Un-Hippies

So last week, I was sort of harsh on the 99% demonstrators. But the thing is, I really have a visceral negative reaction to protests in general that fueled it, because protests are generally about dealing with social issues via emotion, and that makes me squirmy. Please be assured, however, that regardless of my Victorian British levels of discomfort with emotions on display in public, the people who speak out against the 99%ers annoy me a hell of a lot more.

I’ve been seeing a lot of “Well, maybe if they’d go out and get jobs, they would be in the 1%, too,” like, that’s not how math works, and “I’m not going to waste my time on foolish protests. I’m just going to make sure my kids end up in the 1%.” And that’s also thoughtless, not to mention short-sighted and narrow-minded.

The truth is, if your kids become one of the 1%, it will be because of a) extraordinary luck, and b) the work of all the 99%ers who make it possible. I know Elizabeth Warren said this already, and said it shorter, but I’m going to go ahead and beat it in to the ground. Your future 1% will need schools, and those schools will need teachers, administrative staff, and maintenance staff, as well as a larger board that decides things like what will be taught by whom when and and where the money will come from (and this is true whether you send your child to public or private school). They’ll need to get there on roads that are built and maintained by construction workers, support staff for construction workers, and government bureaucrats who manage road projects, as well as engineers who design roads and elected officials who collect taxes to pay for them. And they’ll likely be driven there in buses, by bus drivers, and helped along by crossing guards, and those buses will have to be manufactured and sold and distributed. Likewise the books they read, which need to be written, edited, published, sold, and distributed by authors, editors, salespersons, and distributors. They’ll play in parks, which require designing, constructing, and maintaining, and they’ll make friends in extra-curricular activities which require guides of various kinds, facilities (usually) and support staff. They’ll grow big and strong on food that needs to be grown, harvested/killed, sold, distributed, checked for safety and prepared. They’ll need their health attended to by at least one doctor and support staff for that doctor, and the doctor’s office needs medicines and tools, not to mention a government bureaucracy to license and check up on him or her. They’ll do their homework on computers someone designed, built, sold and distributed, and then someone else powered by the electricity flowing into your house. They’ll wash themselves in the clean water coming out of your faucets. And they’ll go through their daily life relatively safe because of the criminal justice system that involves police, law makers, jailers, judges, court officers, and related support staff, as well as someone to build jails and make guns and print the paper on which the legislation is written.

Given that you’re determined to get them into the 1%, you probably will require that they do enriching activities in addition to school. That means they won’t need to get dinner on the table for their siblings or do much in the way of chores. It also means that they probably won’t need to work, or, if they do, they’ll be able to use the money for things like gas for the used Volvo you bought them, or designer jeans, or pot. They won’t need to use it to contribute to your utilities bill, or to save for college tuition, since you’ve probably got that covered.

And given all that, they still might not make it to the top 1%. Maybe some kid who did have to scrimp and save to afford college or even his/her family’s next meal, who knows a thing or two about hard work, time management, and throwing an elbow will beat your cushy, entitled kid to the top spot.

But maybe your kid will be in the top 1%. At which point, your kid will still need all the food, housing, electricity, clean water, clothing, etc., s/he has always needed, plus the government services s/he has always needed, like roads, mail, and police, plus support staff in the office – receptionists, janitors, mail room staff, office managers, sales guys, managers of sales guys, accountants, lawyers, maybe factory workers and managers. And they’ll need for a lot of that support staff to be reasonably well-educated, well-fed and housed, and able to get to and from work somehow. S/he will even need customers who can afford to buy whatever s/he is selling to become a 1%er.

And if s/he has kids, s/he will need, in addition to the doctors and staff and suppliers of stuff like car seats and diapers, someone to take care of those kids, since 1%ers can rarely afford the time to do it without help. That means either hiring nannies and/or entering day care, or having a spouse who’s going to not work and take care of the kids instead. And since you’ve taught your kid not to respect anyone in the 99%, because it’s their own damn fault for being lazy hippies, I don’t really know how your kid’s marriage is going to work out when it’s only your kid’s income that’s preventing his/her spouse from being a 99%er. So then your kid will need a divorce lawyer and the lawyer’s staff, as well as all the trappings of the civil justice system. And then your kid will have to pay for a nanny or something after all.

And all these people that your kid will need to become and stay a 1%er cannot themselves be in the 1%. Math doesn’t work that way. 1%ers need non-1% to make them 1%ers, both as support and as consumers. This is not to say all of them will be poor. Lawyers and doctors can come pretty close to the 1%. But they’ll all be somewhere in the 99%. And in order to live in the kind of society that I think we all want to live in – the kind where there’s a reasonable standard of living for everybody; the kind where even the poorest can rely on some basic social services so they’re not dying in the gutter of utterly preventable disease; the kind where crime, if not absent, is minimal; the kind where the fruits of civilization, like the arts and scientific progress, can flower; the kind where, as our imperfect but still idealistic founding fathers said, one is guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – the 99%ers have to be doing okay.

