; it also has to be packaged and shipped to the store that buys it. Three more squares filled with stick workers. To determine the cost of the mascara to the retailer, that would be the store or company that is actually going to sell the mascara to the customer, namely you and me, the cost of the ingredients, the workers salaries, the cost of packaging, the cost of shipping, and factory operating costs, must be added together. Then that figure is doubled or doubled and a half, or tripled, so the owners, banks, and investors can cover the costs of manufacturing the mascara and make a profit. This figure is called the wholesale price. Then the retailers, the store where you’re going to buy the mascara, will double, or double and a half, or triple the wholesale price and come up with yet another figure, the one you’re going to pay for the mascaram, which will cover their costs and make them a profit. Like the manufacturers retailers also have bank loans and investors who expect to a return on their money, to make a profit. I’m sensing a pattern here. The workers just expect to make a living wage.
The people who buy the product from the retailer are the workers. In order for the capitalism to work the workers have to use their wages, also called income, to buy. There can be no profit for any manufacturer, retailer, bank, owner, or investor period unless the workers are using their income to buy. This is why credit cards came into being so workers could pay for the products they were buying with money they didn’t actually have but would have further down the road. Credit cards meant more purchases; more purchases, more profit. Credit isn’t free, it has interest, meaning you pay the credit card company real money to use their fake money. Because of interest you are actually paying more money for a product than its actual price. This is how the credit card company makes a profit. Credit card companies and banks are in cahoots with each other because banks extend credit to credit card companies and the credit card companies pay them interest for the favor. Banks are institutions where workers deposit their wages in checking accounts; the banks then use that money to lend and invest and make more profit. That banks change workers for the privilege of using their money makes no sense at all and is one of the myriad reasons I don’t like banks.
Now, since the owners and retailer’s profit depends on the purchasing of product by the worker, it’s very important that the product render itself obsolete after a period of time so that it can be replaced by a new and better product(s). This is why it’s important not to build anything that actually lasts because you will either destroy or slow down your profits. This is called planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is behind the advertising concept that newer is better. New coke comes to mind. If you’re under fifty and don’t remember new coke you should look it up.
Looking at the blueprint it is patently obvious that capitalism is a profit driven system and that every square’s survival is dependent on the survival of the other square. One person’s income, one person’s work, really is dependent on the existence of the other, which is actually kind of cool and pragmatic proof of the spiritual axiom that we are all interconnected. The other thing that is patently obvious is the ability to compete is the key to success. Enter the Economic Expert who looks an awful lot like Snidely Whiplash. He takes one look at my blueprint and says, we can make way more money if we knock out three quarters of these squares and then put the rest in one big square. But then the people won’t have any work Mr. Economic Expert, I say in my best Nell voice. How will they pay the rent? How will they eat? How will they feed and clothe their families? Where’s Dudley when I need him?
From the beginning corporations were big fat greedy bullies, hence the name ‘fat cat.’ The late 1800’s and early 1900’s come to mind. I actually remember this from high school because it was one of those things that held vibration, that held suspended. What the corporations, also called monopolies or ‘trusts,’ decided to do was take over and control various industries. Let’s use the mascara factory as an example of how this works. For a corporation to take over and control an industry first they have to buy up all the factories of a particular product, in this case mascara. Once they own all the mascara factories they can set the price they want to pay for the ingredients because they’re the only ones buying the ingredients. So much for competition and a level playing field. The only mascara ingredient company that can survive is the one that accepts the price set by the corporation so all the rest of the ingredient companies go out of business. Since the price set for mascara ingredients will be quite low, in order to keep costs down and make more profit, eventually the ingredient company will either be forced into bankruptcy or have to sell the business. The mascara corporation then buys the ingredient business for next to nothing. Now they’re the only manufacturer of mascara and they own the only business, the source, that provides the ingredients. They literally pay themselves for what they buy from themselves and in so doing invest in themselves and make even more profit. Now since so many small businesses have gone out of business because of the corporate takeover of mascara production lots and lots of people who once worked for those small businesses are out of work; they apply for jobs with the corporation. Since the corporation is the only organization hiring people with mascara making skills, or skills that compliment mascara manufacturing, they can pay them whatever they want. To keep costs down and profits up the corporation pays its workers next to nothing. Now you understand why they called them ‘monopolies,’ because they monopolized every aspect of a business and in so doing destroyed all the competition.
But there’s more. Working conditions for factory workers during this time were so horrible they trump the sweatshops it’s so politically correct to rail against today. The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire comes to mind where the workers, all women, couldn’t escape when fire broke out because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwell and exits to keep the workers from leaving early. The factory was on the eleventh floor; the women either burned or jumped to their death. Upton Sinclair’s book, ‘The Jungle,’ held page after page of the horrors of Chicago’s stockyards. He wrote that dead rats were routinely shoveled into sausage grinding machines, inspectors looked the other way when diseased cows were slaughtered for steak, and filth and guts were swept off the floor and sold as potted ham. The American people were as horrified by corporate factory conditions as they were by the fact that the corporations, or monopolies as they were called then, were quite literally eradicating millions of jobs and small businesses. Small businesses were the backbone of American life; nothing was more representative of the American entrepreneurial spirit than small business, that’s why all of Europe was immigrating here. As for the factory conditions, it was everything America was NOT about. “Give us your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Muckrakers, like Upton Sinclair, raised the indignant hue and righteous cry and the Progressive movement and unions were born. The government stepped forward and wrote new regulatory legislature that established the first health and hygiene standards for industry and regulations that broke up the monopolies. The unions guaranteed safe working conditions and a living wage for the worker. In other words the government put regulations into place to protect workers, consumers, and small business; laws that guaranteed a level playing field, meaning the ability to compete, and that we weren’t buying potted ham that was actually shit from the slaughterhouse floor mixed with a touch entrail, and unions were a tool for enforcing the regulations. Just so you know muckrakers were the Progressive movement’s Woodward and Bernstein. If you are under fifty and don’t know who Woodward and Bernstein are I suggest you look them up, that, maybe Dudley DoRight, and defintely “give us your tired, your poor.”
