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A Zero Sum Game: When will you actually get it?

A Zero Sum GameWe have all become inundated with a daily dose of how unfair the world is to all of us. Thanks to the media in general, and the partisan public relations engines of both parties, it seems we have nothing to worry about regarding our future, other than getting what we want by taking what others have. Or for a select few – and you know who you are – having others take what we have worked so hard to earn.
Oh yeah, some of you didn’t really earn it did you? You got it from your parents, didn’t you? And of course your parents didn’t really earn it either, they took it from the masses. They had the audacity many years, or generations ago, to start a business and be successful. And of course they were successful because people, mostly middle-class people no doubt – the robber barons always sell their insidious goods to the middle class don’t they?
Yes they made their widgets and sold them to the people. And at first it all went well and everyone was happy. The businessmen (robber-barons) made the things we want in the U.S. and we paid them for them and then IT happened…
We found out just how much money you were making, even though each of us only paid a small amount – and at the time that small amount seemed ok. But you committed a heinous crime. You got successful. Not just successful – too successful. You made too much money and you moved up town… How could you?
Then as we complained to our congress people about how you were simply robbing us all, they stepped in and enacted, rules, and laws and taxes to make it fair. So we could get some of our money back in our pockets by redistribution.
And then you made it worse! As your profits went down you didn’t hire as much, in fact you laid off some of us. And then when we bought less because some were out of work you raised prices. Then we could not afford to buy your products as often and your sales dropped and you laid off some of us people.
The Chinese saw your success and your rising costs and they started to build the same product you did. We bought theirs because it was cheaper, and also to teach you a lesson. Soon, you on your own decided if you didn’t find cheaper workers you would be out of business. So you moved your factory to Mexico, or Singapore or China. How could you?
So, we asked our congress-people to fix this again, and they slapped on import duties. Yea, that will show them – and you… But, you both just raised the retail price and we ended up paying more for the same thing. Yea, our wages were not going up as fast as the prices but we had some tricks up our sleeves yet.
Since you and the other businessmen (robber barons) were now hiring cheaper and cheaper workers, we formed unions and made you pay us more and give us more stuff just to work for you. If you didn’t unionize, we got congress to increase the minimum wage and legislate some of the great free things you need to give us just cause we work for you – again we showed you. Now again, you had to pay us what we wanted if you hired any of us. Sure, you could no longer sell much of your product to the rest of the world cause it was too expensive and the quality was no longer any good because we don’t really have to meet any standards for you to pay us, but you were sharing your prosperity with us weren’t you? It’s only fair!
Of course, you again raised your prices to cover these new costs and you complained that you were no longer competitive and foreign products were taking the market and your company could not export anything either because of price and quality. Look, when we saw that what you said was true we stood up to help didn’t we? We are not uncaring after all! We came to your rescue and we asked congress to give you some tax breaks and subsidize our purchase of your products.
I know what you’re going to say! Sure, all of our taxes went up to pay for the cost of the programs to give the tax breaks and subsidies – but look even you understand the money has to come from somewhere. And rightly so, most of it came our of your share. That’s why you raised your prices again isn’t it? When will you learn, Mr. Robber Baron, that you can’t fool us! Yea, you say you’re not making any money, but we don’t believe you! You live uptown. You made a lot of money. We see your cars, your yachts, your corporate jets… So what if we are only paying a few cents profit for your product when we buy it, you sell a lot of it to us don’t you. Look you owe us! Without us you would not exist. What do you take us for, common workers? We don’t do common labor – don’t you get it! We are Americans, not some third-worlders. We don’t work cheap buddy. It’s about time you figured that out. And don’t try to hire those illegal immigrants either. We won’t let you exploit them like you used to exploit us!
So you better get a clue. It is not important if you can produce a product cheap enough so we can afford to buy it. We don’t need your product. We can buy the one from India, or Sulawesi. America is the import master of the world don’t you see? Why do you think we have such a huge trade deficit – we have bought over $11 trillion more in goods than we sold since 1972 – only American’s can do something like that bub!
You know we don’t need your kind in America – I mean you manufacturers, and oil producers, and steel companies, and commercial fishers, and lumber companies, farmers, and miners, and others like you. You are not nice to the environment, you harm animals, you exploit workers, you make noise, and you don’t create the kind of jobs we deserve. We went to college you know. We deserve high paying non-labor jobs anyway. We buy all that stuff from other countries anyway. Let their people not go to college and do that hard messy and dangerous work.
You know, it doesn’t matter anyway. When we want more, we will just increase regulations, increase taxes – on you, and get our legislators to increase what the government owes us, and what you have to pay for, or give to us – that is if If we debase ourselves enough to actually work for you. Yea sure, you can try to increase the prices but you know what we will do about that – now don’t you?

