Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Hope This Is Not 99% of America

There's a wonderful new blog up called We Are the 99 Percent, set up by the same people who epically failed to launch a revolution on Wall Street back on the 17th of September.  If this really represents 99% of Americans, America isn't worth loving anymore. 

I'm not saying times are not tough.  Hell, if anyone could talk about hard times, it's me.  I'm 27, work two jobs and live with my folks for the lack of a better option (mostly due to the lack of a job I know I'll have long enough to sign a lease).  My debt comes to around $50k.  Trust me, I know things are not easy.  And I also know that people in high places have really screwed the pooch without using a condom.  The housing bubble that popped and completely freaked the world is in no small part due to government actions to increase housing ownership.  The cost of a college education and its corresponding decline in value for employment has a lot to do with government and society pushing more and more people to go to college. 

Look through the photos at 99 Percent.  College debt is a common theme. 

But you know what?  Nobody put a gun to any of their heads and ordered them to march off to higher education.  Nobody did that to me, either.  Nobody forced millions of people to buy houses sold way, way above their actual value on the free market. 

Perhaps nothing drives me more nuts than the idea that the American Dream is going to be handed to you or that people are entitled to it.  Look at the pictures:

To the "99%": you made the decision to go to college.  Just because you went to college and paid for it in loans does not mean somebody owes you a job.  The only way you, or anyone, will ever get a job is to provide a useful service.  Your college degrees are not useful services. 

I know, I know, it's hard to admit that you could have screwed up that badly and that in all honestly you may not actually be worth the minimum wage you are receiving.  I know this because I have had that revelation, too.  It hurts like hell.  But that doesn't make it wrong or the fault of somebody else. 

Sir, you did take control of your future.  You signed on to six figures of debt.  Wall Street didn't do that to you, so what does Wall Street have to do with any of this? 

And there it is.  This world, the other nearly seven billion people on this planet, do not owe it to you to change everything that they want in order to make your dream come true.  Odds are, you're not the only one with that dream and others have worked just as hard at it.  If you want the material good life, if you don't want to have all of this debt, you have to be valuable to other people based on their conception of what valuable is, not yours. 

This fellow apparently graduated with top honors and a 3.9 GPA.  Answer me this: why should any employer care?  Did you pick up skills useful to others?  Again, I'm not being mean, as mean as it otherwise may sound.  I work two jobs, seven days a week, and while I pull in better than that for now, one of my jobs ends at Thanksgiving and then I'll be in basically the same boat.  When I look for jobs, it kind of amazes me how my skills do not translate well to this job market.  Yes, there are jobs, even high paying ones, but what we lack are people with the skills to do them.  That's not a conspiracy to keep the 99% down; it's a frightening result of our education system that cannot produce creative or even competent individuals.

I haven't looked through all of these photos, but I have looked through many, and the one I thing I haven't seen yet is "I screwed up."  Hating on Wall Street may make you feel better by denying your own responsibility, but it doesn't improve the situation any. 

Maybe it's just a matter of philosophy and people absolutely refuse to see reality for what it is.  Your dreams are not an entitlement claim upon the rights and wealth of others. 

While I seriously doubt the political acumen of any of these folks, it seems unlikely that any of them actually believe occupying Wall Street would somehow solve our problems.  It's nothing more than a rant.  Giving the amount of ranting I do, it may seem hypocritical for me to disparage their rants, but there are differences.  I rant against those who use force, the government, rather than people and groups using their own wealth and liberty to do as they see fit.  Those people owe me nothing.  And even though I rant against some powers that be that have definitely made things harder on us all, I don't pretend that I deserve to have the good life handed to me on a silver platter.  Truth be told, I didn't do the things I needed to in order to be competitive in the market.  The things that I am really good at, history and teaching, are in a market that is glutted.  Maybe I'll find a job in this field; I've had a little luck so far and have made some impressions.  But as I pointed out, there are indeed jobs out there in other fields and I just do not have the skills for those jobs.  Wall Street didn't do that to me; hell, even with the bogus claims made by the government about upcoming shortages of teachers, I can't blame them, either.  The opportunity to learn other skills was always before me, but I did not take it. 

Have other powers played a large role in determining the opportunities available to me?  Yes.  But my hand was pretty large, too. 

In that sense, I'm part of the 99%.  Perhaps I'm in the 1% because I recognize it. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This Isn't Helping

For those not living in the upstate New York region, we've been hit with a major flood, arguably the worst this area has ever seen in some three hundred years of being inhabited by Westerners.  Entire towns such as Owego were under water, have no utilities, and after six days, no real access to groceries.  Enter New York's attorney general:

"As hurricane and flood victims work to get their lives and property back in order, my office stands ready to enforce price-gouging laws so that no one is taken advantage of in this difficult time. New Yorkers are strong and resilient, and our state will recover stronger than before, but consumers must be protected throughout this process."
This is not helpful.  Yes, to one who doesn't think about it for more than two seconds, a very sudden rise in prices during an emergency might seem like a horrible thing to do.  If you're buying up canned goods, you're going to complain about how all of a sudden you have to pay so much more because something bad happened to you.  Clearly unfair, right?

