We Have to Stick Together

When any of us rise, we all rise.

I’m heartily sick of the income inequality that’s being experienced all over the world. People are suffering simply because corporate and individual greed has kept them down, and there’s no moral excuse for that. The poor are downtrodden, which is a fancy way of saying stepped on. They are oppressed, and of course that pressing comes from above.

Having grown up desperately poor, I know how many roadblocks are set in one’s path. People have been trained to assume that the economically disadvantaged got that way because of their own poor choices, laziness, criminality and/or drug abuse. Therefore, society is hesitant to give them a chance.

But those of us who grew up poor did not do so by choice. We were more likely to grow up in crime-ridden, gang-dominated areas, and are therefore presented with those paths as potential choices. If we have managed to keep our noses clean, so to speak, it’s because we have kept our heads down. Many poor people don’t present as self-confident because of this tendency to lie low, along with having borne the crushing weight of the biases of society. Who wants to hire someone who doesn’t seem self-confident? Lack of opportunities leads to even more poverty, and so the cycle continues.

Poverty means less access to health care, adequate housing, and advanced education. According to this article, poor males are twice as likely to be arrested, and poor females are five times as likely to bear children. Poor children are more likely to have divorced parents and come from homes full of family conflict.

According to Inequality.org, 55 percent of us on this planet hold just 1.3 percent of the global wealth. The richest 1 percent, those making more than a million dollars annually, hold 45.8 percent of the world’s wealth. The top 10 richest men (and yes, they’re all men, and yes, they’re all white) have more wealth than the country of Australia. And there are an additional 2745 billionaires in the world. What’s wrong with that picture?

Forget all the loopholes and tax laws. Forget sales tax and property tax and income tax. There should be only one type of tax- wealth tax. If your wealth is 354,000 times more than mine, then you should be paying 354,000 times more taxes than I do. By that philosophy, by my lazy calculations and lots of rounding, then Jeff Bezos owes this country $1,292,600,000 for the year 2020 alone. Cough it up, bro. You wouldn’t even feel it.

Most poverty could easily be fixed if the richest people in the world didn’t cling so tightly to money, and instead gave their employees a living wage. And yet none of them are going to voluntarily do so. Ever. That’s why unions are so important.

No human being on this planet needs a billion dollars in order to live a lifetime of comfort, health, and security. So why is it so important to these men to hold on to their wealth so tightly? It’s not a matter of necessity. They do so because they can.

We need to stop politically supporting the ultra-rich. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon. They control the narrative, so they control us. It’s horrifying how many poor people are duped into the support of the wealthy.

Did you think I was going to provide a solution here? I’m sorry. I am open to suggestions, though.

Meanwhile, we need to stick together. There’s strength in numbers, or the 1 percent wouldn’t be so hellbent on preventing our unity. We need to lift each other up, instead of trying to stand on those below us in order to participate in the illusion that we’re on top.

The things that I do to lift others up are mere drops in the thirsty bucket of desperation that is humanity. But at least I’m trying. According to this article, the rich give about 3 percent of their income to charity, whereas the poor give as much as 5 percent, and it’s safe to assume that they need it more. The greed of the wealthy is what kills us.

There are also ways to help people financially while hardly feeling it yourself. Since 2006, I have given 96 microloans through Kiva.org. Using the same $25 over and over and over again as the loan gets repaid, I have donated $2,525 dollars to women in 70 countries around the world. (I choose to focus on women because I believe that women tend to bear the brunt of poverty, and they also tend to invest more of their income into bettering their communities by providing increased education and health to their families.)

Twenty-five dollars may not seem like much to you or me, but consider what it would mean to a woman in Papua New Guinea, for example, where the average annual income is just US$2,400.

Here’s the story of Roselyn, the latest woman that I’ve given a loan to:

Roselyn is 45 years old and is from Kolipling village, Minj Jiwaka Province. She resides in Gerehu, Port Moresby, National Capital District.

She has been involved in rental rooms and the poultry business for more than 4 years. She is a very active woman and she also travels out of Port Moresby to do her sales at the mining sites.

Through the sale of matured birds, she will be able to make good income which supports her business. Thus, she is seeking fund assistance to expand her poultry business.

I wish Roselyn the best of luck in her endeavors, and hope my contribution makes an impact, because I truly believe that when any of us rise, we all rise. If you would like to make a Kiva microloan, check it out here. Tell ’em Barb sent you! And thanks in advance.

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Mondragon Corporation: A Lesson in Cooperation

There are alternatives to capitalism.

Much has been made of late about the income inequality in the United States. I hope that the clamor becomes ever louder, because, as one meme about Jeff Bezos states, “If a monkey hoarded more bananas than it could eat, while most of the other monkeys starved, scientists would study that monkey to figure out what the heck was wrong with it. When humans do the same thing, we put them on the cover of Forbes.”

Something definitely has to change. Nobody needs that many bananas. I find it difficult to understand why anyone would even want that many bananas. Eating too many bananas can only lead to bloating and constipation.

That’s the problem with this country. It is bloated on its own greed. It is constipated when it comes to compassion for the less fortunate. The system is not healthy.

We could learn a great deal from the Mondragon Corporation. I first heard about this organization by listening to a talk on income inequality by Noam Chomsky. He was discussing alternatives to capitalism, as he quite often does, and he held Mondragon up as the most advanced case of a worker-owned cooperative in the world. Naturally, I had to learn more about it.

According to its own website as well as Wikipedia and an article entitled, “Mondragon through a Critical Lens”, this corporation originates in the Basque region of Spain, and because of it, that region went from being the poorest in Spain 65 years ago, to being by far the richest region. Starting off as a small worker-owned company, it has expanded to more than 100 different cooperatives, employing more than 81,000 people.

