I was once a young man. I not only suffered from the petulance of youth but at the same time pictured the possibility of an ideal world in which I could personally make a difference. I became disheartened though when I found myself living paycheck to paycheck and every dollar that came in was a struggle to earn while every dollar that went out seemed to evaporate as soon as I got that paycheck. I was bored and disenchanted with my life.
At the depths of dilemma, I went out on my porch and complained to the gods that I was sick and tired of spending money on things I could barely afford and I wondered, with my hardy appetite, if I was barely able to even put food on the table for myself now, than how would I ever be able to raise a family later on? To that end, what mate would even consider a stale breadwinner if not an outright man of constant struggles? Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man appeared on the path leading up to the porch. He called himself Mr. Applegate and looked quite a lot like the actor Ray Walston. After I got over being startled by him lurking about, I made some joke about him being a Martian and invading my porch world. Ray Walston was the star of the TV show of my childhood called “My Favorite Martian.”
“I have more earthly things to offer you,” he stated. “May I,” and he walked up and sat down on my porch. “What would you say if I told you I could help you with your little predicament?”
“What predicament is that, Mr., ah…Applegate?” I asked.
“Most of my associates just call me Bub.”
“Associates? That’s not what your friends call you?” I further inquired.
“Well, I am here on more of a business nature. I heard your plea and agree that it’s a shame a young man with your skills, what I mean is, who has more than a little brains, a little talent, has to scrimp just to get by. I like to call that type of economizing to “draw in your horns.”
“…and I suppose you’re a man that can somehow help with that?” I uttered incredulously.
“Let’s just say that when I leave here, I can make it that the prices of the things that you buy will begin to say, drop precipitously. You will be the one calling the shots and not those who tell you what to buy, when to buy, and how to buy it. There will be items that come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and so many choices that it will make your head spin.” He countered.
“If this is some type of business arrangement, as you state it, then there must be something you get out of it.”
“Why yes, all I ask is that when your days are done here that you become part of the group I represent. A club of other disillusioned souls such as you.” He continued.
I certainly caught his drift and knew just what he was after. “That sounds like a lot to pay, so to speak.”
“Well, there’s more. When things do become so much more affordable, your stock will rise on the marriage market too, meaning there will be a woman in your future that will no longer balk at your social station since you will be able to provide for her and your new family in the way they will need to be accustomed to.”
“You are going to tell me that somehow, poof, all this will change as soon as you leave my porch?”
“Okay, I do have a little problem, I know this other guy, he calls himself a doctor but he can’t seem to tell whether he is a medical doctor or an academic doctor. At any rate, I already made a deal with him, Faustus was the name he went by, that incomes will go up substantially in his field, so that means that I can’t lower prices for college tuitions nor medical expenses which are both off the table but I can offer you everything else imaginable or even unimaginable. Summer fruit in winter, vegetables you’ve never even heard of, little computers that you hold in your hand, and TV’s that look as clear as a crystal lake.”
Now it is many years later and, needless to say, that I made that deal. I have my beautiful family but I am even more distraught than when I began the whole rotten arrangement for what I have done to them. Yes, prices of every shape and form not only dropped along with choices for everything that grew astronomically too. Applegate, unleashed the “free market” as he called it and suddenly everything was a huge competition. Each company did everything they could do to lower prices and make themselves more unique. Big box stores came about and got us even lower prices than that. They fought to do everything they could to give me the best deal which included leverage to demand their suppliers to make things ever cheaper. If I didn’t like it, I could most likely even find someplace else that would be cheaper. The suppliers had no choice but to pay employees less or go overseas to get lower costs to meet my lower price that the retailer demanded they charge just to satisfy me.
Each company in order to become more competitive began pouring money into politics to get politicians who could do their businesses favors, eliminate regulations, and to pay for lobbyists to get rules that would gain an advantage for their company. If there was a rule or regulation a company didn’t like, they would get it abolished, watered down, or find a way around it. If there was a rule or regulation that hurt an entire industry, the whole sector would band together to get the darn thing obliterated. For the average Joe, democracy fell by the wayside. A world that knows low prices but has forgotten that you’ve gotta have heart.
So while I have my cheap goods, my kids don’t have jobs or even if they do, there are not many high paying ones out there. We now have no democracy left as the average citizen has no representation. No social or common good has any chance to see the light of day anymore. With all the competition, some have made it truly big and successful while everyone else struggles like I once did. What that means is a huge income inequality. What income inequality means besides lousy jobs is that our country has more crime, worse healthcare, lower life expectancy, more stress, more depression, less trust, more self-centeredness, less social connection, and every other social pariah you can think of. Even those who do well financially are still worse off in a society where the ills of its inhabitants affect everyone’s quality of life. With all Western cultures becoming more income unequal and feeding the competition juggernaut for lower prices and better stock prices, the rest of the world just either gets caught up in it too or just goes in the opposite direction and says “Damn Yankees.”
Ironically, I have done very well. Not only did I do well as a consumer with low prices but I am in the financial services sector. Each company’s job was to increase productivity and get lower prices to gain market share which in turn increased profits and gained more shareholders. That meant growing stock prices and less costs to buy them due to competition and deregulation from brokerage firms that buy those stocks. That, in turn, meant that I saw both my clients and my own assets and grow.
What have I done though? Now that I am older, I know that any consumer item should complement your life and not define it. Now that I am older and closer to having Applegate take my soul, while I no longer ask myself who’s got the pain, I cannot believe what I have done to my children and the children of the world. I have left them with more and more fake democracies, social ills of every kind, and no jobs or no quality jobs. Even worst of all with companies needing to focus on short term profits they have forsaken the environment for the long term health of the planet and now we approach a time when global warming will cost far too much to control. For what, a bunch of deals where I can find something a few cents cheaper if I look online or go to the next company who exploits workers more than the first one or does not even pay its employees a living wage so they can offer a better price? It didn’t used to be that way before I upset the apple cart, or Applegate, at any rate. When you’re young though, a man doesn’t know. It makes me think instead of how much pain I felt in my wallet then, from where I sit now, I could be looking on those times as those were the good old days.
What I failed to realize when I made this contract is that while consumer goods help the individual, it is the things that help all of us, such as a government that helps the many and instills economic justice, and incomes that are fairer, and social values that help our children and protect our planet, that are all part of the citizen side in us that have failed. I failed to see how when changing one thing, it reverberates all down the line.
So this great bargain was not a bargain at all. So to my children and to all children, I beg their forgiveness. I pray that it is not too late to put the toothpaste back in the barn. The only way out is a mass social movement demanding fairness, justice, and equal representation, some used to call it democracy. A system where all companies have to play by the same rules and removes money and influence out of the political rule making game. A movement based on action and not on governmental and corporate image, spin, and public relations. To all others I say “want to buy a soul for cheap?”