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.

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The Anatomy of a Union Buster

They want you divided, not united.

I can state with great confidence that most employers treat their employees like sh**, especially the large corporations. They will wring the maximum profit out of their workers, while giving the minimum amount of benefits. They will often consider these human beings expendable if they aren’t willing participants in their own exploitation.

The federal government is not much help, either. They can’t get their act together to raise the minimum wage, which has been $7.25 an hour since 2009. This means that 37.2 million Americans, according to the US Census Bureau, live in poverty. They also can’t seem to come together on Universal Health Care, which the majority of us want, even though this diabolical connection between employment and health care keeps us all chained to employers who can then treat us abominably.

This poor treatment by employers and neglect by our government is exactly why unions exist. It’s pure and simple. People deserve a living wage and conditions that don’t negatively impact their health, along with benefits that maintain and even enhance their lives, in exchange for their hard work.

Even as you read this, men and women in Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; and Memphis, Tennessee are on the picket line, 24 hours a day, in the rain and snow, and have been there since October 5, 2021. They’re not there for the fun of it. They’re demanding better pay, benefits and working conditions for all Kellogg’s employees.

According to this article in the Rolling Stone entitled, “Cereal Killers: How 80-Hour Weeks and a Caste System Pushed Kellogg’s Workers to Strike”, they had quite a few reasons to take that drastic step. First of all, Kellogg’s CEO Steve Cahillane makes 280 times more than his employees’ average salary, and cereal sales are booming during the pandemic. Despite this, the company is attempting to lower wages by 1/3 for new hires, and increase the cost of their health insurance by $300 a month. Employees can show you their time cards, which reflect 72 to 84 hour work weeks for months on end, and there is a horrible amount of pressure to get them not to take any time off at all.

When Kellogg suspected that a strike was looming on the horizon, they stopped hiring new workers, because they wanted fewer people to potentially show up on a picket line. Now that the strike is upon them, they are putting up strikebreakers at a hotel, and in addition to paying them at the old, non-reduced rate, they’re also giving them 75 dollars a day for meals. Some of these scabs are goofing off and getting into fights on the job. Meanwhile, Kellogg has cut off the health care coverage for the strikers, and they’re threatening to hire permanent replacement workers. Merry effing Christmas.

Union busters have a lot of practice in this country. I strongly urge you to visit the unionbustingplaybook.com to see the many tactics they use to stop strikes and/or prevent unions from getting a foothold in the first place. It’s positively diabolical.

Here are a few standard tricks:

Union busters will tell the employees that a union would ruin their “family” work environment, and make it impossible for them to communicate directly with workers. If it were a family environment, workers wouldn’t be trying to get a union in the first place. Companies might throw them a bone in the form of some sort of perk, simply to slow down the agitation, but once union talk dies down, they’ll withdraw it again. If they’re afraid enough to bribe their employees, then they know they have much more to lose with a union, and that means the workers will have much more to gain. Also, no union has ever prevented an employee from communicating with their boss. In fact, you don’t even have to get the union involved in your conversation unless you feel as though you need help and aren’t being treated fairly.

Companies will also get some employees to form anti-union committees which will circulate leaflets full of lies about unions, to get people to vote no. These companies will also hold meetings that you’re required to attend. They’ll either promise you things they have no intention of giving you, or they’ll try to scare you about your job security. They are also prone to shake things up right before a union vote, such as lying about the union at the last minute. They also get front-line supervisors to exert extreme pressure on you.

Employers will try to make you believe that unions lead to violence, and then they’ll use that as an excuse to hire a cadre of intimidating security guards. They’ll also tell you that unions can force you to strike, which is the exact opposite of the truth. Union members vote whether to strike or not. The whole point of a union is that you have a voice in what it does. The union is you. It isn’t the newest bully in your life. Union Busters want you divided, not united.

Busters will claim that you won’t be able to afford the union dues, and that unions only exist to take your money. In fact, if you are a member of a union in good standing, expect to get a lot of junk mail from an evil organization called the Freedom Foundation, which I’ve written about here and here. Their latest junk mail in my mailbox claims that I’d be able to buy a lot more Christmas presents if I opted out of paying Union dues. But the truth is that union employees routinely earn much more than non-union employees do, and have better benefits and working conditions. As far as I’m concerned, the union dues pay for themselves. I will always support my union even though union dues aren’t mandatory. They’ve saved my bacon more than once. I am a proud member of PROTEC Local #17.