We aren’t unfamiliar with cooperatives here in the U.S. Many of us bank at credit unions, shop at independent grocery stores, live in housing cooperatives, or obtain our food from agricultural cooperatives. Given the fact that cooperatives are responsible for more than 500 billion in revenue here, it surprises me that they aren’t given more press.

Well, it does and it doesn’t surprise me, actually. Given that unions are squelched in red states, and large companies, like Amazon, are terrified of them, people certainly don’t want workers to gain too much power in this country. Chaos could ensue. People might, like, start earning living wages rather than having that money go to stockholders. We can’t have that, now, can we?

Mondragon begs to differ. Its primary goal is to maximize employment and give employees the dignity of having a say in their own destiny, to further the well-being of the workers as a whole.

Their cooperatives are mostly industrial, but they also include the finance, retail and knowledge sectors. They have discovered that competing in technical niche markets make them competative on a global scale, and since their jobs require more than a basic education, they’re less apt to be competing with underpaid workers overseas.

Mondragon’s workers also own their own bank, university, social welfare agency, supermarket chain and several business incubators. They have their own pension and medical plans, and on the average, executives are only allowed to earn 5 times as much as the lowest paid employee. The ratio in question is voted on by the employees.

One employee, one vote is the rule. And that means that the CEO has no more power in the fate of the company than the guy who scrubs the toilets. In fact, the administrators work for the employees, not the other way around. How refreshing.

Mondragon is also a lot more adaptable than a typical bureaucracy. They are very dedicated to collaborative decision making, and because of that they can break free of old-guard, stuck-in-their-ways attitudes. Since the employees have an equal say, the decisions are made based on the current facts, not on old habits.

Mondragon employees get much better health care than the average American, and their pensions are 80 percent of their former salaries. They have extensive unemployment benefits. In addition, if one cooperative fails, the vast majority of the employees are absorbed by the other cooperatives, so there is a great deal of income security.

Is Mondragon perfect? Not by a long shot. It is still having to compete in an international, mostly capitalist market, so it has had to make some uncomfortable choices. For example, it does have international employees as well, and while they are employed by the cooperatives, they’re not owners as the other employees are. Therefore they don’t reap all the benefits and they don’t have a say in the decisions. Supposedly they are still treated well, but it’s a disturbing trend.

Another issue is that women are severely underrepresented in Mondragon. I suspect that has to do with it originating in a macho culture, and also the fact that for various reasons, women don’t seem to pursue engineering educations as often as men do, and Mondragon is an engineering-heavy employer. But when women do get jobs within this system, they get equal pay. That must be nice.

And while everyone at Mondragon has a vote, that doesn’t necessarily mean that each person is educating themselves on the issues in question. So not all votes are informed ones.

Another hurdle is that when you only pay your CEOs reasonable wages rather than obscenely high ones, it’s hard to get the best and brightest people to apply for the job. It could be argued, though, that those who do apply have their priorities intact. That counts for something. But it’s a rare bureaucrat who has his or her priorities intact.

It may be a flawed system, but it seems a lot less flawed than what the majority of us experience in America. I definitely believe it merits further study. And I think the Green energy movement in this country, as it is relatively young, could start out as a cooperative and thrive. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we, the people, actually created clean energy while benefiting from our endeavors?

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Shoe Shock

Recently I was downtown, and while there, I decided to visit the Nordstrom department store. Not that I needed or wanted to buy anything. It’s just that I’d never been in one before. I figured at the very least, it would have cool Christmas decorations. So, in I went.

And I quickly discovered why I’d never been in one before. I got that feeling that I get whenever I enter a rich people’s place. It’s as if someone is going to somehow figure out that I couldn’t even afford the socks in this store, and I’ll be quickly ushered out the service entrance and left on the loading dock like yesterday’s trash.

I wandered around, praying that I wouldn’t accidentally knock something over. The bejeweled wedding dresses were gorgeous, and had no price tags. No doubt they’d cost about a half year’s pay for me. (Not that I need a wedding dress. I can’t even get a date, even when I do the asking.)

The shoes, too, were stunning. Extravagant. Works of art. The kind of things you’d never wear in the rain. I didn’t even bother looking at the prices. I did go over to what looked like a sales rack, and sure enough, accidentally dropped a shoe. When I picked it up, the price on the bottom was 768 dollars. And I had just dropped the thing. Eeep.

This is why I’d never make a good rich person. How does one buy 768 dollar shoes, have them rung up by a cashier that doesn’t earn that much in a week, and then saunter out the door, past homeless people begging on the sidewalk out front? How do you justify paying that much for a shoe, which you’ll only wear a certain amount of times before it either wears out or goes out of style or gives you bunions? It’s just not in me.

Finally, I had to get out of there because I was being overwhelmed by a tsunami of income inequality, and I was afraid I might blow my stack right there amongst the Hermes scarves. I can’t relate to this type of consumerism. It makes me sick to my stomach. I was glad to make my exit and return to the real world, where my discount shoes are the norm.

And then I passed a Coach store. Amongst their outrageously priced handbags, there were really cute change purses in the shapes of animals. They fit in the palm of my hand. And they were 85 dollars each. They were probably made in china by someone who earns a dollar a day.

There’s a special circle of hell for people who sell these unnecessary things, and for the people who buy them, or even think there’s a need for them.

The fact that stores like this can thrive in Seattle is exactly why the majority of us can’t afford to live here anymore. Then who’s going to sell you your shoes?

This lovely shoe “only” costs $1,195.00 at Nordstrom.

At $15.95, my book is a much more affordable gift.  http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5