The Economy – Bees and Humans…

Are These Equivalent?

*** Warning! What follows includes factual data, personal opinions and some painting with a broad brush ***

….. I keep finding interesting topics to mediate on  as I crawl around the intricate weave of the Net.   This time,  the  discussion that caught my eye was one between a woman from Ireland and a number of folks scattered around the USA.   She had the very apt question of “Can someone explain to me why none of the politicians in America give a shit about the working class?”  This, alas,  is one of those apparently simple questions that turns out to have many facets and complications that keep it from having a simple answer.  That of course, makes it worth further consideration, in MY book!   Needless to say, the question brought up a number of answers,  all good, and all looking at different aspects of the issues in America that have put the 99% into a waterslide to poverty.   I found my answer was getting long enough that I thought it would be worthwhile here, too, so,   let us dive into it….
…..One of the issues brought up was the concept of the (misnamed) “Right to Work” laws that so many states have.   The OP made the point that these, in spite of the name,  were NOT giving workers any power.   I, as a resident of a “right to work” state,  certainly agree that this law is a horrid thing for the workers.  We called it the “Right to be fired on a whim” law, with little actual humor to it.   The fact is that it gives the employer to dismiss an employee with no cause or explanation.   Granted most companies do gather a “screw up list” when they want to get rid of someone, to cover themselves in case the ex-employee decides to sue for wrongful termination.   However, that does not need to happen,   and the simple fact is that these laws remove much of the security an employee might feel when they do get a job.   What security is there if your supervisor/manager can walk in tomorrow and say “you are fired….these men will escort you to the door?”     Well…while the roots of this are a complicated story that I may take up later,  in short,  the Taft–Hartley Act, signed into law in 1947,  was created, basically,  to ensure that a worker could go into a company, and be free NOT to join the Union.   This was a strong attempt by the government and business to break the backs of the unions, which for the past 20+ years had pushed through many changes to business practices that were good for the workers but not so good for the upper level managers and owners.  It was the opinion of these bodies that the unions had grown too big and too powerful, so had to be broken up a bit.   The management did not like such things as strikes,   the inability to terminate employees at will, and the fact that a union negotiation almost always produced higher wages and benefits for the workers.    
…..Another issue raised was the idea that regulations and taxes were hurting small businesses and hounding them out of business, and even impacting the decisions of larger companies to outsource their jobs to foreign countries.  First off,  I had to disagree, in general, with the condemnation of regulations controlling business in America  The regulations on various industries were implemented because, before those regulations existed, businesses would  pull all kinds of tricks to make more money off the consumer, by creating a cheaper product.  
  • One abuse  that has been around for hundreds of years is adulterating food with cheaper fillers to increase profit.   the earliest examples were the millers grinding flour.  They would  dilute the wheat flour with gypsum dust or marble dust, which they could get for next to nothing.  This  would not kill a person eating the products made from the flour.  It DID increase their profit margin quite a bit.  It also lowered the quality of the bread baked from that flour.   That is a big reason we have the Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with ensuring that foods we eat and the medicines we take are more or less what they claim to be, and that they will (at least) not harm us.      
  • Another example of the need for regulations and inspections that spring to mind (and is a hot button for many) is the ACA. One of the reasons for the ACA being created and put into law was to regulate the insurance industry and keep it from the many abuses they would  inflict on their customers, all in the name of higher profits. Before the ACA, the Insurance companies could write policies that covered NOTHING;  so the monthly premium was essentially pure profit. They would refuse coverage to individuals for random reasons, most of which seemed centered around the fact that these people MIGHT force them to pay out some of that cash they were collecting. They were able to put arbitrary caps on how much would be paid out for a given disease, or policy. If you happened to have a situation where they DID have to pay out any cash, you could see your premiums doubling or more a couple of months later. Finally. they could refuse to cover a problem because of a “preexisting condition” – even if that condition had NOTHING to do with the current problem.  There are many examples documenting these abuses available with a simple Net Search.
  • Before the Wage and Hour regulations, and the regulations calling for a safer work place were created,   it was a buyer’s market as regards businesses and workers.  There was nothing to stop a business from paying low wages,  and requiring the workers to labor in a hazardous environment without protection.   For example,   I was looking at a History Channel program talking about tower cranes and how they had made it much easier to build the amazingly tall structures that dot the landscape.   As a part of the program,   there were a number of old photographs like this one:

    Note, please, the fact that these guys have no safety equipment at all.  No hard hats, no safety lines,  no ear protection, nothing.   They are also WAY up in the air!

