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writing for godot

Serfs and Servants, Rat holes and Rats

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Written by Dianne Post   
Thursday, 18 January 2018 03:07

At a meeting in early December 2017, the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections said that Hickman’s Family Farms, an egg production business in Buckeye, AZ, was having a hard time keeping workers because transportation to the rural location was difficult.  Their solution is to build apartments they are going to rent “cheaply” to their workers. The Director thought that was a wonderful idea.  I was horrified at the “company town” and the serfs being tied to it.

If there is a problem with transportation, other and cheaper ways can fix that.  In the summer between my high school and college years, I worked at the Admiral Plant in Rockford, Illinois.  I lived in Janesville, Wisconsin and every morning, the company sent a bus to pick up dozens of workers in Wisconsin.  I walked just a few blocks to meet the bus daily. Surely a bus to pick up workers would be cheaper than building an entire apartment complex for them.  It would also not constrict where workers could live or to whom they paid how much rent.

On the 20th of December, 2017 I heard a story on the local NPR station about Wal-Mart starting a program to manage their employees money.  They have contracted with Silicon Valley startups Even and Pay Activ to connect to their employees bank accounts, pay the mandated spending (rent, car payment), and then tell the employees how much they have left.  When the app sees “spare cash,” it will transfer it to savings.  Again, I was appalled at what looks like indentured servitude for some of the lowest paid workers in the U.S.

The idea for this app comes from a study done in 2016 by Fin Tech Innovation on 100 million workers who struggle with what Fin Tech calls “volatile income” - people working full time for as low as $15,000 annually.  Fin Tech says these people are not using auto pay because their income is not steady.  They might work 50 hours one week and 30 the next.  So the app watches the account and when there is some spare money, it transfers it to savings that, according to Fin Tech, “… build up effortlessly.”  Making less than $15,000 annually, I doubt any savings would be build up with or without effort.

The app also gives workers up-to-date information on available cash and upcoming bills so they can choose which to pay.  Do you think they aren’t making those tough choices now?  If there is a choice to pay the electric bill over the child’s medicine, I’m pretty sure the app would pay the electric bill while the mother would pay the child’s medicine.

The Wal-Mart program will be “free” to workers and will give them “financial guidance and structure.”  They will separate out the “essentials” or key expenses– rent, car payment- and make sure they are paid first.  If there is “volatile income,” or an unexpected need, a worker can borrow against the next paycheck.  But the money is always repaid from the next paycheck.  The good part is the abolition of interest and debt traps but the bad part is now the worker has less money to make it for another two weeks.  Most people living paycheck to paycheck cannot afford that.

As the reporter asked, why not just give the workers a raise? The answer was that Wal-Mart as the largest private employer in the U.S. with 1.5 million employees wants to “raise wages” in such a way that it will help the employees manage their expenses within the competitive dynamic Wal-Mart works in and the prevailing wage in the area.

First, there is no “raise wages” happening here.  Employees are not finding more in their pay envelope.  Second, since Wal-Mart is the largest private employer, they set the prevailing wage.  They are the anti-competitive dynamic at work. They create it, they don’t answer to it.

Allegedly by reducing financial stress, the workers will be in a better position to manage their day-to-day monies but it will do nothing for wage inequality.  It will help Wal-Mart because if workers are less stressed, they will stay longer and work harder.  If Wal-Mart knows that, then why not just pay the workers decently?  Why not just give them health care?  Why not give them a pension?

Wal-Mart says it costs $5,000 to replace each worker.  Then why not pay each worker $5,000 more and far fewer would leave.  Even if Wal-Mart paid each worker $2,500 more a year, that would save Wal-Mart money in replacement costs.  That extra $200 per month would be a godsend to the worker who could rent a better place, pay for groceries, buy a car, pay for medication etc.  What besides sheer cruelty stops Wal-Mart from taking this step that would save them money?