Thinking about all this reminded me of the 80’s and Reagan’s trickle down economic policies. The theory behind trickle down economics was the more money the people on top made, the better it would be for the people on the bottom. Ergo deregulation which would allow for everyone to make more money. I pointed out, to the man who explained this to me, that this had never happened, money trickling down, that’s why they chopped off Marie Antoinette’s head. He told me Marie Antoinette was about about liberty, equality, and fraternity to which I answered, but the people were starving. I don’t get the connection, he said. The money was all on top, I said, it didn’t trickle down that’s why the people were starving. Money doesn’t trickle down, that’s why there are things like revolutions and coups. He looked at me like I was too stupid to grasp the intricacies of economic theory. I got that alot growing up and as a young woman, that I was just too stupid to understand the intricacies of whatever was being said, and for years I believed it. I was good at the feeling stuff, not the practical, the nuts and bolts of life. Life experience, however, has taught me that I am decidely not stupid, and like gravity I can count on the fact that if something is counter intuitve and outside the realm of common sense it’s flat out wrong.
De-regulation was part and parcel of the pro-corporate Republican economic policies of Reagan, Daddy Bush, and W, which over time undid all the regulations that were put in place to protect small business, the consumer, and the worker in the late 1800‘s early 1900‘s. The push for de-regulation was based on the idea that without government regulation there would be more competition, more competition meant more profit, more profit meant more jobs. This was a great big lie. De-regulation allowed the corporate monopolies, or whatever they’re calling them these days, to form all over again. You’ve seen the blue print, you know what happens when the coporation takes over; all those little squares get cancelled out, but this time there aren’t even any jobs for the people who’ve worked in the industry because those jobs have been out sourced overseas so the corporation doesn’t have to pay the worker a living wage. De-regulation also allowed the banks and wall street to engage in the insane practice of selling debt as money. This is the equivalent of going to the A & P and handing the cashier your $66.00 electric bill and $87.00 cable bill for payment of $100.00 worth of groceries and expecting your change in dollars. The cashier would look confused and probably call the manager who would ask you to leave. I doubt the manager worried that he was too stupid to understand the intricacies of economic theory. Perhaps if he’d had been running the banks and wall street they wouldn’t have gotten money for nothing and driven the value of the American dollar and American investments, namely savings and retirement funds, down to next to nothing.
It’s close to impossible for me to wrap my head around the idea that there are people who are so profit driven they don’t care how horrifically it impacts human beings or the environment and that every move these people have made since the Reagan years has been carefully calculated to ensure that profit dictates government policy. Given the fact the supreme court recently ruled that a corporation can give as much money as they want to, to their chosen candidate I would say this is a done deal. The media is corporate owned so the argument is controlled, it’s either one or the other, big government versus small government, the point being to turn the people against the people, divide and conquer, make a lot of noise over here so you miss what’s going on over there. Big government has been spun to stand for whiners, welfare cheats, illegal immigrants, bleeding heart liberals, and tree huggers; small government has been spun to stand for the America of old, when an honest days work brought an honest days pay. The reality is in the American of old an honest days work did not get you an honest day’s pay until the government stepped in and established regulations to curb the profit driven greed of fat cat corporations/monopolies and the unions stepped in to guarantee the American worker a living wage and safe working conditions.
The other day I heard someone on T.V. refer to dollars as ‘precious,’ as in we only have so many ‘precious dollars.’ When I think ‘precious’ I think clean, clear air, a mountain brook, the green up the street when the leaves peak and a man I once loved so much I would have gladly given up my life for him. I think the way I feel after a long and satisfying rant with my oldest and dearest friend Rosanne, the memory of my son as a baby sleeping sound and safe in a warm, cozy room hurricane rains pounding against the window. I think the mountains in Bovina, an empty isolated beach in February in Lewes, my cat Merlin lying on top of me and purring. I think Steph, arms akimbo, chasing the reporter down the street, her daughter Gilly at five asking for a snack of walnuts and broccoli for dinner. I think of Andy’s latest email, Gary chasing the car hollering ‘excuse me!’ I think Jena Luna drumming, Mary Lou determined and fighting to live and ready to kill anyone or anything that gets in her way, reading the alumni magazine out loud to my brother and making him laugh so hard tears roll down his face. I think the reiki mafia, Notorious P.I.G, the potbellied pig next door, the look on the faces of my nieces and daughter’s of the wyrd when they grok a sacred connection for the first time. When I think ‘precious,’ I think of something that is not man made, something organic, something of value, an experience, that cannot be reduced to dollars and cents. The present is rooted in the past and the future is rooted in the present; the themes repeat over and over. Here’s a new theme; there is no good reason for the people to be serving, to be on their knees, to the economy. The economy is man made, it can be unmade and re-done to serve the people. If I’m thinking this way so are others, we are all interconnected, and that gives me hope.
Live loud, love fierce, and suffer no fools. Kat