A post by ahansen,
Following the Great Purge of ‘81, when the first generation of female middle-management was systematically “downsized” in face of looming recession, American business refocused its energies from customer satisfaction to increasing production. Whether this phenomenon was causal or symptomatic is open for debate.
Almost overnight, however, advertising copy in the business press shifted from “Manage your business” into the grammatically questionable, “Grow your business.” The implication here being if your enterprise is content just providing a reliable product or service while maintaining itself and its employees– you’re ripe for hostile takeover. In what was euphemistically dubbed, “reorganization,” corporate raiders ransacked the landscape leaving mass lay-offs and smoking ruins of once-solid assets in their wake.
“If you’re sitting still, you’re dead in the water” became corollary to the iconic, “Greed, (for lack of a better word,) is good.” Investors took note and threw money at these new entities as “deregulation” compounded the pillage. The “outsourcing” of American jobs had begun.
Yet, in the last thirty years, fewer and fewer American employees have been responsible for more and more output, and up until very recently, production has not only held steady, it has increased significantly- albeit in good part to the effects of cheap foreign labor both here and abroad.
At some point, however, we became too efficient, and productivity ran away with us. Too many houses, too many cars, too many flat screen TV’s, too many freaking hamburger patties– yet public policy continued to reward units produced over such intangibles as environmental cost or the market’s ability to absorb them. Any rational assessment of actual need was colored by the expectation that demand would only continue to increase. And as everybody knew “real estate only goes up.”
Now we’re saddled with a glut of stuff no one can afford to buy—or needs to buy. C4C encourages Americans to buy the overproduction of cruddy cars. Fanny and Freddie, the overproduction of cruddy housing and cruddier mortgages. One can even argue that the global financial mess is the result of overproduction of fanciful derivatives by cruddy hedge fundians and money market manipulators.
We’ve produced stuff so well in fact, that we’ve reached the point of oversaturation –where we’re literally throwing away perfectly useable vehicles (a long way up the consumerist food chain from pouring tanks of milk into the street to jack up prices,) and bulldozing unlived-in housing—this while people live homeless, presumably in their newly subsidized fuel-efficient vehicles.
It’s obviously way past time to downsize our national and personal economies—to stop “growing” them and let our financial fields rest fallow for a few years so they can recover.
To its credit, America seems to be “getting it,” although we’re being dragged out writhing and screaming, our collective fingernails snagging the carpeting as we go.
A NEW WORK ETHIC?
Perhaps it’s time to declare an end to the era of Productivity, and come up with some new construct that better reflects our Country’s needs. If no one wants or can afford to buy what’s produced, what the point of producing so much of it? After all, no one wants to “just give it away.” And we all know that to distribute it among the needy would be “socialist,” –and we can’t have that.
So we scrap it. Or dump it. Or doze it. Or downsize it. Then we bail the producers out so it we can waste some more.
All the while, our unions, our executive oligarchy, and our governmental agencies, all fearful of losing their benefits and bonuses continue to expect the status quo to remain the status quo–insist upon it even. And the rest of us watch as our standard of living seeps away into the tax base, (or the offshore accounts of who-knows-whom,) along with our hopes for an even remotely dignified retirement.
At some point the resentments of the have-nots always seem to outweigh the satisfaction of haves, and the equation takes a sudden and sometimes bloody tip towards re-balance. We’re not there yet, and we may indeed manage to head off outright rebellion, but for the first time since the Debacle in Viet Nam nearly tore our country apart, I can foresee the possibility of mass civil protest, if not active resistance, shutting down what we used to call The System. Certainly we talk about it enough here on HBB, and more than one national pol has even called for secession.
In the interests of civic harmony, maybe we shouldn’t expect to buy a new car every four years anymore. Maybe we shouldn’t expect “vacation” homes and four imaging screens in every household. Maybe we shouldn’t expect businesses to be open seven days a week and fast food joints to take credit cards “for our convenience.”
More to the point, maybe we shouldn’t feel as though we’re expected to expect all this. Maybe we’ve finally produced enough stuff and can get on with creating a more perfect union–with our country, our gods, our family, our retirement funds, whatever
I’m not arguing for a new Ludditism here. If anything, the money currently being poured into propping up and bailing out inefficient industries and outmoded systems should be going into education, research, and development of new technologies and modalities to see us through the next century and beyond.
But the only way our market, let alone our governance, is going to re-prioritize its expectations and become, well, marketable again is if we the people re-prioritize our expectations. And given our dwindling incomes and depreciating assets, it’s not going to be all that much of a stretch for us to stop consuming and start refurbishing what we’ve already accumulated.
Maybe we need to have a national clearance sale for our souls and take that 20% off what we’ve come to believe is our rightful inheritance. It certainly couldn’t hurt what’s left of our bottom line. And who knows, it might even become the new Normal.