Instant Insanity

These are just a few of the items that convince me that our society is going insane at an increasingly rapid pace.

1. The Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky/Whoever-else-you-want-to-add scandal in the U.S. The self-proclaimed most powerful nation in the world allows its leader to be handcuffed by the most idiotic court case in the history of the U.S. Right now, they are arguing over whether or not Clinton looked “sternly” at Paula Jones, and may have held the door shut for a “split second” after making sexual advances to her. These people– Kenneth Starr, the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch, the media, are INSANE. Hatch in particular should get an Oscar. There he sits, with a straight face, shamelessly wringing his hands about how tragic and awful that the president had sexual urges— while knowing full well that the entire scandal has become nothing more than a conservative putsch. The media collaborates in a black comedy of farcical proportions, pretending that this is all serious, important stuff. What do these men say privately after the camera is turned off? They must cover their faces and laugh like banshees… “I can’t believe they’re still swallowing this stuff.”

2. Kevin Weber, who stole–let me get this right– FOUR chocolate chip cookies from a restaurant in California, will serve 26 Years to Life in prison for the offense. I am not kidding. 26 years to Life!! At a cost of at least $35K a year, California taxpayers are going to put out about $1 million dollars to convince themselves that they’re really a lot safer now that Kevin Weber is off the streets. This is INSANE.

The first time I read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, I thought he was exaggerating. He wasn’t. He lived in California at the time he wrote it. Weber is 34. The judge in the case had a chance to review the sentence after the Supreme Court ruled that judges still had some discretion in sentencing under a 3 strikes law. The judge insisted that society is served by this monumentally stupid decision. Yes, MONUMENTALLY STUPID. It makes you want to throw yourself off a cliff. Especially since the media is far more interested in whether or not Bill Clinton looked “sternly” or merely “firmly” at Paula Jones, before opening the door for her to leave his hotel room, than whether some people’s lives are pointlessly destroyed by idiotic laws..

3. A lot of research has been done on Repressed Memory Syndrome lately. It is now very apparent to any reasonable person that no such thing exists. We don’t know for sure if some of the alleged sexual abuse that people claim to have “recovered” memories of really occurred. But where we do know that such abuse (or other trauma) took place, researchers can’t seem to find anybody who can’t remember it. In other words, there are no scientific, rational grounds for believing that such a thing as repressed memory exists, and there never have been such grounds. Nevertheless, dozens of innocent people continue to rot in jail because some prosecutors and police forces refuse to admit they were wrong. [added July 2004] In other words, where there is relatively indisputable evidence that sexual abuse did take place, you would think that a percentage of these victims would have no memory of the events. That is not the case. In every case that we know about, the victims do have a continuously existing memory of it. I’m very interested in reading about it if someone has evidence otherwise.

4. After Mary Kay Letourneau got sentenced to seven years in jail for having sex with a minor (her student, in grade school), and bearing his child, she went and did it again. And now, once again, she is pregnant with his child.

5. Latrell Sprewell, a basketball player, physically attacks his coach, twice. An arbitrator has just ruled that he shouldn’t lose his job, or his $17 million salary, because of his modest indiscretion. Meanwhile, Mo Vaughn, a ball player for the Boston Red Sox, gets off after refusing a breathalyzer test. And don’t you think for one minute that you will get treated differently just because you’re not a rich famous ballplayer!

6. The last time trouble started with the Serbs, the Europeans kind of stood around and talked and talked while tens of thousands of Bosnians were “cleansed”, tortured, raped, and murdered. So trouble starts with these same Serbs in Kosovo, which is 90% populated by Albanians. What does the EU do? Wring it’s hands some more, talk, and talk, and talk, and hope that nothing awful happens. After Bosnia, it is hard to believe that anyone is going to do anything to stop the slaughter.

7. A woman in Hamilton Ontario is suing the hospital that safely delivered her twin babies because it failed to provide a “pain-free” birth. At one point, in between deliveries, she demanded that the doctor stop the process unless she could eliminate the pain she was feeling. Why are taxpayers subsidizing this insanity? Why didn’t the judge toss this one out on it’s ear within the first five minutes? [July 2004: The judge did eventually toss it out.]

What the Media Won’t tell you About Bill Clinton

According to Robert Bennett, Bill Clinton’s lawyer, Kathleen Willey is in the process of negotiating a $300,000 book deal. Coincidentally, she decided that “enough people have suffered” so it was time for her to tell the truth, on national television.

