Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Price of Convenience

There have been a number of very popular books, from the Bible's "Ecclesiastis" (B.C.) to "The History of Materialism and Criticism of its present importance" (Bertrand Russell, 1950) "Henry and the Great Society" (H.L. Roush, 1969) to "Fight Club" (Chuck Palahniuk, 1996). I am sure there are many more... these are just some that I have had the pleasure to have read.

I just recently finished "Henry" and while it was the least creative of the above mentioned books it did a great job of driving home hard data of the impact of "labor saving devices" on our lives. (Ever hear of the concept "Time and Motion Study"? I almost wish I had not. Once you understand the implications you will find it always and everywhere in your thoughts.)  Anyway... clearly, given my reading habits, I have been infected by this for some time.

When I commuted to work in New York, I couldn't help but resent the time spent on the train - about an hour each way. Of course, the schedule said 44 minutes, but who gets to the platform with 1 second to go before departure? Time waiting for the train PLUS time on the train PLUS time from the station to home or work equaled my commuting time. I was on the 6:301 AM express every day and got home everyday at about 7:10 PM. This is NOT an 8 hour day. Isn't that what all those "labor saving devices" were supposed to do? Free us from drudgery and overwork? So that we would have disposable income for luxury items (think McMansions)?  I went months without even seeing the sun. 

(I had back problems as a young man and I always attributed them to playing football in high school and college and heavy weight lifting. When I moved to Florida my back problems went away without any input that I was aware of. Of course, for the first time in years I was getting enough calcium via dairy and plenty of sunshine/vitamin D. At the time I did not make the connection, but recently I have come across studies showing a very high correlation between back pain and insufficient calcium intake and vitamin D blood levels. Of course, I can't know for sure that that was it. I can tell you that I make sure I get enough sun/vitamin D supplements, fatty fish, eggs, organ meat and calcium just in case). 

I had a beautiful house on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River in Westchester that I never enjoyed (or when I did I was too exhausted to notice the view), a gorgeous young wife I never saw (she worked like crazy, too), and a leased Range Rover in the garage that I never drove. I worked around the clock to pay for stuff I never used, didn't like, and didn't really want - but I didn't know that until after I bought it - and my weekends were taken up with all of the mundane things that needed doing but did not get done with my work schedule. This is what happens when you don't think for yourself. 

Think of all that was not - no car, no mortgage, no cable bill, no TV, no smart phone bill, no health insurance/life insurance/car insurance/whatever bill. All those labor saving devices, luxuries, conveniences, and bragging rights conspired to trap me (us) into a 12 hour day. So much for "convenience" and "labor saving".

Do you know how long a human being can keep that kind of work schedule? Not all that long. Somewhere in your 40's you simply cannot keep this pace, or worse your health deteriorates. Yet the system has kept you in school earning nothing (and going into debt) until your mid 20's giving you only 20 years to really feather the nest. Do you know how many people have a feathered nest by 50 today? How about being mortgage free, with a fat retirement account and money to educate the kids? Almost none. Government workers, specialty surgeons, trial lawyers, and investment bankers/brokers/hedge fund managers. Everybody else doesn't have 2 nickels to rub together - but they do have cars and smart phones and cable TV. The very things that were supposed to give people freedom and leisure have enslaved them.

The economy and the employment situation in the U.S. and Europe has been giving signals to people to rearrange their lives - rather than listen to those signals large portions of the population want the government/president/Congress/Tooth Fairy to "fix it". Fix what, exactly?

Entire industries were conceived to keep you in debt. Mortgage debt, auto debt, credit card debt - and now Educational debt. One cannot be in debt and be "financially secure". These are mutually exclusive events. Said another way, if you are in debt you are insecure - and the system likes it that way. Even if you - the individual - were to curtail your debt, the government would increase its debt to keep "demand" going and to "fix" the economy.

Entire industries were conceived to destroy the environment AND addict you to "labor saving devices" that, in truth, have only forced you to work yourself to ill health - and they did it "at one fell swoop". 

The financial system teetered and nearly ended (and Europe is doing its best to finish itself  off) from inappropriate levels of debt. What's the government's solution? More debt (which is exactly what you should do if you want to put off the day of reckoning; that is hardly a cure). While the climate models of Hanson, et al have not been terribly predictive of temperatures, the incidence of record new high temps is 10X the number of record new low temps, and the atmosphere's CO2 concentration does continue to climb. Can we prove the link? Not yet. When we can, we will be dead. So what do our leaders talk about this election season? How to drill more so that we can lower the price of gasoline and increase carbon emissions! Got that? Our leaders want you to have a "good job at a good wage" (so that you can go into debt) with nothing to show for it at the end of the month (or the end of your work life) but miles on a car you can't afford, driven to a house you never see (and can't afford to heat or pay the property taxes on), dragging around a bag for a belly because that "good job at a good wage" requires you to sit for 10 hours per day moving bites around a screen in the complete absence of sunlight, fresh air, and exercise... all so you can afford the "labor saving devices" in your life and the fossil fuels that will eventually kill you, your family, and everybody you know.

