Capitalism: The Almighty Job

Panhandler vs Business man (via Ectofranz on Flickr)

Panhandler vs Business man (via Ectofranz on Flickr)

Hey, if you don’t like it, vote with your money.

When people stop paying for the things a company offers they’ll stop offering it.

The Almighty Dollar

These are just a few cliches we hear when times are good. We tell our friends that the collective “we” have the power to decide whether a company should be producing certain things or not. But that’s not the complete truth is it?

In the midst of governments bailing out industries and financial institutions we, the people, have lost our power. We no longer get to decide with our dollars. The government gets to decide with our dollars.

Now, before you run off and tell your mommy that Nate’s getting political and throwing around an anarchist agenda, let me explain. We still have the power, but most people don’t understand where to flex their muscles.

If the government is going to bail out companies that fail (and I mean “fail” by our self-defined, capitalist standards), and many citizens are going to support these financial policies, then we have to understand why. What are the biggest reasons for this support?

One word: jobs.

The auto industry says they employ one out of ten Americans. And some economic teachers and thinkers believe that if those employers go away then our economy tanks. While that may be true, look at where the power lies. Let’s follow the trail.

The power trail

  • Trend: The world is getting more and more conscious about saving energy, like gas.
  • Fact: Currently, the large majority of manufactured cars for the U.S. depend on gas to be a functional product.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

  1. An American gets a job at an auto plant.
  2. People buy the cars that auto plant produces.
  3. The worker gets paid.
  4. Hopefully, when the worker retires, the company has saved some money to pay their pensions.

Here’s how it actually works:

  1. An American gets a job at an auto plant.
  2. The auto company produces cars.
  3. Other Americans don’t buy said cars.
  4. Auto maker complains to government, citing employees paychecks (and trickling down, the economy) as the country’s problem.
  5. The government agrees with the economic problem and pushes said American’s tax money into the auto company’s hands to pay for the employees.
  6. Employees keep producing cars that said Americans don’t want.
  7. Of course you might have already thought that through and agree that a bailout is pretty ridiculous. You might agree with me that it’s crazy to be in business if you can’t make a profit, which includes the costs of paying your employees and selling a product the market wants. Failing is ok. Succeeding is more fun, sure. But, all of that is capitalism.

    But, even if you don’t agree with me on the end result, look at where the power lies in both areas. Jobs. And I don’t mean jobs that the companies offer. I mean jobs that people apply for and work at. Now, here it comes – the kicker.

    Wait for it….

    By working for failing companies these employees have chosen the path of the welfare check. Maybe not the literal one, but definitely the figurative one. They’re being supported by tax payers (FTF).

    Detour

    Let’s even break it down to the tiny towns across middle America that work for these companies with no other industry to support them. What do you do then? Answer: move away from them.

    If a small town in middle America was supported by one company, a start-up tech company for example. And that start-up produced typewriters. Would you work for them? Do you really feel that you have no other choices presented to you? Is your only option failure (either having a job from a company that will fail, or not having a job at all)? Absolutely not.

    If that’s what we’ve come to, a nation of people who can’t see beyond their front yard and can’t be creative problem solvers, then we have a bigger issue than our current financial crisis. We have a major problem with our citizen mentality which needs to be bailed out.

    Back on track

    So, what’s my point? My point is that each person has an incredible amount of power by deciding who they work for.

    If you work for someone else, you might not have realized this yet, but you have just as much power as your employer. You and your employer enter into a contract together. She will give you some money in exchange for your labor. She doesn’t give it to you because you’re nice. She gives it to you because she wants something that you can provide. Stop. Let me say it again. She’s paying you for something that you can provide.

    You, the employee, have just as much power as the employer.

    “But wait,” you exclaim. “They could just fire me if I do something they don’t like.”

    Yes, that’s true. But guess what? You have the same power. If your employer does something you don’t like, you can quit. And employee training costs money. It hurts. It also sends them a message (if done properly) just as much as an employer firing an employee sends a message.

    Wrapping up

    This is just a small portion of my full argument, but the end result is that when we, the people, understand that where we spend our time (in exchange for money) is where the biggest power lies, we’ll be able to say we’re capitalists again.

    Until then, we’ll just be paying to support failing industries, governments that pay themselves too much for the work they do, and for useless wooden arrows to be produced.

