Monday, January 19, 2009

Things that are cool

Somebody recently told me that they were "cool" with the war in Afghanistan, and that they "had no problem" with the first Gulf War either. I suggested that this is true of many American liberals, because it does not affect them: It is easy to be "cool" with things when you are insulated from their costs.

Somebody recently told me about veterinarian research she was doing which involved putting sheep in an agitator, shaking vigorously, and then measuring bone density over time. I asked: "And the sheep are cool with this?"

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In business, decision-making that negatively affects others is sometimes called "making the hard choices." Managers who make the hard choices are held in high-esteem by those who benefit from the costs imposed on others. A good manager is someone who keeps the cost of paying people to do productive work low enough that investors and executive managers can derive the maximum value out of work that they do not perform. The people who do the necessary work make enough money to live, if they are lucky; however, in the world's wealthiest nation they aren't that lucky: most working people live indebted to other businesses in order to pay their bills, which can include food, fuel and medical costs -- to say nothing of education or anything else. The advantage to business is that most of the population has no other means to survive except to "rent" themselves to employers who absorb most of the value of their work.

Naturally, nobody is "cool" with this arrangement except those who either inherit its advantages, or who, by one means or another, manage to erect a long enough ladder between themselves and the lowest classes that they no longer bear the primary costs of the exchange -- namely, the economic costs. At this point one may be "okay" with things, because there is refuge to be taken in the small comforts of say, home ownership, and one can parlay some modicum of respectability from this. In fact, this is referred to as the "American dream" -- "working hard" so as to become useful enough to the bosses that they grant you the means to rent a home from the banks they own so that you can one day pay property taxes to the government they run. There is no higher calling for the average American.

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