The Great Hypocrisy
My Angry Wallet
David Lee Beowülf
How often do you examine your stock portfolio? More Americans than ever are in the stock market, and that means more Americans than ever are getting richer and richer. Considering the wealth out there and the wealth of on-line “trading” service companies like Datek, where “trades” cost only $9.95 each, why are you wasting time reading Ink Nineteen when you should be at your PC buying and selling according to the every-fifteen-minute DJA reports from Ziff-Davis? Ding! There’s another million you just lost because you weren’t paying attention!
Back on earth, where fantasy and reality are soon to merge, an awful lot of people aren’t on-line, and aren’t in the stock market. An awful lot of people still work for a living. These schmucks get up every morning and leave their homes for eight hours (sometimes more) to do something in exchange for money with which they purchase food, clothing and shelter. These poor fools don’t understand that they’re simply wasting their time working, when gambling is where the money is and how it’s made.
And unless you’re part of an exclusive, enormous hedge fund, the “rules” of gambling are well-known to all those involved: you pays yer nickel, you takes yer chances. That is, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
There were winners aplenty and losers aplenty as recently as September. As I’m writing this, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average is back up at the near-9,000 level, so the “losses” of August/September 1998 are pretty much erased and we’re back in July 1998. Hmmm, maybe there is such a thing as a time machine… Perhaps physicists should abandon Einstein and relativity for Keynes and the Digest of Quarterly Earnings…
But I’m getting way ahead of myself and going off in all sorts of directions, something I never do, right?
This is a tough topic for me, not because it requires lots of precision research, but because I get pissed off because I’m one of those schmucks who gets up every morning and goes to work! I pay my rent and bills (I guess someone still has Student Loans… ), buy food and clothing, and I try to save whatever I can (I do not buy Lotto tickets, not often… ). It drives me crazy; how come I’m not a zillionaire? How come I’m not, quite literally, rolling in dough? I have a good, useful technical education (that was my first mistake). I am pretty smart (that’s what you think, Dave!) and I know how to use computers and a wide variety of software (like that matters… ). Dude, chicks don’t even look at you in this town unless you smell like you pull down $100k!
Smart Worker, Not Harder
I think most college students (and even graduate students) fail to learn in school is the real value of their knowledge. As it turns out, your degree isn’t worth much. “Why’d you major in that?” or “What kind of job will that get you?” are two phrases from the Management or Marketing (read “business”) majors. They’re, of course, directed at everyone who’s not a business major. For some reason these folks thought (because I’m sure the paradigm shift caught up with them around 1995) that a major in something like “science” or “humanities” was quite worthless since the good money was in managing or buying and selling. And the real money was in managing people who bought and sold things.
Naturally, those who aspired to make things to be bought and sold were second-class citizens at best and fools at worst. To all you business majors who bought that bill of goods, I say “good riddance.” Clowns, they were. I remember them, struggling with economics, accounting, “business statistics” classes and other coloring book mathematics… Then again, they’d been working and starting families while I was putzing around in graduate school, so…
But things changed so bizarrely. In the case of these humble folks, what they were prepared to do was work hard for a company and move through its ranks, hoping one day to be rewarded for their hard work and dedication. Hard work is supposed to be rewarded, right?
Wrong. Who gets laid off when the stock prices go down? The so-called layers of middle-management, that’s who. And where do they turn for more work since they have (warning: broad generalization) no technical skills? Nowhere! Maybe they could go back to school and learn how to type…
Likewise, if you’re in sales and you don’t get out there and sell, sell, sell, you are history. If the market is glutted, so what! You need to sell, sell, sell or you’re out on the stoop. Sometimes you have to “mislead” your “customers” to make that sale, but that’s “life,” right?
Did you learn in college that decency, sympathy and truth are liabilities? Did you learn that being “nice” is a way to get your nose rubbed in dog shit? Did you stay up late studying sales techniques so you would spend nearly every waking hour of your life pounding the pavement trying to sell something just to put food on the table for a family you’d rarely see? Are you waiting for that “big sale” to come through where your commission (no, you don’t get a salary; that’s not the way to make money… ) would be so high that you’d never have to work again?
Let me tell you this: you have a hell of a lot of nerve getting married and bringing children into this world if you’re not going to be around to rear them and/or your financial position is so risky that they could starve next month. And shame on you for gambling that the next sale will put you onto the gravy train.