Nate Ritter lives in San Diego, CA who popularized the #hashtag and creates scaleable web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

8 Comments on "Capitalism: The Almighty Job"

  1. H. Starkey says:

    Great post. I typically like your technical posts, but this one resonated with me on several key points. One, the automakers are subject to certain forces outside the scope of your post, namely unions. Two, the company I work for have been turning the meat-grinders handle over several revolutions–layoff cycles.

    1) A colleague of mine worked for an aforementioned “Big-3” as a supervisor. The company he worked for stressed keeping the chassis line clean for obvious reasons. He, having seen a discarded paper on the floor, did what most everyone in their right mind would do: He picked up the trash. He noticed someone following him for several minutes after doing this. The trailing man eventually told him that if he saw him pick up another piece of trash, he would report it to his manager and fine him. Why? Because he calculated that it had cost the janitor, a union worker, .10 hours of work. Tame example when considering an idled car factory still has to pay all of its workers. The workers literally come in and watch T.V. all day.

    2) Personal experience. I work for a large newspaper. My notice has been turned in and I’m scheduled to leave by the beginning of next year. While they executed several layoffs, I noticed that those making decisions (still wet-behind-the-ears execs) were eliminating key personnel who many agreed were pivotal/unreplaceable individuals. This generated a culture of bombasticism. Those who spoke loudly and brandished grandiose unviable ideas kept their jobs despite their general ineptitude. I’m fortunate enough to see this actually bite them now :). I decided despite all economic odds that I would bail ship. The company I work for didn’t seem to make sound decisions and that would eventually lead to some disastrous demise (although it’s not too late to correct). I know that I come across as us-versus-them, but such is not the case. Simply, I couldn’t tolerate the hubris of people who’ve made terrible decisions and can’t reconcile facts with ego while manipulating the culture into what it is now. oof. The people they let go of actually worked. Learned. Evolved. and pushed the company (in profitable ways) for quite some time. But to reinvent the company, they concluded that an out-with-the-old approach is the way to go. They forget that the companies knowledge/experience of pitfalls and opportunities also goes out with the old. Nevertheless, the point is, I didn’t BELIEVE in my companies decisions anymore. I still love it, but I couldn’t cope with seeing it strangled by those who talk more than work.

  2. nate says:

    Starkey,

    Thanks for your comment and great point about the unions. I forget about them sometimes because I’ve never been in one. But it’s a great point.

    Additionally, well done. You voted with your job, and I’m proud to know another person who’s done that. So, you know exactly what I’m talking about here.

    Thank you for your well thought out comment.

  3. Niche Affiliate marketing says:

    I just the read your article. It was a great read. I’m not American, so I can’t say what impact it might have on the average American but where I live, we’re not too far from the crisis either. With all this money going for bail outs, the government is going to have to start begging for money in the streets. What about the average joe. What is he suppose to do?

  4. nate says:

    Niche,

    I agree. The average joe is going to have troubles whether the government bails out the industries or not. Either way it’s not looking pretty. By bailing out failing industries, we’re simply prolonging the inevitable. The people who work for these companies will lose their jobs eventually. They should have seen the writing on the wall years ago. Hopefully this crisis gives them the wake up call they need so they start retraining themselves and looking for jobs in new sectors.

    Out with the old, in with the new.

  5. Steve says:

    Is it just me or is that “beggar” wearing a Burberry scarf? I had to buy one of those for my girlfriend once and it was like $150.

    That aside.. great post! As an Atlas Shrugged fan, I’m really concerned about the what’s going on with corporate welfare lately – particularly with some of the verbiage coming from our political leaders. Instead of survival of the fittest we are subsiding failure. I don’t know if you’ve seen this already, but Larry Flint and The “Girl’s gone wild” guy have requested a federal bailout.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/07/porn-bailout-larry-flynt_n_155878.html

  6. maryellen read says:

    Nate, To paraphrase #6: “Employees keep producing cars that said Americans don’t want….” The Federal Government keeps producing coins that Americans don’t want. The Gov’t should Pinch out the penny and save $93 Million a year in production costs. Nobody wants the darn thing, its content cost more than the coin is worth, and that penny-dedicated space in cash registers could accommodate coin dollars, which would encourage public acceptance and use of the dollar coin. This leads directly to “Drop the ephemeral paper dollar” (and save trees and frequent printing costs). This, moving right along, leads to suggesting a hiatus of the Feds’ production all coins for one year. Downsides? ? $ savings

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