Union busters will also claim that they don’t have to abide by a union contract, but if that were the case, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to prevent a union, would they? That’s what you have to keep reminding yourself. If they didn’t know they had a lot to lose, they wouldn’t be putting so much effort into their misinformation campaign.

For the first time in decades, thanks to the COVID-driven labor shortage, we all have a chance to stand in our own power and make employers treat us with respect. Support unions. Because no employer really has your best interests at heart. We are cogs in their machine. They’re all about the greed.

If you’d like to support the Kellogg strikers, boycott Kellogg products., but don’t stop there. Two of the locals, the ones in Michigan and Pennsylvania, have a gofundme account going. Click on the state links and join me in keeping them fed, housed, clothed and healthy while they stand their ground.

Union strong!

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Happy International Workers’ Day

Power to the people.

Please look around you. Every single thing you have, from the clothes on your back to the food that you eat, to the very roof over your head, exists because of labor. We survive because of the blood, sweat, and tears that are put into everything that humans rely on. Never forget that.

Having said that, it’s disheartening to realize that the average American worker is treated horribly, so I can’t even imagine the dismal conditions overseas. It is common knowledge that someone making the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in this country is automatically in poverty, and 2/3rds of those people are women. Many workers have no health insurance and no other benefits to speak of. They also have no job security, and are increasingly expected to put their health and safety at risk to heighten production and profits for the corporations.

Why such harsh conditions? Because as of 2020, only 6.2 percent of private sector workers in America are in unions. And the labor movement did receive a harsh blow when Amazon managed to lie to, intimidate, and bully its workers in Bessemer, Alabama, into voting against adopting a union. The fact that they put so much effort into their disinformation campaign shows you how afraid of unions they are.

Why on earth would anyone vote against a union? Because their employers have treated them so wonderfully up to this point? See above. Because of fear of job loss? That’s illegal, and you have more power than you think. Employers are NOTHING without employees. The whole point of unionizing is that you can speak to management with one huge, powerful voice, and for the first time, they’ll have to listen.

And they will listen. Don’t believe me? You’re already benefiting from unions even if you’ve never joined one yourself. Thanks to unions, we have weekends, breaks at work, lunch, what benefits we do have, social security, minimum wage (no matter how dismal, it could be even worse), 8 hour work days, overtime, child labor laws, a 40 hour work week, worker’s comp, unemployment insurance, pensions, OSHA, wrongful termination laws, whistleblower protection laws, sexual harassment laws, Americans with Disabilities Act, public education, and no more sweatshops.

None of the things mentioned in that last paragraph came about out of the goodness of employers’ hearts. All of us benefit from the existence of unions. Think of that the next time you’re tailgating outside a football stadium.

The only legitimate complaints I hear about unions are that you are expected to pay union dues, that they pit labor against management, and that it’s hard to get rid of the dead wood, the slackers, in a unionized organization. I’ll address all of these in turn, because you deserve to know the truth.

With regard to the dues, believe me when I say they pay for themselves in no time. Like I said, we all have the benefits mentioned above, and union workers are paid so much better, and have such better benefits, that it’s all worth it. In fact, they get paid more than 27 percent more, on the average. I make even more than that. My non-union bridgetender brothers and sisters in Florida make 11 dollars an hour if they’re lucky. I make 33 dollars an hour here in Seattle, and can expect a raise pretty much every year. That says a lot.

Labor vs. Management? Don’t be fooled. You have always been pitted against management. Their sole purpose in life is to maximize profits, even if it means grinding you into the dirt. That’s why unions were created in the first place. At least with a union, the fight is a lot more fair, and out in the open.

I will admit that the dead wood issue is a problem. No system is perfect. There are a certain percentage of slackers and people who make your life miserable in just about any organization, union or no union. And I have to say that the union has saved my bacon more than once, so if I have to put up with some dead wood in exchange for phenomenal job security myself, I’ll take it. You do you, as the saying goes. I’ll continue to take pride in my work.

Anyway, happy May Day, and here’s hoping that you have a job that you love that pays you a living wage, dear reader! Power to the people. Union strong.