    (Thanks,  to the fine folks here: shangralafamilyfun for their allowing the use of this image.  I recommend visiting their site, as it has a lot of interesting pictures, facts, and thoughts on it!)  
…..  Not only was this the norm for iron workers,  but, there and in other industries,  there was no such thing as guards on the moving parts of machines.   It was but the work of a moment for a worker to get sucked into a moving pully/belt system, or large gears,  to  be maimed or killed.   Regulations forced businesses to create a safer environment for their workers, so injuries dropped dramatically.   Another  abuse  that should have ended was the habit of dumping sick or injured employees, even if their problems came from the job, so the business would not be liable for paying any of the employee’s expenses.
…..Now, that having been said,  one factor that is ignored by the antitax and anti-Regulation crowd is that, at least in America,  there are many ways to escape the burden of taxes and regulations.   For example,   tax rates vary according to the net profit of a business.   this allows the LARGE companies, who employ tax experts by the dozen, to make use of the tens of thousands of loopholes and twists in the tax laws.   This ends up with too many businesses paying NO taxes at all.   Now, I ran a one-person consulting firm for many years.  The net was too small for Federal attention, but, I did have to deal with the State boys.   Overall, as I recall,  the total taxes I had to pay on the Net earnings were in the 7% to 9% range.  It was a small hassle and not enough of a difficulty to complain about.    As for regulations,  I and many other small businesses (which, I believe are still defined as those with 50 employees or less)  are often exempt from many of the complex regulations that apply to larger companies.  There are, of course inequities in the system – it is after all a human creation – but, in general it is a small challenge and not one that typically would put a small business out of business.

…..Another issue that is touched on in the original replies, but not to any detail, was one that I think is very important. because it affects ALL parts of the economy.   That issue is the economic gap between classes of Americans that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 30+ years. This shift in economic blessings has produced a very small,  upper class that has a net worth of anywere from hundreds of millions of US$,  to a top number of US$40 BILLION or more.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being very rich…although it can easily  lead to a dangerous path.   In this case,  too many of the 1%ers who fall into this category are almost totally insulated from the 99% of the rest of the citizenry.   This leaves these ultra-rich folks almost totally  clueless about what the lives of the other 99% of Americans are like. I hear folks who either are in the upper income brackets (or want to be there)  saying really stupid things – like – “we need to cut government aid because it ruins the desire of the recipients to work. They would rather just be parasites, getting a free handout”  Or, “What? They are saying they cannot find work in their area? Well, then, they should just pack up and move to where the jobs are”. Or “If we try to redistribute the wealth to the lower classes through higher taxation of the rich, it will destroy the economy, because it is the rich that are the Job Creators”. Or (perhaps the worst of all) “you workers do not want the union to come in! they will just take a big chunk of your paycheck, live the high life, and will not do you a bIt of good”.