And this is what people want? What they are asking their political leaders for?

The economy Tee'ed it up for our political leaders, Intellectuals, educators, philosophers, ethicists, parents,  etc... to change the narrative. To end the enslavement to "labor saving devices" - and the debt incurred to buy them - that by all scientific accounts are destroying the life giving properties of our planet. Seems like a win-win, no? Yet all I see on the web for political debate are references to Women's Reproductive Rights (abortions) and Gay marriage (yawn). John Lennon famously quiped "If everybody demanded peace instead of another Television set, then there would be peace". Old John must be spinning around in his grave. We have too many T.V.'s, so now it is cell phones and note pads - yet another monthly bill that must be serviced in an environment of declining incomes. 

This is the non sequitur presidential election. NOTHING follows. Not a flippin' thing. They both want to expand drilling, coal production, the economy, employment, government spending... all of which requires forcing the population into debt (to increase money supply and demand) as well to increase the Federal Government's debt problem. This is exactly what we have been doing for 40 years or so since the end of the "gold standard". How's it working out for the "middle class" so far? (That was a rhetorical question. The middle class does not exist and never existed. They are merely members of the hand to mouth working poor.)

Sometimes I think I am the only normal person left.

In the final analysis, this is probably all just too complicated and entrenched politically and systemically to "solve" on a macro level. Ergo, it is all about you.


PioneerPreppy said...

I won't argue with you about your debt, spending, drilling, growth theory and both candidates. It's moot regardless because even if Romney wanted to cut spending the rest of the government will never allow it.

However I strongly disagree that the current election is without meaning. The upcoming next few years and the pain we are goign to face as a society will go down much smoother with as many personal rights and liberties as possible intact.

Both candidates are a threat to those freedoms and rights true but it doesn't take a brain surgeon to know which one is the greater danger.

This election is pivotal to how brutal the next decade is going to be in my opinion.

dennis said...

Strange, Obama missed a chance to change our financial values. To address the roots of our debt and financial inequality. Instead he greatly multiplied it.
Bush missed a chance to bring peace to the middle east after 9/11. Instead he multiplied the problem a hundred fold. I have no hope for the two party system. This election is like deciding if you want cancer and diabetes or cancer and heart disease.

Greg T. Jeffers said...


I stand corrected.

"The upcoming next few years and the pain we are goign to face as a society will go down much smoother with as many personal rights and liberties as possible intact."

I could not agree more.

Greg T. Jeffers said...


Essentially ALL government "solutions" have little net benefit.

Each "solution" the EPA, the USDA, whatever... was to solve a previous problem created. These new solutions create new problems requiring new solutions in a never ending cluster f**k.

kathy said...

Never thought I would ask this but may I put this link on my blog? We are as far apart as possle on many issues but I appreciate your fine mind and your grasp of the obvious. We recognized all this while my husband was commuting an hour to work and we had to hire help for household tasks. He retired at 59 with no pension. We are living off some good investments, our savings and our SS check.
we manage because we never carried debt and we are very good savers. We were never rich and we never will be but we grow most of our food and can heat the house with wood from our own land. Our kids live close by and will help us in our dotage. Life is good and I don't owe abody one damn thing

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Feel free Kathy. I am going to expound on "the price of convenience" for the next several posts. I look forward to discussing this with you.

And Kathy... you, perhaps unknowingly, own the "means of production" (ability to grow food, harvest wood for heat). And you have family!

The number of aging "yuppies" that put in 30 years for the Corporatocracy with neither is nothing short of astounding - and disastrous.

Dan said...

One of the big reasons is living alone, 47% in NYC. For a couple, or at least a couple where one of them isn't a toxic wife, the burdens of life are shared. Be it a second income or one of them working in the home economy, couples will have a better outcome than singletons. Something like 10% of the population of the US lives alone but it approaches 50% in major cities.

tweell said...

Debt is a handy handle to control people with, and our financial system wields it skillfully. It is very hard not to fall into the hole, and much harder to climb out.

"You load sixteen tons, what do you get Another day older and deeper in debt Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go I owe my soul to the company store"