Wednesday, October 13, 2004

If Red Wins In November

In 1945 the Red Army drew a line across Europe. Everything east of the line suddenly belonged to the Soviets. They only took the things they could use. Widows and orphans, the lame, individuals driven insane by years of allied bombing, all stayed behind; rocket scientists, pretty girls, museums full of old master paintings and entire factories (those not buried under the rubble) were shipped east. Some of the best things wound up in the offices and dachas of top people. They came, they saw, they took. Some would say they were entitled. If the Soviets didn’t invent the hostile takeover, they certainly perfected it, and their lessons are still being learned today.

It is not hard to tell who the winners and losers are in the New America. It isn’t the people sleeping on the heating grates outside your building. Do you ever wonder what happened to those grand, palatial state hospitals set in spacious park-like grounds? They were a quaint statement of an old-fashioned society that was proud to look after its less fortunate, but they were very expensive, some were downright awful inside and most of the people who lived there weren’t getting any better. Could they have been improved and reformed? Yes, but it would have cost even more money, which made it hard to justify. Goodness knows state hospitals don’t generate a lot of revenue. So about twenty years ago President Reagan set all of those people free, most of them anyway. And now they wander free on America’s streets and sleep under a canopy of stars.

Public good was the first thing to go in the New America. Why spend a lot of money on public things when private spending is so much more efficient? Public places are the most noticeable culprits. Public parks, public pools, sidewalks, libraries, schools. Who benefits when taxes pay for things that generate no money at all? Who needs a sidewalk when any responsible person can and should own a car? You could even say sidewalks are a disincentive to buy a car. What kind of a car dealer would I be if I were in favor of that? Why have public pools when it only dissuades people from putting a pool in their own backyard? Why have parks when anybody who works hard can fence and water and fertilize their own acre of bright green grass? It seems almost un-American to talk about these things. Don’t get me started on libraries and schools.

Private enterprise isn’t shirking its responsibilities either. Big companies used to squander thousands of dollars on public spaces. Have you been inside a bank lately? I mean who goes to banks anymore now that true patriots bank in the Bahamas? Those big, inefficient lobbies that used to be full of art and nice furniture and overpaid employees waiting to serve you are now tighter, less attractive, more cramped and much more efficient. Much of this can be disguised by dim lighting, which is cool because electricity doesn’t grow on trees. Attractive spaces invite people to look around and waste time, and time is money. Ugly buildings mean business. It’s as true for stores as it is for banks. People move in and out. They don’t look around. They get things done and that means more money on the bottom line.

Where does all that bottom line money go? You’ll be glad to know that not much of it is being wasted on you. Many of those dollars that used to pay more company employees to manufacture things or serve the customer now pay the housecleaners and the lawn and pool men who lovingly tend the large estates of major executives of thrifty companies. Twenty thousand dollars that used to pay a department store clerk or a bank teller for a year is spent efficiently and all at once on a tennis bracelet for the wife of the owner of the store or the bank who was wise enough to save the money instead of wasting it on wages. Art that used to decorate big wasteful lobbies now fits perfectly over the sofa in the large but efficient living room of the C.E.O. Pilots who used to consume thousands of gallons of scarce fossil fuels flying middle class vacationers to Hawaii and France are learning to fly the more fuel-efficient Gulfstream V tailored to serve the newer, smaller elite class of people who really earn their vacations and own their own private islands. Those private islands are also nearer to where they bank, and that’s part of being an efficient executive too.

It’s an exciting new world we live in, where the many (but not nearly as many as before) work more hours to satisfy the wants and needs of the few, where insecurity motivates people to better serve their masters. Productivity is up and complaining is down. This means fewer grocers but more caterers, fewer clerks in stores but more personal shoppers for a few lucky people who are too busy relaxing over a long lunch to run errands, fewer teachers but more jewelers and couturiers and furriers and decorators and tennis pros. There will be fewer jobs for museum guards because there will be fewer museums to guard with more of those paintings going into larger, more efficient executive mansions where technology and guard dogs will look after them practically for free. Why give expensive paintings to public museums when there are no tax savings in it? Private is good; public is bad.

With everybody working super hard pretty soon we won’t need any Government Programs or any Government at all. We’ll be too busy to demand it, too busy to vote, too poor to buy the stamp to write our congressman. We’ll beg our employers to pay our Congressmen for us. We’ll be on our own, which is the American way. We’ll have nobody to blame but ourselves. People who get terminally ill and lose their jobs or simply go crazy and become a burden to their families should put money aside beforehand and not complain to the rest of us.

So what exactly is Government good for? Mostly it’s a nuisance. Government regulations cost private businesses billions of dollars a year to evade, and even more for those really big private companies we’ve never heard of to pay the kind of lawyers we can’t afford. Whole offices of lawyers who work for pitiful salaries in government jobs regulating business to death could be put to better use in the lean, efficient ranks of corporate lobbyists. Clean water? Safe products? Fair markets where you won’t get cheated out of your life savings? Who are you kidding? Protections we used to enjoy and take for granted are probably too good for us anyway. What made us think we were entitled?

Things with the word Public on them should be thought of as valuable resources simply waiting to be cashed out and given away to the more deserving. Public lands? Drill them. Mine them. Except for the pretty ones--sell them. Parks can be sold too. What American C.E.O. wouldn’t love to have a ranch the size of Yellowstone? Libraries? Just an extravagance lavished on people too cheap to pay retail. And who has time to read in the New America? Who can afford to pay people to teach people to read? Workers who have wastefully catered to the selfish needs of the poor, the old, the young, the sick, the people with bad coping skills or bad financial advice will be grateful to do anything for the individuals who have money to pay them even if it means cleaning bathrooms, and they’ll be bathrooms twice the size of their own house. Teachers? Wouldn’t you rather be a governess to the darling children of a baron in a big mansion on a lake in the mountains just like in Rodgers and Hammerstein? It’s much more picturesque than public school.

If we’re lucky, the New America will be just like Merry Olde England, or Merry Olde France, where happy people lived in cozy, picturesque cottages provided almost for free by the kind, tastefully attired people who lived in the enormous and well-decorated house inside the gates in exchange for lifetime servitude. Or dear old Dixie, where the nights were filled with the sounds of banjos strumming and voices lifted in grateful song. Or Imperial Russia where the serfs all dressed in those neat tunics and toiled long years under the lash in the fields of the nobles, wisely redirecting their class grudges in periodic pogroms against the Jews. Before the Soviets came in and ruined everything. But that was just careful redistribution of resources, wasn’t it? Close scrutiny of the Kremlin files has revealed that the Soviets weren’t really Communists at all! They were hardheaded businessmen of the old new school, complete with yachts and jaunty nautical costumes. Stalin practically invented downsizing; ask the kulaks. And the most brilliant formulation of all was the one that won the war. It goes something like this: fewer jobs means lower wages, lower wages means more money for me and my friends, more money for me and my friends means fancier dachas, fancier dachas mean less time spent where you can smell the lower classes at work. But most importantly, fewer jobs also means more soldiers to fire out of the cannons of the proletariat. This is the kind of class warfare the Republicans can actually embrace. Because more than anything the New America needs an obedient people, people who know how to work or if they don’t are at least afraid to not work, people who are glad to spend their working lives feathering other peoples’ nests.


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