So, after 21 years of gainful employment as a software developer my dh was "laid off" last week. His current project was "outsourced" to India; "right-sized" and "focused". Just another way to say fuck you to a loyal, dependent, expensive employee. Cause, see, that's exactly what it boils down to. Expensive. If you stay too long and you know too much and become a pretty valuable team player you get expensive. 20 years? Many tens of thousands of dollars in salary. Many, many days of vacation. Many costly health, life, eye and dental expenditures. And we can't have that. We mustn't make it possible for workers in America to feel like they've really accomplished something in their professional lives. We must only, and I do mean ONLY, make sure that the people at the very top of the management slag-heap get the most money and even that they too don't stay too long.
Business in America right now is a curious thing. Everyone says they want secure, stable jobs where people don't have to be freaking out thinking they might lose the house or have to move every six months. The media shrieks incessantly about creating an economy where children grow up in one place and have a sense of their community. We must be concerned about the children! At all costs! But in reality? That's a load of bullshit. In fact, there's almost a dissonance between what people say and what they do. Oh, yeah, that's called irony. The Nouveau Americana. Will we, I wonder, get our own version of Norman Rockwell; dressed in black with tats and piercings everywhere painting on the backs of old Walmart bags; exploring his oeuvre of homelessness and empty main streets?
What people really want is money and they don't care how they get it or what colleague they have to "lay off" to ensure that they don't lose it. Worked with you for ten years and totally your supported your local-foods-support-your-farmer movement? Yeah, but that was just for fun! This is serious and you no longer have a job. Worked with you for ten years, met your two or three or four little kids and your wife or whatever, understood your dedication to putting out quality work, your desire to not-compromise when it came to customer satisfaction and right-livelihood? Yeah, but you cost too much and rather than working with you to reconcile that, we're letting you go. Dude! They can do that for way less in Bangalore!
Yeah, yeah, yeah I know that there are millions of people unemployed. That they've been unemployed for YEARS now. That people don't have health-care, that people are living in boxes by the railroad tracks and setting up tent-cities outside major California cities. I know that all manner of programs in this country were cut, are being cut or are going to be cut. I know that dozens of state parks in New York are closing this summer, that bridge and highway repair work will not be done and that we won't gap our current budget shortfall in my lifetime. And I know that everyone without two brain cells to rub together thinks that it's somehow Obama's fault. But, seriously? When the sector of the economy that was supposed to save us all; that was being hailed as the savior for our energy dependence and food shortages starts laying people off and when those people can only be re-hired as "contract" workers and they become industrial nomads who can't afford to take their kids to the doctor for their asthma? That kind of looks like the shit has hit the fan. And if the technology sector is dead, then, what's left?
The automobile industry has been tanking off and on since 1978. We've exported most of our manufacturing to ChInduStan. We don't make our own clothes, appliances or entertainment. We take our brightest minds from MIT and put them on...Wall Street!! We don't even do our own customer service!! Go ahead! Call any company but LLBean and see who answers the phone! If we don't make anything or fix anything or even think about anything anymore, what can a person do? We barely even have newspapers or a postal system anymore! What shall I tell my children they should plan to do with their lives? Medicine? Maybe. Law? Puhleeze. Move to Canada where they can at least go to the doctor? Maybe...
This rant is all leading up to my admitting that I'm thinking more about what I've known was coming. To be honest, I wasn't really certain how it would look. I kept telling my husband, no, no. Peak oil is not a fast-crash thing. It's not going to be this "ohmygod everyone is losing their job and we will be living on the street" kind of scenario. And I still don't think that it will be. I still don't think we're headed for Mad Max. But what if I'm wrong? What if there are no more secure jobs anymore, for anyone?What if people just have to figure out on a daily basis how to get by? What does that mean for our society and our culture? If more and more of us sink deeper into Maslow's hierarchy from "Esteem Needs" to "Safety" and "Physiological Needs", what will that do to our societal infrastructure? People who are worried about their housing and food are generally not interested in much else. Reading? Art? Music? Who cares when I'm trying to figure out how to make dinner from dandelion greens and some buggy wheat berries.
Most people who read the news and follow energy trends understand that this last economic "recession" was triggered by the outrageous oil prices of 2008. Remember $147.27 for a barrel of oil? Remember the crash just after that? See how we're all resigned to $3 for a gallon of gasoline? Well, how about $10? Would we be resigned to that? $15? How about that? These price spikes seriously hamper the American economy which seriously hampers our way of life. And I'm not talking about hampering it like, "Darn! I can't afford to fly to Cabo this winter!" I'm talking about "Darn! I can't drive to work this week!" Or, "Darn! We can't afford these employees anymore!" This is all related people. The most troubling piece of this puzzle is our complete inability to rely on anything that was once considered pretty rock solid. And I wring my hands over what to tell the children.
In the end, I guess what I'll tell them is what I'd like to tell everyone right now. The world is changing faster than ever before. It is moving in a direction that cannot be predicted or changed. We are all trying desperately to adapt to that and while we are, we must come to the realization that whatever it was that we thought was stable is not. Our time of depending on much of anything is over. It's a reckoning for America, how we deal with it remains to be seen but in the meantime we all must cope. So, depend on no particular area for your livelihood. Depend on change and upheaval and risk. And most of all, depend on yourselves.