False Economy

by Bruce Patterson, November 22, 2017

“Taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly, and from these taxes the commissioners cannot easily deliver us by allowing us an abatement.”

— Ben Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

Until I was nine or ten years old and he got promoted, my dad (born 1921) was a wholesale salesman. He worked for Firestone Tire and Rubber way back when even the largest corporations were “publicly traded” and family controlled, and his job was landing and servicing accounts with the independent owner/operators of Service Stations. Dedicated to auto maintenance and repair, they specialized in producing Customer Satisfaction. Most had a mechanic on duty (think of him as the blacksmith in the town stable), and often on the back walls of their two-bay shops, under the fan belts and radiator hoses hanging like rubber snakes on hooks, you’d see signs reading something like: “Labor Rate: $3 per hour. If you watch: $6 per hour. If you help: $20 per hour.”

That reminds me: when did we as a society of unorganized laborers become so anti-labor? Seems it was about the time we got inaugurated as Consumers consuming the Good Life while seeing our pie on our plates plus our pie in the sky while seeing the USA in our Chevrolets like the Happy Wanderers we watched on TV.

One thing’s for sure: most all of us kids growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s learned how to polish our plates. I mean, if we were fortunate enough to have so much food that we could afford to waste it, that didn’t mean we did. No, sir. That’d be disrespectful to the people who worked to put that food on our table, starting with our own moms and dads, the one bringing home the bacon and the other one frying it. Wasting food was disrespecting God’s Green Earth, too, as anybody who’s ever said Grace, or given any kind of unconditional thanks, or made any kind of principled sacrifice, knows full well.

I always thought that, for me personally, the worst practical effect of us Consumers wasting so much food (now it’s considered a status symbol) was how it killed off my beloved all-you-can-eat Buffets. How? So long as their customers knew it was only fair and proper that they should take all they want but eat all they take, buffets could survive “the long haul.” But once some people started taking pleasure in breaking the Golden Rule, there goes your margin down into the slop bucket. Raise your price to cover your increased expenses and you just might lose customers seeing how wasting somebody else’s food doesn’t mean a person ain’t a penny-pinching cheapskate.

For instance, behold our Emperor Orange Julius, he who brags about his Midas touch. How many decades do you think it’s been since he’s picked up the dinner tab for a table full of his business associates? I’d bet it’s been at least as long as it’s been since he’s played a round of golf without cheating (seeing how they take forever to play a round, if I were Dictator-in-Chief, I’d decree that while 75-year-old fat men will continue to be tolerated inside the Country Club Houses till ten in the evenings, from now on they’ll be banned from using the Golf Carts and Courses).

Then some years ago I learned that we American Consumers waste roughly a third of all of the food distributed in this country (since we’re no longer self-sufficient in food, we’re getting price-gouged). Since, according to the Ancient Regime’s New Reality we’re so busy taste-testing, time is money and money is power and power is time, why shouldn’t we survive on store-bought or Drive-Thru fast food for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner? How about, for a change, bringing home some Take Out? Have you tried the new Mongolian pizza yet? How about some Chinese spaghetti and meatballs? I’ve got it: let’s break out some Meals Ready to Eat to boil in the microwave. How much money will all that save us on our grocery bills?

The good news is that today’s American Consumer is not representative of humankind. It ain’t just any dominate Uber-Nationalist Group that can, either in a fit of rage, panic, by “accident” or while sleepwalking, exterminate virtually all life in this solar system. The even better news is that, if only we cooked our own meals and stopped wasting our food then right there our society would be saving more than enough money to meet all of the requirements of the Paris Global Environmental Accord our demented Emperor recently—and with much fanfare—repudiated. Why? Because His Highness decrees that science is a hoax, he claims he’s saving us poor overburdened taxpayers a big old pot of money. In fact he’s gifting us with one extreme example of what economists call False Economy.

Anyway, as I started to say, I grew up during the earliest days of California’s Post-War (sic) Population Explosion. I’m talking about back when most every human settlement on earth was still a farm town. So my dad’s sales territory included virtually all of still rural Southern California (which, in geographic terms, begins at the latitude just below Big Sur) plus about the West’s only genuine, A to Z Boomtown: Las Vegas, Nevada.

A desert oasis named “the meadows” back when said “meadows” were in the Paiute’s ancestral home in the form of vast wetlands fed by snowmelt and stupendous artesian wells. Located along the “Old Spanish” (Native American) Trail that connects Santa Fe with the City of Angels, Las Vegas started off as a way station and then became a Mormon Colony and, much later, a wide spot on the two-lane macadam federal highway edged with irrigation canals and alfalfa fields.

The American West is filled with the bleached bones of hundreds of Boom and Bust Towns made when dog-eat-dog, grab all you can while you can Capitalism reaches its logical conclusion and there’s no more glory in the hole, or lumber to liquidate, rivers to tame, birds, fish and wildlife to exterminate or, at the very end, even a skinny old dawg left to either BBQ or take along as a sidekick. The Boom part is sort of like you staggering out of the naked, heat-shimmering desert after a way-too-long solo day-hike without a hat, monster-stepping it up the stairs of the General Store and, using sign language and tossing your cash on the counter and then tapping the bills like they was a keyboard, treating yourself to an ice cold Root Beer Float. The Bust part is you taking a big gulp that unsticks your tongue but simultaneously seizes you with a five-alarm Brain Freeze.

When the few and far between, kind of church-going, flag-saluting, National Anthem bugling voters of Nevada legalized gambling, prostitution, fly-by-night wholesale gun dealers, cheap booze, cheap weddings, drive-thru weddings, drive-thru mortuaries, No Fault divorces, discount burials, cremations and really cheap (yet quality) all-you-can-eat Buffets (the Silver Slipper’s was my favorite), everybody working The Strip and Casino Center started making so much easy money that their hometown quickly became nationally famous as The City of Lost Wages.

Since the USA’s preeminent Sin City is the home of what would become my dad’s biggest and best account, Ted Wiens Texaco (he started off with eight gas pumps, two islands and two bays in 1947, and now his grandkids and their kids have a piece of eleven local retail operations), I got to see The Strip when it was still extending like a red carpet toward the mega-market called LA, and back when the late great Bugsy Segal was still the most famous man in town, his joint still the place to see and be seen. My big sister got married in a Strip “chapel,” as did my dad and stepmom. My late stepbrother worked construction there for a dozen years, and so I know the scams within scams that waste dreams and make the wiseguys wise.

Having the blessings of both Church and State, Sin City remains a Boomtown today. Like Hollywood did during the Great Depression, Sin City still attracts the young, hungry and ambitious.

The games and prizes have changed but the carnival remains the same. Every sleazy racket run by racketeers in America’s sprawling city slums a century ago are now being run nationwide by our top-down, militaristic, redundant and operationally obsolete departments of state (incompetence as the child of corruption). And now, thanks to our Greatest Leader Ever, these guys are re-instituting God’s own Trickle Down Economics (version #9).

We’re told that if we the people truly wish to help the poor, first we must shower the superrich with X-Mas presents. Give our Best and Brightest the financial means and they’ll take care of the poor as they always have, we’re told. Contrary to the Fake News, absolute power doesn’t corrupt absolutely: it Beautifies absolutely. So now, led by our victimized Visionaries and Saints, we’ll be making America Great Again. What’s a little false economy between friends?

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