Angels and Assholes: #6 Absurdity

Short Version

Greed: the capitalist crisis of our time.

Expanded Version

Eventually most of us realize there’s generally two sides to most every story. Cops and robbers, for instance: some a-holes in both cultures. Get an a-hole involved and there’s fireworks. There’s news. In some cases it’s absurd. Issues with two sides can be argued interminably, as we may have noticed in our political arena.…sometimes for valid reasons, sometimes not.  But difficult for change, needed or not, to occur.

Absurd: ‘Ridiculously incongruous or unreasonable.’ A case could be made that two sides may not exist in absurdity. When something is wrong to the point of absurdity, change screams out “I’m needed. Just do it!” A few unattractive examples: 

  1. Is making a profit selling a product and then making another profit when it falls apart absurd?  Seems absurd to me.
  2. Interpreting ‘holy’ to mean we need to kill everybody, bring on the apocalypse. What!?
  3. More U.S. troops in Afghanistan killing themselves by suicide than are killed in combat. Sad and absurd. Someone’s not happy about what they’re asked to do.
  4. Thousands of ‘rape kits’ never even looked at. After what a woman has to go through to own that Rape Kit!? Absurd? I hope you think so. They can spin it whatever way they want, I don’t see another side. Every Rape Kit gets looked at. Period.
  5. More people killed (I read on Facebook…don’t recall the source. Hope it’s wrong, but…) in one week in Baltimore than an entire year in Canada. Holy crap! Something’s so wrong there wouldn’t you say it’s absurd? But we can’t just blame Baltimore. It’s urban culture: the murder rate in the US is 20 times the global average (Mpls. Star & Trib. 1/8/16).
  6. The “affluenza” defense. Entitlement (in other words being an a-hole) excusing a serious crime. Right!
  7. The “greed” capitulation:

Let’s elaborate on this one. Gotta talk about the growing divide between the rich and the poor. May be the topic of the year. And NOT sustainable as history has proven. Absurd? about the ratio of CEO to worker pay? Up from 123-1 in 2014, already absurd, to 303-1 in 2015 (source: Economic Policy Institution), even more absurd. And, you see the direction? The old 1% becoming the .05%: less than 1% controlling most of the assets in the richest country in the world. That’s totally begging for trouble. More like a dictatorship than a democracy with too few people with too much power and influence in getting their way. In countries where people report they’re happy and not killing each other, like Sweden, it’s 89-1, and Norway 58-1. So, we’re a mite high here in the U.S. of Wall Street.

Even more absurd is often a CEO is paid a huge bonus and severance for destroying a company. Let’s take a gander at one of our presidential candidates. This candidate took over Hewlett Packard in the late 1990’s, and immediately boosted short term growth by cutting research and development, a hallmark of HP since the company was founded in 1939. After cashing in the discounted shares received as compensation, while they were high, she then gradually drove the share price down 50% without any long term growth happening in the company. 30.000 employees lost their jobs, but the ‘smart’ little lady drifted away on a $21 million golden parachute. And now she is running for president. Get rewarded for failure, get rich screwing people, and buy a candidacy with the winnings. Absurd?

The incentive in this current (absurd?) culture of greed, according to Rana Foroohar in Time (10/26/16), is for CEO’s to “boost share price in the short term, even if it wreaks havoc with corporate well-being, jobs, and long term growth.” Wm. Lazanic, an academic at the University of Massachusetts chimed in: “This toxic combination of stock-based executive pay and open-market repurchases has contributed to not only the growing concentration of income at the top but also the failure of the U.S. economy to sustain existing middle class jobs and create new ones.” 

The money at the top doesn’t ‘trickle’ down. It stays there. Those ‘in the know,’ use their knowledge to make it grow at the majority’s expense. Not to be condescending but like an adult using their knowledge to convince a kid to trade his dime for a ‘larger’ nickel. I mean how many of us know what a ‘reverse credit default swap’ is? And, I believe most of us know ‘larger’ is dangerous, not better. The irony is if ‘workers’ were paid better, companies would be more profitable because rather than the 1% padding their bulging pockets, the ‘workers’ will spend. Everyone would benefit, except CEO types who know the game and are allowed, encouraged by the prevailing culture of greed, to keep it all for themselves and their enablers. Wall Street has become a monarchy ruled by financial tyrants. Too strong a statement? I wonder.

So, are CEO’s, like our lady, a-holes? She apparently didn’t break any rules. She just ‘played’ the game, and us. Maybe the rules to the game need to be changed? We could call this game, this culture of greed, the capitalism crisis of our time. The financial and industrial crisis of the1800’s led to reform in the U.S. (revolution in other parts of the world). The crisis called the Great Depression brought us today’s welfare state. The current artificial booms (like the ‘sub-prime’ bogus) made the already rich even richer, and the resulting busts made the already rich richer yet, but the rest, the large majority – us --   poorer, losing homes, jobs, dreams. Thus increasing the ominous, widening gap between rich and poor and, maybe even more significant, the resulting stress on the natural environment. Changing things, which I believe most of us knows has to happen, calls for reform or, even, a, hopefully peaceful, revolution. A survey by Esquire found people are angry. (Are the rest just resigned, feeling powerless?) If apathy prevails not only will things not change but by ‘compounding’ let’s call it, they will get worse, even more absurd.

I applaud the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ sit-ins and protests as well as the recent ‘Flood Wall Street’ demonstrations. Those people are not apathetic. They are at least drawing attention to the unrest created by the absurdities of a country being divided and destroyed by greed. Are these ‘activists’ a harbinger of a revolution? Rather than sit around moaning and grumbling about stagnant wages, global warming (which is intricately related), and all the ills resulting from it, we need to step up to change things. It’s absurd if we don’t. Since we live in a democracy, the accepted way to change things, since most of us can’t participate in sit-ins and demonstrations, and we can do it from our couches and sitting at our computers, is to make sure our elected officials know we expect them to represent us. Not themselves and ‘special interests.’ It may be some changes need to come about in the electoral process for that to happen. Changing a culture takes time. Altering the direction needs be started. There’s a lot of money behind the current momentum. BUT, remember-- the government officials that will change things work for us. They are our employees. If they’re not doing what we’ve hired them to do, fire them and hire employees that do.

I admit to having been apathetic in the past. I hid out, in the country, and raised my kids in a harmonious environment, burying my head in a contented obliviousness. Now I have grandchildren, twelve of them. I now feel I have a responsibility to protect the future world for them. It would be absurd to me to love my grandchildren and not get involved, keep my mouth shut.