Well, why shouldn’t she? Everyone else is cashing in: Tripp, Kenneth Star, Orrin Hatch….. And no one is cashing in more than the media. The media have made the Clinton scandal the #1 story of the decade. They act as if this story is more important than Cuba, more important than Kosovo, more important than Bill Gates, more important than Iraq. Heavens, I think they might even believe it is more important than Princess Diana!

There is a paradox at the heart of the Clinton Scandal. I haven’t seen any hard numbers yet, but obviously people are tuning in to see the story and buying the newspapers and magazines that feature it prominently on the front page. (Or are they? Only 10 million tuned in to the 60 Minutes interview with Willey: that’s not an impressive number.) Yet poll after poll shows that Clinton’s approval ratings are actually rising. In other words, the average voter loves to read the lurid tales of sex and infidelity (fess up: don’t you?), but when Oral Hatch (don’t you just wish that really was his name?) goes on television and declares that the Willey allegations, if true, should lead to impeachment… they are laughing their heads off. No way!

As I watch some of the television reports on the scandal, and the discussion of the media’s coverage of the scandal, and coverage of the media’s discussion of their coverage of the scandal, I get the sense that some crucial issue at the core of all this is missing. Of course it is. The one thing the media cannot and will not admit to you is that this story is really a tabloid story, a cheap, tawdry scandal of absolutely no importance whatsoever, and not worthy of a serious national media. Picture Dan Rather saying: “And now, we will depart from our usual practice of informing you about wars, economics, and politics, to give you a blow by blow description of the President groping a woman with big breasts.” The question, contrary to what the media say, is not “is it true”. The question is, “is it important, or just juicy?”

How important is this story? How do you measure importance? There is a strong evidence to indicate that the average American voter rates “importance” on a scale based on the answer to the question: how does this affect me?

We have to be careful to exclude self-fulfilling prophecy. To say the story is important because the media are giving it a lot of coverage, is an Alice in Wonderland argument– “the story is important because I say it is important.” In the same way, if the Republicans ever dared to try to impeach Clinton on the basis of these allegations, the real story would be the coup d’├ętat, not the Clinton scandal.

So how does this story affect you? Will it make your taxes go up? Are you more likely to lose your job? Will your children get a better education? Will the world be at peace? Will your access to the Internet be controlled by the government, or Microsoft, or nobody as a result? Will it cause your parents be more likely to end up in a nursing home? Will it improve television? (Not so far.) Will your insurance company be more likely to tell your doctor which treatments he is allowed to give you, because Monica Lewinsky cleaned her dress? Who will lead the Soviet Union after Monica testifies? Should we grant “most favoured nation” trading status to any country that will accept Linda Tripp as ambassador?

The answer to all of the above, of course, is no, unless, as I suggested, the Republicans dare to proceed with impeachment hearings. But those issues are what the people elect a government to deal with, and the voters have loudly proclaimed, again and again, that they feel Bill Clinton is doing the job they elected him to do.

Let’s get one thing clear: the public is not indicating that they don’t care about crimes committed by the president. I don’t think they have heard of anything yet that they would consider a crime, in the substantive sense of the word. Paula Jones has no case, and she knows it, and her lawyers know it. Lewinsky has never complained about her treatment. Kathleen Willey made no complaint. If there was a crime, who was the victim? Who is the plaintive?

The other great omission: last I heard, there were congressional elections coming up this year. The House of Representatives is currently controlled by the Republicans, by a small margin; the Senate, by a slightly larger margin. I have not heard a single newscaster yet remark on the fact that if the Republicans aggressively pursued impeachment, given the current attitude of the electorate, they might just get quashed in November. If I were a betting man, I’d bet you that people like Newt Gingrich and John McCain have given this a lot of thought. Furthermore, impeachment or no impeachment, if I were a Republican, I would be a little worried about the November elections. What if the voters decide to send a real message to Congress?

What does Clinton’s 67% approval really mean?

Most people believe Clinton did it. The media knows the public believes the stories so they think that the public doesn’t care, or that the public shares Bill’s amoral attitudes, and that’s why they continue to approve.

I don’t believe it. I think the public are disgusted with Clinton, but I think they are even more disgusted with the intrusive, harassing, jackal mentality of the media. I think that it means the public is disgusted with Kenneth Starr and Oral Hatch, even as they enjoy reading the lurid details of the scandal.

This is a junk food story: yes, if it’s on the table in front of me, I’ll nibble, but it’s still junk food and if you continue to stick it into my face, I’m going to get very, very angry with you.