6 Responses

  1. You sir, are a staggering asshole.
    Let’s just skip all the folderol and go straight back to feudalism why don’t we? That would end all that silliness about wages, unions, workers compensation, health care and education. The masters could trade the products of their serfs among themselves and most importantly, they would finally get laid without paying an hourly fee.
    And as long as we’re skipping back we can skip right forward again to the French Revolution. I’m sure there would be a space on a tumbrel for you.

    1. I suppose you can get some to read but not to see. You have missed the point I was making, lost in your passion. My point in this article was not as you describe. My point was to illustrate that we no longer are in a nation state based economic bubble. Historically, nations could create currency and drive their economy because money created and provided to the people within the economy stimulates the production of work output that translated to real value. Competitive forces between economies were not the same when the economic engines were not so directly linked.
      Today, in our current world based economy, the underlying economic forces within the national economy are now much more directly linked to the rest of the world. As a result, the concept of changes in the cost structure of a segment of the economy, either favored industry, or targeted redistribution is not a zero sum game. The unintended consequences today are all flowing back to the consumers of the products.
      You chose to be disagreeable instead of disagreeing. I assume this is likely due to your passion on these topics. I posted your invective filled comment, unaltered, as I believe that your opinion is as valid as anyone else and should be expressed. I also believe that like all on either side of these issues, you are trying to do what you think best. Unlike your assertions in the above comment, I do believe in the need to help others. In fact, I believe it is a personal obligation to help your neighbor. I believe there is a important role for the government to fill in the provision of safety nets. I also believe that part of the major problems we have to day is the prevalence of absolutism and lack of tolerance for others ideas, positions and considerations. It is a failure on my part that you did not see the point. It is also a failure on all of us that instead of stimulating a dialog where two, or more, people can discuss the issues, once again enhancing tolerance and education is lost to positioning.

  2. Tom, Very well written piece, even I could understand. Off topic a bit, but I have often wondered when it became a crime to be successful in out great nation. I say it has become a crime because crimes generally beget punishments. From where I am sitting it has become the battle cry that success should be punished. These people who have dared to become “rich” must be made to pay. Maybe I am too simplistic, I like to take things to a level that I can understand them, so from my perspective “making the rich pay” is equivalent to making the healthy ill. Let’s all suffer from the same disease (after all misery does love company), instead of having the healthiest (wealthiest) among us assist in our own recovery.
    Additional financial burdens levied upon the corporate owners will only lessen the liklihood of continued growth and prosperity, which in turn will lessen the probabilty that these entities will be able to or desire to continue corporate growth (creation of jobs) or research and development (creation of jobs). Instead should we not encourage these successful folks to become even more successful? Perhaps consideration should be given to changing the tax laws as they apply to corporate success, but perhaps they should change to encourage growth and expansion, a reward rather than a punishment. Certainly there are some “loopholes” that could be stitched up, but there are other “seams” that could be let out. Provide tax breaks for new green innovations, job creation, research and development. I don’t know about you, but those limas were a lot easier to swallow with the promise of chocolate pudding to follow.
    Didn’t mean to ramble, but I feel better now.

    1. Thanks for the comments Pam. I think you were stayed squarely on topic. My point, in this piece, is to suggest that we need to understand there is no free lunch. Every decision we have make, clever or not, historically has often come back to bite us.
      There is a phrase that is used to describe people who are always trying to convince others through extraordinarily complicated scenarios of the rightness of their solutions – they are referred to as, “too clever by half!” Most of the things we have come up with to shift responsibility to others all fall into this too clever by half category.
      Again, historically, it is the simplest solutions that have stood the test of time. Your suggestions, to me, are the correct ones. Go to a simple flat tax, eliminate all loop holes, eliminate governmental favored causes, build a true safety net for the underserved and the most fragile among us, define clearly those that should be eligible for the safety nets, defend the helpless but ignore the clueless, reinstall, in all of us, the understanding that one of our paramount duties is to help our fellow man. And by that last statement, I don’t mean make some other group do it, or make a government program to do it. I mean go back to re-educating our youth and ourselves to the value that we should all lend hands to each other directly.
      In the health care debate – President Obama, at the round table with republicans at Blair House, cited a number of studies showing that the effective rate of government health care spending that actually was going to patient care was between 30 cents and 50 cents on the dollar. The rest was wasted on inefficiencies, fraud, and duplicated services. I have long held that if we all gave the money directly to charities, with most of whom 70 to 80 cents goes to care, would be much more efficient and effective. Of course if I give 1 dollar to a needy person they then get the benefit of the whole dollar.
      Thanks again for the comments! Please, tell others to read if you think they would benefit.

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