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An Horrific Insight

Cold, wet, desperate people, everywhere.

There are actually three versions of this story. The first version was my initial, gut reaction. The second was my instant reaction after obtaining more information. The third was my conclusion after some calm, pragmatic thought. Be sure and read to the very end if you want to see how quickly your point of view can be altered!

Version One:

It was your typical Pacific Northwest November night: raw, wet, cold, and basically gloomy. But I was inside, warm and safe and dry, beside a crackling fire, watching Netflix. All was right with the world, even though I was totally taking it for granted.

And then came the knock on my door. I nearly jumped out of my fuzzy pajamas. We almost never get visitors unannounced, especially in times of pandemic. Our house is relatively isolated and not close to the main street, so it takes some effort to get here. Here’s the perfect litmus test for that: There have been no Halloween trick or treaters on this front porch in decades.

It was a young man, asking for food. Not begging. Not giving an explanation or an excuse. He was just hungry and in need. He looked wet and disheveled and had nothing with him but a backpack.

My husband had him wait on the porch (safety first), and went in and made him a big sandwich. He threw an apple, a Pepsi, and a tuna snack for later into the mix. He then sent him on his way.

A wave of sadness washed over me. It was the sadness of knowing that we’d be seeing a lot more of this in the coming months. Desperate people. Cold, wet, desperate people, everywhere. And there would always be this feeling of not having done enough. There are just so many of them, and only one of me.

There’s also this sense of survivor’s guilt. I’m considered an essential worker, although I have no idea why. So my income hasn’t decreased in this pandemic. I’ve managed to stay relatively isolated and healthy, and I still have my health insurance. I suspect I’ll stay warm and dry throughout the winter. Even my dogs will get to stay warm and dry. I’m not at all accustomed to being one of the haves.

I wonder where that young man slept that night. I wonder where he’ll sleep tonight. For me, he is the leading edge of a wall of hundreds of thousands of people out there, just trying to survive. This is the wall that has been built, and it’s an ugly thing to behold.

I can’t shake the feeling that this is only the beginning. How privileged so many of us have been, secure in the knowledge that survival was likely. Now everything seems much more fragile. And a heck of a lot more scary.

Version Two:

The next day, without us even having broached the subject, some friends from 1/2 mile down the street said that the same guy came to their door that night. That time he was turned away and the theory that he was casing the neighborhood, seeing which houses don’t have men and/or dogs, for later burglary, was posited.

I was instantly furious. Had we been used? Are we now unsafe? He could see our TV through the window. I hate being taken advantage of! People suck!

Version Three:

After I had a chance to calm down and climb out from under my massive pile of righteous indignation, I realized that in both versions above, I was drawing conclusions from facts not in evidence. I will never know what that young man’s motivations were.

Was he a saint or a sinner? My most pragmatic self assumes that, like most of us, he is something in between. From that concept, a new theory has emerged for me.

It was a wet, raw, miserable night, and most criminals are lazy. If he had been casing the neighborhood, I suspect he’d have waited for better weather to do so. No one would be out in that weather without a good reason. So I suspect he was, indeed, in need.

But I also now suspect that like most panhandlers, he was hoping that if he asked for food, what he’d really get was money. Money is a much more flexible commodity. With it you can buy food you actually like. Or you can pay the rent. Or you can buy drugs or alcohol. Or you can take care of a sick child.

He did stand out on the porch and wait for the food. If he had been casing the neighborhood, that would have slowed him down. If he was hoping for money, maybe once he realized that my husband was actually fixing him food, he hoped that some actual cash would also be slipped into the bag.

The money theory makes me sad, because I feel mildly manipulated. But at least there was still a need there, whatever it may have been, and we did our best to help. I hope drugs or alcohol was not a factor. There’s no way to know.

But what’s the point of speculating, really? Our motivations were pure. If his motivations were not, that’s on him. I just hate that we live in a world where we feel the need to question and theorize. I hate that this might taint our desire to help our fellow man in the future. The bottom line is that we’ll never know the whole story.

What do you think, dear reader?

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Reaching That Summit

Most of us have struggled to get where we are.