Wei Jingsheng

Wei Jingsheng is a Chinese dissident who was imprisoned for almost 20 years because he had the courage to stand up for the basic human rights you and I take for granted as citizens of a free country. He was expelled from China in November 1997, probably because he was one of the most well-known of China’s many prisoners of conscience.

Jingsheng traveled to Paris where only the junior minister of “cooperation” would meet with him. In London, Prime-Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook were too busy to see him– probably had a party with OAISIS scheduled or something– so only an obscure bureaucrat would agree to talk with him.

The Clinton Administration had made a point of demanding that China honor the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, until about 1994, when more and more U.S. corporations insisted that Washington’s hard-line stance was harming business with the Communist giant. A lot of U.S. corporations salivate uncontrollably at the thought of a billion households that don’t yet have telephones, microwaves, or cable TV.

Cuba, on the other hand, only has about 7 million people, so it’s quite all right if you want to get all righteous about human rights under Castro. When it comes to China, however, you’re talking big bucks. As Bob Dylan once observed, before his own sell-out, “money doesn’t talk/it swears”.

A lot of people–especially corporate types–will argue that human rights should never be tied to commercial relationships. Oddly, this argument does not polarize along the political leanings you might have expected. Some very conservative U.S. congressmen support the demands for greater accountability for human rights abuses in China, while Clinton himself appears to be folding under pressure from the big corporations, and, as observed, Tony Blair and his Labour Party doesn’t have the time of day for a pro-union Chinese dissident.

You may recall that we went through this whole debate during the South African crisis, and Maggie Thatcher led the opposition to economic sanctions on the basis of the argument that they don’t work, and that they only harm the average citizen, not the powerful elite. Does Thatcher support sanctions against Iraq? The U.S. insists on tightening the sanctions against Iraq until they admit the U.N. weapons inspectors: isn’t Bill Clinton in a position of hypocrisy?

We ought to be more consistent on this. If sanctions worked against South Africa (they appear to have helped) and if they are believed to work against Iraq (this is somewhat questionable), and if it is hoped they will work against Cuba (dream on), then they ought to be applied to China.

What we have to do is remove the element of hypocrisy from the idea of sanctions. We constantly insist that we apply sanctions out of high moral principles, but we drop them as soon as we realize that there is fast buck or two to be made. The U.S. didn’t seem to mind the human rights abuses committed in Nicaragua or Chile, as long as U.S. commercial interests were served. Many European nations, like Italy and France, want to rebuild their business relations with Iraq, and thus they want to drop sanctions against Hussein. The U.S. won’t apply sanctions to China because U.S. corporations want to do business with the Chinese.

As China’s pursuit of the 2000 Summer Olympics demonstrated, the Chinese government does want relations with the West, and they need the technological and economic assistance only the West can provide. But such assistance ought to be dependent on well-defined and verified progress on human rights issues, democratization, and some measure of self-determination for Tibet.

Balanced Books: Jean Chretien and the Temple of Doom

For the first time in 30 years, the annual budget of the Government of Canada will show some black ink.

The immediate response of the Reform Party was to denounce the government for spending some of the new “fiscal dividend”, instead of cutting taxes.

The Reform Party is on record as having advocated big tax cuts years ago. Had we followed Manning’s advice then, we would still be facing billions of dollars in deficits, just as the Americans, who cheerfully followed Reagan’s advice, are still a few years away from balanced books.

The Reform Party has a problem. Most Canadians regard this balanced budget as a significant accomplishment. Most Canadians, I suspect, are pleased with Chretien and Martin, and a little self-satisfied: we took the high-road, we suffered years of cuts and sacrifice, but it has finally paid off. The annual budget is balanced.

If the Reform Party could see themselves, they might hesitate before making the usual partisan jabs at the Liberals. No one knows for sure, of course, but my guess is that most Canadians are really very pleased about this achievement. We’ve gone through a lengthy period of painful sacrifices to get the federal budget under control. It was difficult, but we did it. We should be pleased and proud.

Then we see Preston Manning with his bad hair-cut, whining about how this government, the first government in 30 years to bring the budget under control, is irresponsible and shameless because it is putting a few bucks back into some of the programs it’s gutted over the last few years.