Then again, the technical professionals, who are a heck of a lot smarter than the dull morons who think that starting at the bottom and working their way up is the right way to get ahead, have to be expert salespeople if they want to stay employed. That’s right, the professional engineers and scientists out there spend just as much time pounding the pavement and writing proposals for every single job offered. Sometimes they make big money, sometimes they just manage to scrap by. Sometimes they even do good work, too… But I’ve seen grown men with families and twenty years-plus as professional engineers trying to nail down contracts at seven on a Friday night, ready to do it all over again Saturday morning, if need be.
Why? Simple: if they don’t expend every last bit of energy on trying to get as much money as humanly (and sometimes not… ) possible from a “client” they are at risk of losing everything. Why’d you go to college? Easy: to work your ass off for the next 30 years, living in fear of being laid off or worse. Welcome the real world…
The Real World Order
Things don’t have to be this way, but they are. Right now things are very, very weird. Insane amounts of money are being made by gamblers and people who start “service” companies. That is, millions are made by people who manufacture nothing whatsoever. Up to the industrial revolution, large amounts of money were made either by wholesale pillage or by owning large tracts of farmland (the products from which were sold) and people. During the Industrial Revolution, insane amounts of money were made by owning companies and people that made things; for example, oil and other minerals, railroads, heavy equipment, weapons, etc. In the post-industrial age (whatever that is, I think it might coincide from the 1960s to sometime in the 1980s) an enormous number of well-educated middle class people made their livings as technical professionals. In the Age of Lunacy (right now) it seems that if you’re over the age of fourteen and aren’t a) a rock star or pro athlete, b) an entrepreneur, or c) not heavily involved with online stock trading, you’re destined for the poorhouse. And if you’re a rock star, you’ll only make money if you’re a better businessperson than you are musician. If you’re an entrepreneur, the real money isn’t in making something and selling it at a profit. The real money is made at your first Initial Public Offering and watching your market capitalization skyrocket, which you’d better do as soon as possible otherwise you’ll end up doing some actual work to feed yourself. And if you’re involved with online trading, you’d better be glued to your terminal or get left behind. “Hard work” does not enter the equation.
Of course, that’s another Broad Generalization™, and I forgot to mention that it’s helpful if you have a trust fund or a good inheritance to “fall back” upon. Winning the Lotto is a good back-up, too.
Where did I screw up? I’m not a rock star, nor an entrepreneur nor am I involved with online stock trades. I, foolishly, go to work every day and when I come home I go to sleep. Sometimes I pursue a “hobby” or two that I do for “fun.” No wonder I’m not a millionaire! No wonder the chicks look down when I pass by: I wear jeans rather than a finely crafted suit from Hong Kong, like these 22-year old bankers and financiers. Want to know what’s strange? It seems that the “young people” of today are a hell of a lot more interested in huge amounts of money and hyper-materialism than they are in making the world a better place. My, how times change… But at least we don’t have to listen to any more jerk-off campus activists railing against the “evils” of capitalism!
Building on that ha-ha sarcasm, the true Real World Order works on an entirely different level. In truth, it seems that most Americans boast incomes between twenty and thirty thousand dollars a year. Most Americans don’t live in outrageously expensive cities or have bizarre amounts of cash to throw around. Most Americans, like most people everywhere in the “civilized” world, get up every day and go to work. Which is normal, ever since, say, around the time of the Civil War, when the USA fully launched itself out of the mostly agrarian economy into the industrial and post-industrial world. I can poke fun at these maniacs who are making strange amounts of money through what is essentially playing video games (if that’s not a big “fuck you” to the elementary school teachers of days gone by… ), but the underlying issue of wealth in this country is its history, and how much attention working people pay to it.
In her 1966 book The Invisible Scar (Pocket Books), Caroline Bird, writing on, I think, the behalf of the Johnson Administration’s War On Poverty, tells a frightening tale of the Great Depression, which she witnessed as a post-adolescent college student. It’s important because right now it seems that people are making money hand-over-fist. Everyone’s in the stock market, everyone’s buying gas-guzzling SUVs, expensive liquor is being marketed to the young, who are perceived as being extraordinarily affluent. It’s a lot like 1929, right before the Depression kicked in, where, all of a sudden, people lost all their money. And while they didn’t have televisions or computers, they still consumed and consumed and consumed. Until there wasn’t anything to consume because the stock market crashed which meant that people who bought on margin (most of them) owed their brokers all their money and after giving their brokers all their money they didn’t have anything left so they went home broke and since a company’s stock wasn’t worth anything the company couldn’t borrow money on their stock to make payrolls so they laid off everyone who then went home and had no money to buy food or clothing which meant that everyone in retail was laid off because no one had any money to buy anything.