Recently I encountered a very angry young man who called me a “Bougie Baby Boomer.” He resented the fact that I was living so much better than he was. He seemed to feel that we should be in the exact same place in terms of comfort and financial stability.

To that I say, “Wait a minute, whipper snapper. It was a long, hard slog to get to where I am. You have to earn it.”

I remember the years when I lived in a tent. I remember sweating to pay off my student loans (although, granted, these loans are a lot more substantial for the current generation.) I remember having lawn chairs in the front half of my studio apartment for years on end, and a mattress on the floor because I couldn’t afford box springs. I remember surviving on canned soup with rice added in, and generic macaroni and cheese. I’ve been working since I was 10 years old.

I saw my 50th birthday long before I ever had more than one pair of shoes that wasn’t bought at a thrift store. My husband had to convince me it was okay to buy more than one pair of jeans at a time. I only recently got a phone plan that wasn’t pay by the minute.

At the risk of sounding horribly conservative, I really think it’s insane to expect everything to be handed to you on a silver platter. Getting to a point where you aren’t waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering how you’re going to pay the bills, takes a lot of hard work, planning, and delayed gratification.

I was so excited today to be able to give my niece a Home Depot gift card as she’s moving into her first house. That was something I couldn’t have done until very recently. It feels good to be able to behave generously for a change. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s a luxury I couldn’t afford in my younger days.

I’m not rich by any means. And I am painfully aware that not everyone gets to pop their head out of the lower class. I never thought I would. But I’ve passed the soup and rice stage.

I’m not overly thrilled with our capitalist society. But like it or not, we are in this system. We are stuck playing by its rules.

So yeah, kid, you’re going to have to eat your share of Ramen noodles as you climb that mountain. Most of us have struggled to get where we are. It builds character. Man up.

Mountain Peak

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Hadestown and Why We Build the Wall

Walls don’t just keep people out. They keep us in. In fear.

A friend of mine sent me a link to a song called Why We Build the Wall, and it is so apropos that it sent chills up my spine. But the irony is that the singer/songwriter, Anaïs Mitchell, didn’t write it recently. In fact, she said, “This song is ten years old… Any resemblance of any contemporary political figures to the King of the Underworld is purely coincidental.”

She wrote the song to be included in a musical called Hadestown, and that play has gotten a bit of a revival of late. It will be playing Broadway in 2019, and they’ve announced a London run as well. If it ever tours this country and comes anywhere near Seattle, I definitely want to see it.

What I find most amusing about this song is that Trump supporters think it’s pro-wall, and that building a wall actually makes us free. So they tend to like the song, too. But in fact, if you listen to the lyrics closely, and actually know the background story of the play, you know that this is Hades attempt to distract the people of Hadestown. He wants to keep them busy, so he can maintain control. He gives them convenient sound bites to repeat until they believe what they’re doing is the right thing. Sound familiar?

Here are the lyrics, but I hope you’ll click on the link to the song above and actually hear it. Only then will you experience it fully, and hopefully realize that walls don’t just keep people out, they keep us in. In fear.

It makes me wonder why we’re being distracted. I mean, we all kind of know. But what don’t we know?

Why We Build the Wall by Anaïs Mitchell

HADES
Why do we build the wall?
My children, my children,
Why do we build the wall?

CERBERUS
Why do we build the wall?
We build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
How does the wall keep us free?
My children, my children,
How does the wall keep us free?

CERBERUS
How does the wall keep us free?
The wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
Who do we call the enemy?
My children, my children,
Who do we call the enemy?

CERBERUS
Who do we call the enemy?
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
Because we have and they have not!
My children, my children,
Because they want what we have got!

CERBERUS
Because we have and they have not!
Because they want what we have got!
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
What do we have that they should want?
My children, my children,
What do we have that they should want?

CERBERUS
What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none,
And our work is never done,
My children, my children,
And the war is never won.
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free;
That’s why we build the wall.
We build the wall to keep us free.
We build the wall to keep us free.

Special thanks to M for inspiring this post!

hadestown

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Mean World Syndrome

People alive today have access to more news and entertainment than any human being in the history of the planet. If anything major happens in the world, we are all able to find out about it almost instantly. We’ve come a long way from the days when a hurricane could hit Long Island without any advanced warning for its residents. Surely that’s to our benefit, right?