Preston Manning is being dishonest when he claims to speak for most Canadians when he demands a tax cut. Most Canadians have indicated over and over again that, yes, while they would like a tax cut, they also believe that a good chunk of the “fiscal dividend” should go back into some of the social and health programs that make Canada a civilized nation. This is not a matter of interpretation or fudging the stats: the polls are consistent and decisive on this issue. Manning is not only wrong but he is also shrill and whiney. My guess is that the next polls show the Liberals ever farther ahead of Reform than they are now.

So it took a “free-spending liberal” to bring the budget deficit under control. Mulroney, a conservative couldn’t do it. In the U.S., Reagan, an arch-conservative, not only did not reduce the deficit: he escalated it from about $50 billion to over $450 billion, by cutting taxes (at least, for the rich) and increasing spending on the military. Clinton only now has brought it back under control, though the Americans are a year or two behind Canada.

Jean Chretien and Paul Martin should get gold medals. Chretien should get a special shiny gold medal for being lavish with praise for his finance minister. This is not a leader who is insecure about his position in the party or his ability to lead. This is a leader who thought that Paul Martin was a pretty smart guy and maybe he should be in charge of getting the deficit down, so he made him Finance Minister and then did the simplest thing possible: left him alone to do his job.

Born on Third Base

I was a little flabbergasted to discover that the reason the Government of Canada was finally able to balance their books this year was not because of all the slashing and burning over the last five years that have left Canada’s social and health care programs in a tattered wreckage. No, that’s not it, and the next time you see Prime Minister Jean Chretien beaming with self-satisfaction at a press conference, please throw a pie in his face.

No, the real reason the deficit has come down is simpler than that. It is because interest rates have come down, and because the economy is in the middle of the longest continuous growth spurt since the early 1960’s. Anyone who has renegotiated a mortgage from 10 3/4% down to 7 1/4% knows what effect interest rates have on a large amount of money. All of those budget cuts? They might have accounted for only 1/3 of the necessary savings.

There are some people out there who believe that the entire budget deficit was just a plot by the very rich to create a huge financial crisis to convince the general public that taxes are bad and that the government can’t be trusted with the management of public resources. The way the plot worked was this:

  • the government used taxes to address the massive imbalance of wealth between the rich and the poor
  • the people supported this activity
  • the government raised taxes, primarily on the well-to-do, to subsidize social programs that help everyone or just the poor.
  • the rich realized that if this system prevailed, they would only own five homes, not ten, and eleven Bentleys, not eighteen, and decided something must be done.
  • the rich, who control the stock market, the bond market, and the Federal Reserve, caused interest rates to go up, to “cure” inflation, at the cost of higher unemployment, which, of course, does not affect the rich.
  • Ronald Reagan, the tool of the rich, reduced taxes on the rich, while actually increasing government spending, especially on the military, which, combined with the interest rate hikes, thereby created a massive government deficit. The media, another tool of the rich, hammered home the idea that inflation was evil and must be fought at all costs, even to the extent of increasing unemployment and government debt.
  • the general public, not aware of the real cause of the budget deficit, became appalled at the size of the budget deficit and demand leaders who would reduce it, without raising taxes.

Here the plan goes astray: Bob Dole, Preston Manning, and John Major were supposed to be the beneficiaries of this strategy. In each case, the public, far more rational than the media give them credit for, elected relatively moderate, compassionate leaders.

Bill Clinton and Jean Chretien and now Tony Blair oblige the ill-informed public by slashing social programs, while maintaining the rhetoric of tolerant, compassionate liberals. Largely, this translates into same sex health benefits, a harmless frill, while diverting billions of dollars in wealth back into the hands of the rich.

The net result: a massive shift of wealth from the laborer to the investor. Read the newspaper, watch tv: how does the media interpret the state of health of the economy? In jobs? In pay for the average dude? In health care or social programs? No! In the value of the stock market, and in the returns on investment for the average stock-holder. When Chain-Saw Al Dunlap takes over a company and promises to slash tens of thousands of jobs, the value of the stocks of this company go up. Great news! You’re out of work! Your family can go to hell, we don’t care– as long as the stock market continues to rise! (One interesting irony: so-called pro-family politicians and religious leaders don’t seem to be “pro” your family, when your job is lost: they support the “lean and mean” economy, lower minimum wages, and anti-union measures. As far as they are concerned, you can go work at McDonalds.)

Here again, the plan has gone somewhat astray, in that growing numbers of middle-class wage-earners are investing in mutual funds, causing an unprecedented string of growth years for the markets. I don’t think anybody really knows what this means just yet.