….To rebut these statements with some reality…
  • A vast majority of the people in America who receive government aid are not freeloaders, sitting at home,   eating chips, pumping out children and watching Soap Operas on the television.    No.   They are actually hard working people working full time jobs for wages that are too low to allow them to work, AND pay their bills;  They often cannot stay far enough ahead to even THINK about having a savings account, or escape from the drowning pit of renting that sucks huge percentages of their income away every month.  So…because of these terrible wages, and the annoying tricks that employers go through to ensure that they will not have to pay workers decently, or provide benefits touted by the company when trying to hire,   these good people are forced to go in and apply for EBT (Food Samps),  Medicare/Medicaid, etc.   Every day they pray that their car will run until tomorrow, because they can neither afford to get a new one,  or often, the repairs to get the vehicle back on the road.   Now there are some folks who work the system, but, that is a tiny percentage of the total number of American Citizens helped out by these programs.   Cutting the programs will not motivate those folks to go to work and it is a delusional belief that it will.  The people that work the system now will simply find other ways to work it, and perhaps to scam other people.
  • About that “Free Handout” part….That, too,  is foolish  because there is no state out there that allows a person to simply walk in, fill out a form, and get a debit card filled with “free” money to spend as they wish.    There are a large number of Department of Human Services workers who spend their days checking up on clients, to make sure that they are going to school or work registration as they agreed to do when they got into the program.   The systems, in general, require the clients to constantly update their employment and earnings status,  with the risk that if they fail to do this, they will be cut off.   Finally,  a change a few years ago to the aid system ensures that NO citizen can receive aid for more than 5 years…this is a life time limit, and, is a Federal law, so it spans ALL states.   Five years of tiny payments is not something that one can live on comfortably.
  • About that “moving to the jobs” idea.   While it is technically true,  it demonstrates the lack of understanding on the part of the well off about the lives of the 99%ers.   Moving is a complicated and expensive process.   Unless a person lives out of a suitcase already,  there is significant expense involved in getting the possessions they own packed up and moved to a new city, along with the expenses of moving their family.    There is the factor that once IN the new city, unless the person already has a job lined up,  there is the problem of getting enough money to survive until the new job appears.    While it may not be a huge monitary hit, the chaos and disruption of ones support community when one moves away is enormous.   It can add to the stresses of the move,  causing an increase in poor decisions.   It can impact one’s kids quite a bit, as they not only have to walk away from their comfortable surroundings and friends, but, they are dropped into a very different place…the learning curve to deal with the new society can be pretty steep, and it can affect the ability of the kids to absorb the lessons they need to have to survive in today’s society.   This will put them behiind.   there is much truth in the observation that once one slips behind in society,  it can become harder and harder to catch up to where one used to be.
  • The claim that wealth redistribution will hurt the economy because the Rich are the job creators has not been particularly true for many years now.   It was true that many years ago, when the Ultra-Rich of the day were gathering money,  it might have been a problem.   However, a large discrepancy between those days and today is that in THOSE days, the “robber barons”  understood that it was vital to pump a lot of their profits back into the company.  this may have cut the ratio of the earnings down to 50 to 1,  but, it did ensure that the workers not only had enough cash to be healthy and reasonably happy,  but, it slowly created a strong Middle Class that was able to purchase more of the “luxury” items that are denied to the poor.   More customers, more of a  market, more cash flowing in.  It is not a complicated system, in general.    However today, the story is quite different.  While it is a little hard to tell, the last numbers I saw indicated that the ratio of the salaries between the lowest and highest paid jobs in America, is closer to 2000 to 1.   In addition, much of the money is not being fed back into the company.   Rather it is going into investment accounts of stock holders, high end management.  Much of those proceeds end up in private, secret accounts in the Cayman Islands and other countries that really do not care about anything but getting hold of those billions.   Some of it goes to purchase more, and bigger, yachts, and bigger and “better” houses around the world.  The real job creators in today’s America are the small businesses created by foolishly optimistic entrepreneurs  who start with one or two partners and build from there. The rich, other than the fact that once a company gets some size and success, start circling it like hungry sharks, trying to purchase it,  have NOTHING to do with this.
  • Finally, there is the Union issue.   I have to say that in the past 20 years or so, the unions have, alas, become less of an advocate for the workers,  and more of a bureaucracy bent on perpetuating itself and making as much money for as little effort as possible.    However, in spite of that I believe that Unions are hated by, fought against and legislated against mainly because Management knows that Unions give power to the workers, and allow them to force changes in the company that will cut the money going to the top levels, but, will improve the lot of the workers.   This not only means an increase in wages and benefits,   but, making it harder for the companies to fire employees at will…thereby adding job security.  Yes…it is true that if one goes into a union shop, there is a fair amount of pressure to join the union.  that has annoyed Americans no end since the creation of “union shops”.  it is not so much that the dues are a huge percentage of their paychecks (although that is an issue at times),  but rather, there is the “surly teenager” attitude of over-reacting when someone tries to push us into something, even if it is a good thing.

