Dear America —
I know — getting things cheap, cheaper, cheapest is kind of the American Way. Isn’t that the whole basis for Black Friday? That it’s worth it to stand in line for hours just to save $25 on a super-sized TV?
Broadway shows have been written on the subject of getting things for less (“I Can Get It For You Wholesale” introduced a young performer named BARBARA STREISAND to the world back in 1962). Doing things for less money usually reflects greater efficiency in producing those things — mostly a good thing. But there are efficiencies and there are efficiencies; machines and systems are perfect targets for tightening. But people?
Again, this is not to say that PEOPLE also can’t work more efficiently – or be more productive with their time and energies (and the company’s money) – but where the actual HUMANS are concerned – they are NOT the place to get all buttoned-down and ‘cheap’.
The impulse to get people to produce more for less pay ‘seems’ to make sense but it is the King of False Economies — where immediate gains hide long-term losses or declines in value that could have been LONG-TERM GAINS and INCREASES IN VALUE had people not looked exclusively at the bottom line: the dollars paid out to actual humans for their WORK.
Slavery — for all its considerable evil — was (and remains) above all a means to STEAL LABOR. To steal another person’s ‘work’ and then (usually) turn around and ‘sell’ the ‘product’ of that person’s FREE work for the benefit of the the Person Doing The Enslaving. The bondage is just the ‘cost’ of keeping all that free labor where you need it.
That cheaper pair of jeans or Apple Computer, that appliance from China or IvankaWear made in Vietnam or Bangladesh — they’re all made where they’re made because those doing the making can GET AWAY with paying the people in the factory there less than somewhere else. What draws capital to a market these days is the lower price of labor.
But you have to keep in mind — that lower price of labor doesn’t occur in a vacuum — it means the people being forced INTO that labor are doing it because that’s the best they’re going to do: work-wise, pay-wise, LIFE-wise for the moment. It sucks PROFOUNDLY to be them. And THAT fact sucks.
Cheaper and cheaper labor has a way of coming around to bite everyone benefiting from it. See what the trend lines have been for pay in this country? It’s been flatlining for a generation — which is a big reason why Income Inequality is already at an untenable level and climbing. Cheap-labor jobs are becoming the norm. High-paying jobs — not so much. The Gig Economy is one of the bi-products — where ordinary jobs no longer generate enough income for the average (formerly Middle Class) American to survive.
Anyone baffled by why this is happening needs to open their damned eyes: They are part of the problem. Each of us is — every time we walk into a Walmart and plunk down $1.50 for a pair of gym socks that, realistically — if the people actually MAKING them were being paid a living wage — SHOULD cost us $2.00.
It is our EXPECTATIONS — that someone else should bear the brunt and costs of keeping OUR costs down for the things WE want that are not just biting us in the ass but leaving us cold, broke and virtually ass-less (when having an ass to sit on would be a really good thing).
What I am saying will be anathema to some people, an Inconvenient Truth to others: We need to see OUR ROLE in the misery of others — and our need for cheap, cheaper, cheapest goods is DIRECTLY CAUSING MISERY to OTHERS.
Let’s put it this way: If you knew the STORY of how that SUPER CHEAP pair of GYM SOCKS got to you — complete with the stories of climate abuses, the pesticides used, the other harmful (but cheaper) farming practices, the abuses of the migrant farm labor picking the crop, the corners cut getting the product to factory — where more corners are cut to the wastefulness of the packaging — and all the other ways morality and integrity and even common sense were ignored in favor of making another couple cents — would you still want the damned things ON YOUR FEET?
How you answer that speaks volumes about you.