Posted by: The Amoeba | February 14, 2009

A Stimulating Fable

As this blog is being written (15 February 2009), the big bundle of US Federal spending that is supposed to shock the fibrillating heartbeat of the American economy back into action, has passed both houses of Congress, and awaits the signature of Mr. Obama on his very own day.

The package is, er, not without its critics, especially those who attack the haste with which it was put together, and also deplore its protectionist / “Buy American” leanings.

Though this Amoeba cannot claim sufficient immortality to have directly observed the events of the New Deal, he suspects that the processes under which its laws were crafted, especially during the first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration in 1933, were just as hasty as those that produced the current package. We the People survived this. And as far as your Amoeba is concerned, “something” is far better than “nothing” right now; the similarity of the slope of the unemployment curve in 2008-09 to that of 1929-1930 is sufficiently terrifying to urge cloture to all quibbling on this point.

The “protectionist” elements of Obama’s package (preventing American firms from replacing American labor or goods with non-American substitutes), the Amoeba confesses, would be more supportable if, over the past several decades, Americans could have been persuaded to produce goods of sufficient quality to be worth purchasing at any price, never mind the one asked. Throughout most of the history of these Untied States, Americans have benefited from the fact that labor was scarce relative to business opportunities, and therefore its price was high. As the following fable may illustrate, and as We the People seem to be having trouble realizing, labor, in the former Land of Opportunity, is no longer scarce …

=================

Once upon a time in the middle of a wide wide ocean, the citizens of an island which, as its name (Owhyhee) implied, had already begun to question the justice of its patriarchal society, thought they had discovered A Good Thing. Instead of doing the backbreaking work of growing elephant ears for food themselves, they would import people from Knowynoriland to do it for them, at a fraction of the cost. This they proceeded to do, enlisting the good folks of United Clipperships Inc., who had expertise in the matter, to help.

For awhile, this arrangement worked beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, that the Owhyheean landowners soon diversified into tropical fruits that the Clippers could stuff into cans and load onto their ships for sale overseas. The dough rolled in like the giant surf during the season that the world’s less fortunate called “winter” – much of which was invested in ever-larger numbers of Knowynorilanders to work the ever-expanding fields.

However, in their haste to make money, the Owhyheeans overlooked a provision in the contract that awarded the bulk of the profits to United Clipperships. Which the corporation’s directors promptly used to execute a hostile takeover of the island. “No matter”, said the Owhyheeans, “we still have our share of the profits, and now we have to worry neither about labor nor administration.” They proceeded to amuse themselves by selling each other coconut phone networks and grass shack installations.

Meanwhile, the imported Knowynorilanders, used to privation, made a virtue out of long hours and no pay. United Clipperships soon noticed this, and began advancing the more enterprising of the KNs into lower administration. They found their own way into the service industries. This process continued until, finally, the Clippers could no longer allow their history or prejudices to interfere with a major profit opportunity. They restructured the company in the KNs favor, and the Owhyheeans literally found themselves on the beach.

Where they remain to this day, noisily and uselessly proclaiming their sovereignty and wondering what the hell happened.

  O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions expressed are mine, as a private citizen.

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Responses

  1. There was a chicken processing plant not too far from where my house is that provides a more recent model of this exact same story.

    The problem is the same one that keeps getting us in a lot of trouble. Heck, I could make an argument that it’s the one belief that this entire nation was founded upon. “They” are a lot scarier than “we” are (even when “we” are usually the ones destroying ourselves).

    We would benefit by learning that if we closed the income gap, not just within our own country but throughout the world, we would benefit greatly from it.

  2. Oh, and on a related sidenote- I believe the stimulus is necessary. I believe that something is better than nothing. I believe that all the politicians want to play both sides so they can claim a victory even if it fails. I believe that it’s perhaps not enough of a shock all by itself. But I also believe that there is one hopeful sign that’s being strongly downplayed right now.

    The President is talking about how this will take years for us to emerge from this. Technically true, I’m sure. But I believe he’s also playing the spin game on this. He will not benefit if he says this is going to take years and it takes decades. I also think he won’t benefit if it actually takes the years he claims. But he’s going to get some major credit if this turns around very quickly.

    Now, I have no idea what numbers he’s seeing that look so promising. It’s nice that January sales were up 1%, but do you really want to gamble your career on that? But I have no doubt that he’s seen something that says we’re going to start the upswing relatively soon. I hope, anyway.

  3. IG, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Roosevelt sold that line and got three Presidential terms out of it, even though neither his sales pitch nor his policies actually worked all that well to alleviate the Great Depression. I’m sure that Mr. Obama has taken careful notes of how FDR handled his party, his opponents, and the media (especially radio, the 1930s equivalent of the blogosphere).

    Closing the income gap sounds nice, but I’m convinced that, if anyone forced Americans to reduce their salaries even a little bit, in the name of making them more like those endured by the rest of the world, the nation would erupt in armed rebellion. I’m somewhat surprised it hasn’t already, with the sharp reductions in real income that most Americans suffered even before the collapse took hold. Even among the professions … a first-year assistant professor at a major university earned ca. $15K in 1975, ca. $50K in 2005. The difference in purchasing power between these two figures is exactly nil. And you’d best believe that the a-prof is angry as hell.


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