That is, until the guy who can't get to the store until four hours later shows up.  If prices remain low, all of the scarce goods will be gone by whomever gets into the store first, as these people are stocking up for the long haul.  Those who show up later get nothing.  Not they have to pay so much more, but rather they get no food at all.  Higher prices means people buy less; people buying less means other people can have a shot at buying scarce products. 

The market is not broken, even during times of emergency.  Ironically, the laws to prevent "greedy capitalists from exploiting people during tragedies" really puts the screws to those who need resources the most. 

Sometimes, you have to think about morality for more than the nanosecond it takes to form a gut reaction to something in order to find out the truth of the matter. 

I work in the only grocery store that will be open as of tomorrow at 9 AM.  We're not raising prices.  Try as we will to get shipments in, we could very well run out of a lot of products pretty quickly. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Last Reflections Upon 9/11

Every anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks makes me reflective upon the past, but this one is different.  For the first time, it dawns on me how long ago it really was.  Maybe it is because I'm a teacher who has students in high school that don't have concrete memories of the event.  I mean, think about that: were it not for some historical source, these kids, who will very shortly be voting adults, would not really understand 9/11.  A new generation is already taking the stage that never knew a world without that terrible event.

When I stop and think about the last ten years in their own right, it really becomes apparent how old that event is now.  I was in high school myself then.  All of college, which itself seems a lifetime ago, happened since.  Many old flames that I barely remember sparked, raged, and went out in that vast expanse of time.  Strangely, I recall 9/11/01 better than I do 01/01/05, my 21st birthday, though perhaps there are other explanations for that.  But then, I remember 9/11 better than the first day of just about any job I've had, or of college.

I wonder sometimes if people alive during the Pearl Harbor attack felt the same way until I remember that ten years afterwards would be December 1951.  Not only was that event buried, but the entire Second World War had been over for more than half a decade.  Hell, we were up to our necks in Korea and the Cold War by then. We consider 9/11 to be a paradigm shift in our understanding of the world and international relations; I don't think Pearl Harbor really could be considered that.  The United States went from isolation to openly joining the Allies, but the system of alliances throughout the world didn't really change, nor our conception of who was powerful and who was not.  That was all changed by World War II and the beginning of the Cold War.

9/11 was also a national event in a way Pearl Harbor wasn't.  Sure, World War II had a massive impact on the United States, from war rations to the huge number of casualties suffered, but Pearl Harbor itself was really limited to those living in Oahu on that particular day.  The war was national, but the event was particular.  In our case, the roles were reversed.  I can distinctly remember watching the North Tower burn and people huddled around a TV wondering how such a freak accident could occur when the second plane struck the tower and removed all doubt, horribly and instantly, from anyone's mind about what we were witnessing.  9/11 was experienced by the whole nation; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have really not.  There are no small number of people in this nation who, if denied access to the news, would not know about those conflicts.  Rationing, war bonds, everyone knowing a casualty, black out drills, 10% of the entire population being recruited or drafted; we didn't experience those things.  The event was national, the war particular to those serving and their closest loved ones.

It seems incredibly strange to think, but in the grand scheme of things that attack may not rank very high.  It may very well be that its proper role in our thought is to be consigned to history, an event that happened and led to other somewhat relevant events but which otherwise is no longer a guiding star in the constellation of events that creates our narrative of the world.  I will not say that we "need to start looking forward rather than behind" because we are always looking forward; we look into the past to see our direction.  Maybe the financial crisis will be the truly big event that is recorded in the history books when we pass from this Earth; maybe nothing we do will be particularly remembered and this decade, if remembered at all, will be recalled only for its dullness.  I make no predictions, I only acknowledge the possibilities. 

This will be the last anniversary reflection I write upon 9/11.  In our national understanding (if such a term even makes sense), it can rest with a marble gravestone alongside Pearl Harbor and the Civil War, events which we understand happened but are no longer current with us.  Sooner than we of that generation may like to think, a new cohort of teachers will join our ranks who were not even alive when the Towers fell, when the Pentagon was struck, when a brave band of passengers brought down their own plane to stop madmen, when we were unsure when the attacks would stop, who perpetrated them, and whether life would ever return to normal.

But though I will cease memorializing the anniversary, the memories will remain with me until I die.  Whenever I hear a siren blare, even out here in the country, for the briefest of moments my heart jumps and I wonder if the world will be the same place tomorrow as images of ash and fire flash before my mind's eye. There will never be a beautiful September morning in which I don't remember sitting in English class writing an essay and having a Social Studies teacher whisper the first rumors of chaos in New York.   There will never be a clear September afternoon in which I'm not startled if there are no planes in the sky above me.

declinet autem a malo et faciat bonum inquirat pacem et persequatur eam

~1st Peter, Chapter 3, Verse 11