What it did to people was make them a lot stronger and a lot more careful — those who managed to survive it. My parents were born in 1935, and they don’t remember much of the Great Depression; they do, however, remember their parent’s stories. My grandfather told me he won a dollar bet on the 1932 election between Hoover and Roosevelt. Other than that, my oldest living relatives will not talk about those times. So The Invisible Scar is a great resource for anyone interested in the happenings of those times, and it seems to be pretty objective, as the author graduated from Vassar during the time and was the daughter of a prominent New York City lawyer. That is, she was rich and her dad kept what he had. (Other books I’ve read about the Great Depression generally support Bird’s work, too.)
I am very, very glad I wasn’t alive then. The recessions I lived through (1971-73, 1979-80, 1990-93) were days spent sitting back in a lounge chair and sipping mint juleps, compared to what went on during the Great Depression. I strongly recommend you find this book if you can. Clive Barker’s tales pale in comparison.
How To Recognize Those Who Should Be Shot
Now, while much has been said by the doomsayers on the radio and elsewhere about the frightful parallel to 1929 and today, it’s not so. In 1929, “playing” with the stock market was literally what one did. Everyone didn’t have a personal computer, a television, or a CD player. Most of all, mind you, we didn’t have the level of science and medicine we have today (or, say, that we had in 1950!) nor did we have the heavy economic regulation that resulted from the Great Depression. Back in 1929, the Government was dead set against regulatory actions, let alone helping people out of holes they were in regardless of how they got there, be it by no fault of their own (unemployment insurance, social security) or if they made a few bad decisions (Chrysler circa 1978). That kind of stuff was downright un-American!
Of course, what came out of the Great Depression was a darn good idea of just what kind of responsibilities an American should assume. The Great Depression brought to light the fact that a lot, if not most, of the rich folks 1) didn’t have jobs and 2) didn’t pay taxes. That changed: the Roosevelt Administration raised taxes on the rich, forcing them to get jobs… (Maybe.) But that didn’t seem to mean much, since the “rich” were and still are a relatively small minority of Americans. While previously hard-working people (remember them?) were now starving and homeless, rich people were taking their cash and gold out of the country, thus lowering the money supply, thus making it harder and harder to pay workers, accelerating lay-offs. Roosevelt makes gold ownership illegal (Nixon made it legal again), and with the help of a few creative economists, put the country and basically the world on a system of fiat money (look it up!) that fuels our economy to this day and most likely forever (not according to the Y2K experts… ). Then you want to know what happened? Farmers weren’t getting enough money for their crops, which meant they weren’t able to pay their bank loans. So, instead of simply taking a lower price for their crops, they burned them. Roosevelt’s people established farm subsidies, guaranteeing the best prices for farmers. In fact, they made it illegal to grow food for one’s own consumption (true!); that is, you could (and some did) go to jail for owning too many pigs or growing some extra tomatoes to eat! If your family was starving and you saw a farmer slaughter and burn his “extra” pigs because he couldn’t sell them at a high enough price, what would you do?
Ted Turner to the Rescue!
Of course, much discussion at the time centered around what to do with all these “superfluous” people who made the drastic measures of the Government necessary. Some suggested killing them…
Ted Turner, a zillionaire, recently gave something like 9 billion dollars in stock (!?) to the United Nations. And I see this dude on television ranting and raving about how the Cold War wasted billions of dollars, and how we could have made the earth a paradise if we’d learned to get along. Nine billion dollars he gave to the United Nations to fight overpopulation. He also mentioned that he wished he didn’t have five children and regrets that he, at the time, couldn’t shoot them. His 9 billion dollars are going to programs destined to cull to world’s herds of “useless” people.
I’ll tell you what pisses me off: Ted Turner, gives $9 billion to a bunch of worthless bureaucrats who do absolutely nothing but work at eliminating national sovereignty, when he could have, quite literally, cleaned up all the “bad” areas in Atlanta, couldn’t he? Why didn’t he simply use the money to fix everyone’s plumbing? How about the roads? How about giving to the local schools? Probably because he couldn’t get a good enough tax break…