…..Speaking to the last point a bit  more: That reaction, I believe, comes partly from the fact that – on an overall time scale of civilizations on Earth –  America and its Representative Republic form of government is more like a 8 year old child , than even a “teenager”.  We have been around as an entity for less than 300 years.  This is a babe in arms compared to the other civilizations that reach back several thousand years into history.   As a matter of fact, it amuses me to point out that not only is the USA younger than a lot of outhouses in England, but, New College at Oxford was about 113 years old when Columbus and his raiders discovered the Continent.   (New College, founded in 1379,   1490s for Columbus).
…..having dealt with that digression; I know America has some serious flaws in its economic structure.  Flaws that have gotten worse over the years.  I do not have any real answers, alas (which being a “fixer”, does  kind of annoy me).    However, I have come to believe that one of the only ways that the economy will improve for the workers is for the Unions to regroup,  and go back to their roots of  the 1920s and 1930s.   They need to stop snuggling up to Management and Government, and, start fighting for ALL workers, not just the ones that still pay their dues.   It is my opinion that over the past 30 to 40 years,  the unions have become fat and happy, getting a fair income from their remaining members, and often doing NOTHING significant to help those workers.    By going back to their roots,  they not only could help the workers, but, would likely find their membership increasing.  People are willing to support an organization that is on their side and fighting for them, after all.
…..As part of this resurgence,  we need more folks like John L Lewis, Samuel Gompers and Walter Reuther to get into the union leadership and re-invigorate it. They certainly had their weaknesses, and faults, but, every day they woke up with the desire to use the Union’s strength to improve the lot of the workers.  We also need artists like Bruce “Utah” Phillips, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, and many othertalented writers and performers  to write pro-union songs to explain why the Union is better than NO Union, and to mock the evil tht companies do.   Once the songs are written and performed,  both the old songs and the new should be put  back in the public eye.  On the positive side, with the universality of Net access, and the large number of Social Networking sites,  Video sites, and web pages,   it should be much easier to do this.
…..Now,  do I think this will “fix” the problem?   Well,  frankly, I do not know.   However, I do believe this change would be a positive thing for the workers of America.   It is not going to fix the problem on its own (Even as removing the Confederate Flag from Governmental buildings and public grounds will solve the terrible problem of racism in America – which is yet ANOTHER blog post)…but I do believe that it would be a step in a positive direction —  A direction that would return some respect and adequate wages to the millions of Americans who are struggling from day to day to feed their families,   keep a roof over their head, buy the wide variety of products (from medicines to appliences)  that are needed to live in today’s world..   It took decades,  after the rise of the Unions to correct many of the abuses inflicted on the workers.  It has taken decades for that progress to erode away.  However it CAN, with work and courage, happen again, and it SHOULD happen again…
…..Well, I am sure that if you are still with me, you are starting to say “so WHAT the Hell does this have to do with bees?   For me, it is a comparison (simplistic I know) of the two societies – in no particular order:
For The Society of Bees

For the Society of Humans.

…..As most folks know, bees have a very complicated, social structure However,   the social pyramid they form is focused on ONE thing,   that is the protection of, and growth of, the Hive. …..Within this society,  the individual members are often focused more on enriching themselves as individuals    The problem is that this means that Our Hive, the Earth, is being destroyed by the few for their benefit.
The colony tends to be ruthless. When the queen begins to fail to lay enough good eggs to sustain the colony,   she is killed or exiled.  A new Queen is created to take her place.   In the winter when the Drones (the only male bees in the hive) are no longer needed to impregnate a new queen,   they are exiled,  to die outside the colony.    …..Within the Human community,  there is a much fuzzier concept of building a good community and much less inclination to fix problems.   We, even today, re-elect 95% plus of the local, state and Federal representatives that hold sway over us.   This, in spite of egregious lying, abuse of power and creating legislation that discriminates and hurts many Citizens.   I would call for Voters to be a bit more ruthless,   and do NOT re-elect the person in the office just because they are there.   Follow the exmple of the Bees, and, if that representative is not creating good for the whole society,  replace them with someone who will!
The Bees are, essentially, one organism, in that each individual bee is able to do almost nothing.   However, in concert, as an organism of 20,000 to 40,000 cells,  the bee civilization can do mighty things.  While it is normal for humans to band together in tribes and teams and such,  very often they do not perform to the optimal level  because of their individuality and insistance on maintaining it.   Think of the last time your favorite team got wholloped by a much less talented team.  Why did that happen?   10-1 odds it was because YOUR team was a bunch of individuals, each jockeying for their moment of glory.   The OTHER team was a group that had submerged their individual desires, and created a gestalt where in,  like the Bees,  all the members worked for the common goal, ignoring personal glory..

….I am not, by any means advocating that bees are “perfect” in their society.   Nor am I saying that we, as humans, should suppress our individuality and become part of a Hive organism.   While there are societies that do that in a fairly succesful way (Japan comes to mind),   In most cases it is a process doomed to failure.    However, that having been said,   I also think that workers SHOULD take some examples of the bees and incorporate facets of that into their lives.   For example,   Join the Union,  and work to be a part of its push for better money, job security and working conditions.  Like the bees, if your leadership is not producing results,  band together to get rid of it and replace it with a new, fresh leadership.     As individuals,  it is very hard to change reality.   Take the Pyramids for example.   Each of the stones stacked up to create them weighed tons.   It would be essentially impossible for a single person to move those stones up the structure and get them set in place.   However,  get a real team of a couple or three hundred workers together,  and the task becomes possible…perhaps even easy.

Thinking of bees, and humanity and such puts me into mind of one of my favorite activists/folksinger/songwriter/all around interesting fellows – Pete Seeger.   I believe he sums up much of that I have been ranting about for some time now in his wonderful song “Step By Step”.    I have to recommend him as a good voice to add to one’s collection…   
This entry was posted in Art, Beekeeping, Ethics, General Thoughts, Humanity, Politics, Ruminations, Something Good This Way Comes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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