Yes and no. We also have more access to misinformation and exaggeration, and our ability to think critically does not seem to be keeping apace. That means that many of us believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. This is called mean world syndrome, and it’s a serious problem.

If you don’t believe that your attitudes are shaped by the media, then you haven’t been paying attention. Without its influence, there’s no way that someone so deranged and unqualified could be in the White House. Without it, none of us would feel the need to keep up with the Kardashians. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never felt that need. But then, I don’t have a TV in my house, either.)

If it’s any comfort at all, according to this Public Radio International article, the world is a much safer pace than it used to be. War deaths have dramatically decreased. We just hear about them more often. We all work fewer hours each week. There is less poverty and homicide, and more democracy than ever before.

And this article from Psychology Today also states that violence against women and children has decreased worldwide. We are more likely to die of old age than in a hail of bullets.

And, lest we forget, the average life expectancy for the residents of this planet is now up in the 70’s, as opposed to age 48 back in 1950. That’s pretty remarkable, don’t you think? So stop what you’re doing, look about you, and breathe. It’s going to be okay. Odds are pretty good that you won’t encounter any lions or tigers or bears. Oh, my.

dorothy

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Basic Economics

Many people fall for the fantasy of the American Dream. Who could blame them? It’s a beautiful story. Its moral is that you are completely in control of your own destiny. If you work hard enough, do everything you’re supposed to, and floss your teeth once a day, you’ll live happily ever after. Pffft. If that were true I’d be a millionaire.

There are several flaws with this theory. First of all, it’s fairly safe to assume that most rich people aren’t self-made. God knows Donald Trump isn’t. If it weren’t for daddy, the Donald would probably be one of those loudmouth losers sitting on the last bar stool at the corner pub, and everyone would go out of the way to avoid him. And do you think Paris Hilton would be rich from her own efforts? Please.

Second, getting you to buy into the American Dream has some very nefarious results. It undermines your confidence. You’ll always be able to look around and see people who are doing better than you are. What are you doing wrong? Aren’t you working hard enough? What’s wrong with you? Work harder! And it also makes you focus on what you should have, rather than taking a hard look at your current circumstances.

Rich people need all of us down here being worker-bees, so they won’t have to. They need us down here focused on grinding out our widgets rather than getting uptight about our current situations. We are commodities to them. The more they can get us to produce, the more valuable we are to them. It’s the same in a slave-holding society. The hardest workers are sold for the highest prices.

Third, the American Dream is based on the concept that there’s an unlimited amount of wealth in the world. Rich people would have you believe that wealth is like kudzu. Just provide the right conditions for it, and soon you are up to your eyeballs in the weeds of abundance. You’ll be so darned rich that you’ll be chopping money down with a machete in a desperate attempt to see daylight.

Kudzu

Poppycock. Wealth is finite. If it were infinite, it wouldn’t be worth anything. If our economy were based on the kudzu standard, you’d need acres of the stuff just to buy a loaf of bread. This is why so many economies were originally based on the gold standard. There’s only so much gold on the planet. When something is rare and hard to obtain, it’s considered precious. It is said to have worth. But really, gold is just a lump of metal. It’s just that we all agree to assign it value.

Now that we’ve established that there’s only so much wealth out there, you have to face a hard fact. In order for people to accumulate wealth, they have to take it away from the rest of us. In other words, they are rich because we are poor. The system is set up to keep you down.

But here’s where it gets really weird. Even the rich people are now bumping up against the problem that wealth is finite. They want more, but there isn’t more. Not really. So they create all sorts of fictitious types of wealth that are based on… well… nothing. More and more rectangular pieces of paper that are called money for no good reason other than that we all agree it has worth. Credit. Stocks, bonds, loans, unsustainable mortgages, liens that will never be honored… All of these things are starting to get further and further away from actual substantive value, and that’s why we have things like the economic disaster of 2008. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.

I think the thing that scares the 1% more than anything else right now is the internet. The 99% are starting to share information with each other. We are starting to pull our heads out of the sand and actually see things. We’re getting smarter, and they’re not able to get away with as much. And when they do, we’re getting angrier. We’re starting to share our anger with each other.

We are also starting to reevaluate what has worth. We are talking about quality of life issues such as human rights and healthcare and climate and education and housing. These are things that you can’t fake or inflate.