Sports Economics

Everybody knows that salaries for professional athletes are completely absurd, but nobody seems have any rational idea of what can be done about it. The basic argument against doing anything is that if people want to pay $55 to sit in a huge stadium and watch a bunch of spoiled athletes shoot hoops or shag fly balls or run into each other, what’s to stop them? It’s a free country.

Ah, but it’s not that simple. There are rules by which all businesses in the U.S. and Canada must operate. Most of these are good rules, designed to prevent collusion and restraint of competition. But professional sports do not abide by these rules: they have an exemption, granted by the government. The solution to the problem of outrageous sports salaries is really very simple. You remove or modify the legal exemption. Bang. Done.

Few people understand what the meaning of this exemption is. The meaning is that professional sports teams are not subject to the usual rules of competition, even though they are for-profit businesses. They are allowed to cooperate together to form a single league with a de facto monopoly over players and venues. In exchange for this exemption, the leagues are supposed to provide a commissioner to ensure that the interests of the sport are served. In reality, in practice, all the commissioners serve only one interest, that of the team owners. New franchises are handed out like lollipops because the astronomical entrance fees are divvied up among the established owners.

What would happen if the exemption were abolished? It would take a while, but we would begin to see minor leagues flourish again and some of them would grow into genuine competition for the Majors. Most medium-sized towns would be able to support a professional team because, with a multiplicity of smaller leagues instead of one, exclusive, big league, players salaries would decline to a rational level. And instead of a very small number of black athletes emerging from the ghettos to make it very, very, very big, we might have a large number of black athletes playing on a large number of professional teams, making a decent living for themselves, and helping bring business to their home communities with medium-sized stadiums, where fans will also actually get a decent view of the game.

We would have to kiss goodbye to the concept of “THE” Major Leagues. Big deal. And no more publicly-funded stadiums, one of the most insane ideas of our time (why are we taxpayers subsidizing the outrageous salaries of professional athletes?).

Allen Inverson

Allen Iverson is a point guard on the Philadelphia 76ers. He is possibly the most promising young talent in the game. The Sixers pay him $9.4 million over three years, but he also receives endorsement money from Reebok. It costs $54 a ticket to watch Allen Iverson play.

Iverson grew up in Hampton, Virginia, in the ghetto, in a dilapidated house that was frequently unheated because his mother, who was 15-years-old when he was born, could not afford to pay the bills. The house reeked of backed-up sewage.

As he grew up, Allen watched friend after friend die violently in gang turf wars. Allen’s father served time–for stabbing a girlfriend–as did his step-father. But Allen was born with a gift, and he worked hard to perfect it. He starred in high school basketball, and then for two years at university. Then he hit the big time: the NBA.

Now that he is a millionaire, Iverson has moved his mother, his sisters, his aunts, his uncles… just about everyone in his extended family, and his girlfriend and two children of his own, into decent housing outside of Philadelphia. He also supports two full-time body-guards.

Who is after Allen Iverson? I don’t know. But every important person has a body-guard.

Allen Iverson served some time in jail when he was in high school because he was in a bowling alley when a riot broke out between some whites and blacks. The police arrived and arrested four blacks, including Iverson, and none of the whites. He was alleged to have thrown a chair that struck a woman in the head. He received five years in penitentiary even though he had no previous convictions and insisted that he had left the alley immediately after the trouble started. His conviction was later over-turned upon appeal and erased from his record.

Did you read that carefully? A young black man with no previous convictions received a 5-year sentence for allegedly throwing a chair at a woman during a fight in a bowling alley. Five years. Isn’t that a little harsh? What does five years in prison do to a young man like Allen Iverson? What do you have when he comes out? Do you think that when he comes out, he will say to himself, “Whoa! I’ll never do that again!”

Allen’s high school friends can’t afford the $54 it takes to see Allen play, but Sports Illustrated reports that some of the white men who can afford it heckle Iverson mercilessly.

What does Allen spend his millions on, after supporting his extended family? Incredibly tasteless, ostentatious jewelry, a red Jaguar for his mother, a Mercedes Benz for himself. Whatever he wants.

This is the face of the modern pro athlete. Everyone I know complains bitterly about the absurdly excessive amounts of money these athletes are paid. When we find out what they spend that money on, we are sometimes shocked at the waste and extravagance. We are disappointed that they don’t seem to put the money back into the poverty-stricken communities they came from.

Salaries for professional athletes entered the realm of absurdity years ago. Everyone seems to know it, but no one seems to know any way to stop it. And they keep going: the latest contracts are for over $100 million. This is beyond idiocy and absurdity: it is pure madness.