Allegedly this new app gives the worker flexibility (on $15,000 a year?) and keeps them out of the debt trap of payday and auto title loans.  That’s good to stay out of the debt trap, but it that should be done by prohibiting usurious loan rates not making your employees indentured servants.

Obviously the people who dreamed up this app have never been poor.  Did they ever even talk to someone who was poor?  Their apparent belief that people don’t have the sense to manage their own money is deeply insulting.  Poor people know better than the rich how to manage money because they don’t have it.

In my high school, money management was a part of the curriculum.  It was in civics where we learned about banks and checks (those existed then), savings and interest (both pro and con), stocks and bonds (we had to pick one, bet on it and see what happened to our money), and budgeting.  Of course civics has been eliminated in many secondary school.

The day before I heard the Wal-Mart story on the radio, I was reading a fiction book that mentioned a real estate developer in Colorado buying a decommissioned missile silo and converting it into luxury condos. When I read it, I thought, what a joke.  This is science fiction.  But it kept bothering me. The book author usually doesn’t put detail in his books that is blatantly false.

So I researched it and was shocked to find out that it’s true.  The 1% is buying these condos in preparation for a nuclear war, the apocalypse, Armageddon or when the rest of us come for them with our pitchforks, which time is closer than ever since the tax theft bill passed. Apparently $4 million will get you a condo complete with serious security to keep out the rabble.  They even have a nearby airstrip for your private jet (that now gets a tax deduction).  If you are really curious, there was such an apartment for rent on Airbnb – Subterra Castle at Eskridge, Kansas in the Flint Hills.

Why is the 1% so frightened?  America has become great in at least one thing – it is now the World Champion of Extreme Inequality.   The recently passed tax theft will make it even more unequal.  We have already been downgraded from a “developed” to a “developing” country because of our high maternal and child mortality rates, lack of health care, and inequality of income.  We have more recently been downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.”  We used to be part of the 9% of the people in the world who lived in a “full democracy” but now we have joined the 45% who live in a “flawed democracy.” That puts us in a box with Poland, Mongolia and Italy.

Unless you live in North Carolina where Harvard University’s Electoral Integrity Project rates North Carolina a 58 out of 100 for 2016.  That ranks the state with authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone.  When looking at legal framework and voter registration, the closest countries were Iran and Venezuela.  When a professor measured district boundaries, the state scored 7 out of 100 – that is the worst entity in the world analyzed by the project.  (Ratf**cked:  Why your vote doesn’t count, David Daley)

The December news just kept coming.  On December 21, the CDC announced that the U.S. had declined in life expectancy for the second year in a row.  That had not happened since 1962-63 and before that in the 1920s.  In 2014, a child born was expected to live 78.10 months, in 2015 down to 78.8 and in 2016, 78.7.  But the life expectancy rate decreased only for men, holding steady for women, now 81.  In fact life expectancy went up for people over 65 but down for those, especially males, from 25-54.  Those are the most productive and high earning years for most people so it would seem that the lack of decent paying work might have some impact. The CDC attributes it to the opioid and other drug deaths and increase in gun deaths.

The CDC reports, “The United States ranks below dozens of other high-income countries in life expectancy, according to the World Bank. Highest is Japan, at nearly 84 years. “The fact that U.S. has basically stagnated over the past seven years — and now we’re seeing small declines — is a real sign that the U.S. is doing badly,” said Jessica Ho, a University of Southern California researcher who studies death trends.”

Company towns, indentured servants, gross income inequality even worse than the Gilded Age, loss of democracy, dropping life expectancy - it seems the Republicans can’t get back to the Stone Age fast enough though the passage of the tax theft bill has moved us closer.  When the people realize what the bill will do to them, it won’t be long before the pitchforks come out.  When we come for them, the 1% will flee into their luxury condos underground, like the rats they are.  But they haven’t really thought this through. The history of The Great Depression, and those before and since, ensures that it all must come crashing down. Your luxury condos underground may save your life for a little while, but they won’t save your lifestyle forever. The people will always, inevitably, no matter how long it takes, some day, win.

 

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