That’s got to be terrifying for rich people. They’re sitting there, jealously guarding their pots of gold. What will they do if we all decide that gold is no different than lead? If that happens, then the Trumps of the world will be revealed to be the fools that they are.

I think economics is going to be a vital and dynamic field during the rest of this century. Change is coming. I, personally, am looking forward to it.

Monopoly
It’s just paper.

It’s a Jungle Out There

When I moved from Florida to Seattle, one of the things that shocked me the most was the number of homeless people in this city. You’d think that Florida would have cornered the market on the homeless because the weather is so much warmer, but apparently not. I have no idea why that is.

Here they are everywhere. Not a day goes by when I don’t see dozens slogging through the rain or huddled on street corners or begging at the exit ramps. It’s truly heartbreaking, and it’s a constant reminder of how fragile financial security truly is in a city where the cost of living is completely out of control.

Ever since I volunteered with Operation Sack Lunch, the homeless situation has been in the forefront of my mind. Recently the mayor of Seattle declared a state of emergency on homelessness, and even as he was giving a speech about it, 5 homeless people were getting shot in the Jungle.

The Jungle is a mile long stretch under Interstate 5 in the South Seattle/Georgetown area. It’s a lawless, dangerous area where hundreds of homeless people sleep each night. There’s no sanitation, rats and garbage are everywhere, and you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting a dilapidated tent or a used syringe.

On the night in question, the police suspect a drug deal went wrong. The result was a 45 year old woman and a 33 year old man were shot dead, and 3 other people were severely wounded and taken to the hospital.

I can’t think of a more horrible way to end your life than to bleed out in a fetid, disease-ridden no-man’s land in the middle of one of the most prosperous cities in the richest country on earth. It’s just not right. It’s an outrage. I don’t know what else to say.

Jungle
The Jungle, Seattle. [Image credit: kuow.org]

Anti-Climax Heights

I was taking a trip down memory lane the other day and decided to Google Earth all my former houses. What an eye opening experience. The house I lived in right after college has been painted hot pink. The one I lived in after that, which was a total dump with rotting floors, questionable plumbing, and a seemingly incurable cockroach infestation, is now a high-end bed and breakfast. The house I used to own has been stripped of its shrubbery, has a brand new gorgeous front door, and the brick stairway I had labored over so diligently during the course of one hot summer week has been ripped out.

But the most gut-wrenching change was to the best home I ever lived in. Age 7 to 10 was the sweet spot in my childhood. For the first time in my life we weren’t held firmly in the grip of brutal poverty. (Little did I know how brief my vacation from that would be.) And the house we lived in was completely amazing.

Actually, it was a mansion, complete with fireplaces, front and back stairways, a full-sized pantry off the kitchen, a gigantic side porch, and an even bigger front and back yard. It was perched atop a hill, and there was even a secret path through the woods, and lots of trees to climb. My best friend lived right across the street. Essentially it was a kid’s paradise. I had my very own room for the first time, which my mother made the mistake of allowing me to paint, so it was purple.

We didn’t own this mansion. It came with my stepfather’s job, which was managing the industrial park in which it stood. And we had to share the house with a company, something vaguely to do with publishing as I recall, which occupied the front half of the first floor. We had to be quiet during business hours. But still, it was the coolest house ever. I was completely in love with it.

It was after that that everything turned to shit. My stepfather lost the job, we moved to Florida to live in a tent, the abuse began, and the crushing poverty settled back over us like a blanket infected with smallpox. Thus ended what little childhood innocence I was allowed to enjoy.

Needless to say, that house on Climax Heights Road holds a special place in my heart. So imagine my shock when I went to Google Earth and found out the street as I knew it no longer exists. The houses were torn down. Hills were leveled. Buildings were constructed. I contacted my friend who once lived across the street from me, and she confirmed that the area is completely unrecognizable.

Days later, I’m still having a hard time digesting this news. I liked to think that no matter how turbulent my life became, there would always be a place, long ago, far away, that was an oasis, where things were good and safe and calm. My own little Brigadoon.

Sometimes when time marches on, it tramples right over your memories.

[Image credit: mrkate.com]
[Image credit: mrkate.com]