Someone who has questioned the socio-economic relationships that dominate our society is NoImpactMan. He makes some very good comments in his latest post. I love the picture at the top of the post. We not only work the most of any society on earth we also are the most medicated, with anti-depressants among the most prescribed medications. But how do we break this pattern. How many of us can get by on one job? Or on a 40 hour week? At various times over the last ten years, I looked at my work arrangements and tried to calculate what I would need to make my basic living expenses, which are definitely not extravagant. When I worked at the party supply store I would have had to work an 80 hour week. I only got 24 for most of the time I worked there. I would have needed three more of those jobs to just eke out a living. At one, thankfully brief, time I had three. I was such a basket case you could have used me to illustrate the meaning of the term 'bitch.' Why should anyone be required to kill themselves to make a living? And now, of course, getting and keeping even these jobs is difficult.
For the last week or so the talking heads on CNBC have alternated between those guests who deplore the 'bonuses' given to Wall Street employees (below the level of CEO many of whom have 'foregone' their bonuses) and those who defend the 'bonuses.' I put the term in quotes because, as a couple of interviewees have pointed out, these payments are actually a part of the expected compensation for employees whose official, base salary is much lower. Many hired on with the expectation that, come hell or high water, they would get those payments. What most aren't saying, and some of the younger ones can't remember, is that this system arose out of a great public outcry back in the 1980s over salaries that had reached stratospheric levels and during another economic downturn. Instead of outright salaries much of the compensation was shifted to 'bonuses' and other benefits (cars, expense accounts, etc.). It was basically a way to mask the true level of compensation and appear that the companies (and their governing boards) were more 'responsible.' Unfortunately, the practice is at odds with ordinary Americans' understanding of what a bonus is and how it should function. Bonuses were awarded when the company did well as a (usually small) token of appreciation to the workers who made the profits possible. If the company didn't do well--no bonuses. Even very productive employees did not get anything extra if the company as a whole did not perform. In today's economic climate, those who did well should simply be glad to keep their job (with, maybe, a small raise to encourage them) and those who did not should join the unemployment line. No one should get bonuses that are several times their base salary.
As I read this story in the timesoftheinternet, a thought crossed my mind. I have heard a lot of criticism, mostly from business and investment types and conservative Republicans, of the stimulus package--especially the part that calls for iron and steel used in the various construction projects to be purchased from U.S. companies. Most claim it is protectionist and could lead to a round of tit-for-tat measures from our trading partners that would simply deepen the recession, as such measures did during the 1930s. Unfortunately, though they may be right, they are also behind the times. They assume that the U.S. would be starting this process when in fact, according to some of the stories I have read, other countries, including some of our largest trading partners, are intensifying protectionist policies that predate the downturn. Furthermore, the 'anti-protectionist' camp has to face the fact that ordinary people want some form of protection for their fragile economic existence. We have heard snippets of the problem rising unemployment in China but very little about the demonstrations in France, England, and Eastern Europe, many of which have turned violent.