But the story of Allen Iverson should give us pause. It is one thing for comfortable, middle-class whites to stand appalled at the state of affairs in professional sports; it is quite another for a black-teenager from an American ghetto. For many of these teenagers, their only hope of leaving their poverty behind is either drug-dealing or professional sports. In some ways, Iverson’s huge salary is his payoff for suffering years of abuse and degradation.

Consider also the case of Latrell Sprewell, who assaulted his own coach, P.J. Carlesimo. The team and the League did the right thing, for once. The team terminated his contract and the NBA suspended him. Astonishingly, an arbitrator over-ruled both, shortened the suspension to six months, and reinstated his $17 million contract. Once again, we are beyond the realm of the unusual and into the realm of the completely bizarre. If you physically attacked and injured your supervisor, do you think you would be merely suspended? Where would you find an arbitrator dumb enough to reinstate you at full salary?

Given the general weirdness of all this, is it so hard to believe that the CIA deliberately encouraged drug-use by inner-city blacks, or that the budget deficit was the result of a conspiracy among bankers, investors, and the military, to convince the general public that government spending was out of control and force social spending down while continuing to line their own pockets? If you carefully analyze the changes in tax law over the past twenty years, two things are clear:

  • a huge chunk of the deficit spending went into the pockets of military contractors and suppliers (think of the infamous $450 hammers charged to the Pentagon)
  • a huge chunk of the taxes that will pay off the deficit is coming from the pockets of hard-working, average citizens, because of all the tax cuts and deductions that benefit the rich
  • the budget deficit did not hurt the rich one little bit. While you and I were constantly told that we had to lower our expectations, cut back, and make sacrifices, accept down-sizing, because times are tough, the rich continued to increase their own salaries and profits, sometimes by astronomical sums.

What has this got to do with Allen Iverson and basketball? Just part of the general weirdness of our economic system, that’s all. Millions of people go to work every day. They spend hours and hours working hard, doing various challenging tasks, and thusly they generate enormous wealth. Where does this wealth go? Well, we know that you and I are getting about the same amount we got twenty years ago, maybe a little less. On the other hand, professional athletes, heads of corporations, and Al Dunlap– the man who is famous for taking “down-sizing” to extreme heights in the name of shareholder profits–are all making way, way, way more than they used to. Bank profits are way up. Microsoft is making a bundle. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Madonna…. In 1990, the average NHL salary was $200,000. Today it is $1.1 million. When was the last time you got an increase in your pay?

Money moves around. We ought to pay close attention to how it moves around. There is one thing that is resoundingly clear about the way it moves around: pretty well anybody who can take more, will take more. There is no restraint on human greed. Some people regard unions as greedy. That may be true, but the difference is that unions distribute wealth far more widely than corporations do, and history tells us that the more widely and evenly wealth is distributed, the safer and healthier a society is.

The New Economy

On a grand scale, there’s a lot of strange things about our economy.

We thought we abolished slavery in the 1800’s, but if you define slavery as enforced servitude, who among us is not a slave? Could you quit your job tomorrow? You would lose everything you own. You would be cast out into the streets. You would sleep on a park bench and eat from a dumpster, or starve or die of some contagious disease.

Perhaps you feel that prosperity liberates you. We have more material possessions than any slave ever had. On the other hand, slaves lived much shorter lives than we do. They worked for 15 or 20 years, in exchange for food and a place to sleep. We work for 40 or 50 years. If we are so much better off than slaves, why do we work so long?

I’m joking of course. Slaves worked longer hours and didn’t get paid vacations. They didn’t have tv or cars or stereos and they couldn’t send their children to ballet school. So we are better off than slaves.

Still, I find it sadly ironic that we really have about as little choice as the slaves did about how we spend our days. Our society produces immense piles of goods. If you want an immense pile of goods, who is going to stop you? Suppose, however, that instead of a VCR, indoor plumbing, a car, boat, lawnmower, stereo, and digital camera… suppose all you wanted was food and shelter. You should be able to work for one or two days a week, live in a non-descript, unfurnished apartment, and do as you please the other five days. Could you do it?

Your expenses would come to at least $500.00 a month for the apartment alone. Food would probably be about $400.00 a month. So, you would have to be earning about $1,000.00 a month or $12,000.00 a year or $250.00 a week just to get by. Can you do that on a part-time salary? I don’t think so. The trouble is that the well-paying jobs are tied to full-time activities. The part-time jobs don’t pay nearly as well.