(And spare me the shit about how Americans have become too spoiled and entitled in terms of what they think a decent standard of living is. You’d have a valid point – if that delusion had not been created and enforced by the 1%ers to make money. Luxury goods companies deliberately create an envy effect such that a $300 Vuitton seems like the reasonable alternative to the $1500 one you saw your favorite celeb sporting. Sure, it’s dumb, but it works. You want to talk about every family needing at least two cars? Then let’s talk about funding for public transit and pedestrian- and bike-friendly communities. You want to talk about the growing American home? Then let’s talk about why aren’t you building nice, livable 1500 sq ft homes anymore? Oh, right, because they don’t net a high enough profit. You want to talk about fucking student debt?! Don’t even get me started. For at least the last 40 years, the golden ticket is supposed to be higher education. As it turns out, if everyone does it, it’s devalued. I don’t have to be an Econ major to understand about SUPPLY AND MOTHERFUCKING DEMAND. You think everyone should just get an MBA like you and then they’d all be 1%ers? Evidently that MBA didn’t teach you a damn thing. But if you need proof, go survey recently graduated law students about promises of prosperity and devalued degrees.)

There have been, in human history, societies which reflect what you apparently think the social order should be – a top 1% with all the stuff, a bottom 99% in servile penury, and maybe a few people in between to support the luxury the top 1% want. But you know what? In societies like that, the people with a penchant for mathematics or mechanics are not the people in the top 1%. The people with a penchant for ruthless violence are. You know, the same people we keep under relative control with our superior criminal justice system. (Note: I think there’s plenty wrong with our criminal justice system. But in terms of keeping us away from warlord-fueled daily violence and strife? They’re the tops.)

Furthermore, history has shown us that even the most uneducated peasant can operate a guillotine just fine. So even if you put aside questions of ethics and morality, it’s better for the 1%ers if people in the 99% can still have decent lives.

I’ve been reading the Hunger Games series (which is pretty f-ing awesome and you should just read it [Unless you still haven’t finished the Harry Potter series, which you should get on already. Yes, you know I’m talking to you. You are one of the few people I’m pretty sure will read this.] but for the purposes of this discussion, I will give you a bit of the premise here). In it, dystopian Panem, which used to be America, is composed of twelve Districts and a Capitol (Well, there used to be thirteen, but . . . nope. Off topic.), and the Capitol is horrible and oppressive and most of the twelve Districts are dirt poor, and the most horrible and oppressive thing the Capitol does is host these annual Hunger Games, in which each District must send two competitors – all in their teens – to this specially constructed arena and they’ll all fight in the arena until twenty-three of them are dead and one is declared the victor. Now, let’s make an analogy here. To say you just want your kid to be in the 1% is like saying you just want your kid to be the victor. And, okay, fine, obviously if I had a kid in the Hunger Games, I’d prefer they be the victor than not (although being a victor is . . . nope. Off topic. And maybe spoiler-y.) but what I’d really prefer is that there not be any Hunger Games. Because in order for my kid to be the victor in that situation, twenty-three other kids had to have died. And as much as I want to think that I can train my kid to be the victor, so much is out of my control – and even out of my kid’s control – in this situation that it should still be unacceptable to me that the Hunger Games exist. Or that the ability to have a reasonable middle- or even lower-middle-class life is disappearing and more and more, you can either be one of the ones living in luxury (the Capitol) or you can be scrambling from paycheck to paycheck (in the Games).

I know that in the analogy, that makes it seem like I want to overthrow capitalism (get rid of the Hunger Games) altogether. I don’t. I mean, I kind of do, but the population of the United States is over 310 million people. I think when you’re dealing with a society that’s anywhere over 10,000 people (Where did I get that number? I dunno. Out of my ass, I guess.) the levels of fascism you need to keep socialism going are too onerous (unless I get to be the Head Fascist). Plus there are good things about capitalism. Like encouraging the flowering of the fruits of human civilization. I like that. But we still need the government to heavily regulate the flow of goods and services to create the optimal balance between a free market and a protected populace. And that doesn’t come from saying, “I just want to make sure my kid is in the 1%.” Because we all have to live here.

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2 thoughts on “Un-Hippies

  1. Vanessa says:

    I tell you, I have been feeling the pressures to ensure my kids end up in the upper class. The middle class is dying and if I don’t get them on the higher end now, how will their kids do, or their kids kids….

    But then I see these protests. They bring me hope. People are getting it. People are remembering the French Revolution way before our society gets to that point.

    On one of your other points, my friend said “Yesterday Herman Cain, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said, in regards to the Occupy Wall Street protest, ”Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” This expressed a common view on the political right that if you are not successful and employed it is because you are lazy or perhaps have made poor decisions. In short, if you’re unemployed it’s your fault.

    I see several problems with this, but I’d like to focus on one in particular. Check out the unemployment graph below from the Department of Labor Statistics. Do Republicans seriously believe that from 2008 to 2009 twice as many people became lazy, poor decision makers?”

    I think it’s always funny to see very wealthy people saying “get jobs” and whatnot. Your point about luck is huge. A persons wealth is largely based on luck and where they were born in the world. Which reminds me of one of my favorite shirts: http://www.topatoco.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=TO&Product_Code=QW-ASTRO&Category_Code=QW-SHIRTS

  2. Barbara Ilardi says:

    this is an excellent essay. It should appear in newsprint somewhere (expletives etc. adjusted of course!).
    KEEP ON WRITING!

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