Saturday, December 26, 2009

Overpaidism Comes to America: What are You Going to Do?

Are you overpaid?

"Americans Are Overpaid" says Fortune Magazine; we must all take a pay cut to "rebalance the global economy".

What does that mean? I just got a new, real-life example:
My father-in-law is being laid off next month because he makes too much money. He has given 30 years or more of skillful and loyal service but, because he's an American who's making house payments and using medical benefits, he's getting kicked to the curb and replaced with a foreign worker. He's a symptom of overpaidism!
Now, let me note that Fortune Magazine and the rest of the corporate media doesn't really think that "all" of us are overpaid; they continually remind us that the CEOs who mastermind the outsourcing of jobs and the collapse of our economy need to get more money, because if you don't pay them enough for shipping your jobs overseas, they might quit working so hard ... and then where we would be? What would happen to America if CEOs didn't ship my father-in-law's job overseas?

Are you stupid enough to believe this garbage that they are feeding you?
Do you feel overpaid? Are your health benefits too good? Is your workplace too safe?

One of the dirty secrets of job exports (that Fortune Magazine article conveniently overlooks) is that the cost of labor is maybe 10% of the cost of imported goods; the really big savings is in safety and environmental issues. Here in the United States, you can't just kill a few workers or pour poison into the air like you can in many other countries. So because we have decided we don't want to poison our kids, we'll lose more jobs.  Or, from the corporate standpoint, poisoning kids is o.k. so long as they can make another buck!
The people who run our economy are telling American workers: "You're too greedy! You want too much money! We can replace you with foreigners who'll work cheap and die quietly! Good-bye!" Although to be fair: they don't seek to export all the jobs; sometime they just fire you and hire cheaper replacements. And then they run for president!.

This is not a question of America's ability to do the job. Americans can do anything.  My father-in-law mastered a technical specialty, and his work is still in demand. The only problem with his work is that he and his co-workers are Americans. We have mortgages, the most expensive health care system on the planet, and expectations of worker safety.  And my father-in-law was getting near retirement; if he'd reached a certain number of years of employment, he'd be eligible for extra benefits upon retirement.

You wouldn't want that!  An American citizen enjoying a comfortable retirement after decades of service? No way, not in our country! Why should Americans be able to own a home, have health care and a comfortable retirement?

My father-in-law's company found some people in another country who could use computer and communications equipment to do the same job, not as well, but a lot cheaper. Remember, the health-and-safety requirements are a lot lower! And retirement? pshaw! Best of all: once you've figured out how to offshore a job to one country, you can easily switch to another one that's even cheaper. You can play off every nation on the planet for whoever's the most desperate! Let Americans eat cake!

What are You going to Do?

The question right in your face is this: What are you going to do about it?
  • First, don't think your job is safe. If you work in a factory or an office, unless you are direct customer service, your job is at risk  (... and sometimes even direct customer service can be offshored.)
  • Second, consider doing nothing. With luck, you'll die before our great nation is a Third World hellhole and you may be able to keep yourself in kibble until then.
  • Third, if you're a patriot, or have children that you love, fight back politically! It's not going to be easy; you're not fighting evil individuals, but evil organizations (Persuade one businessman to do the right thing, and a thousand more will rise to take his place.) A simple labor-equalization tariff would be helpful but will be opposed by our corporate owners with every pundit they can muster. One thing we've learned from the health care debate is that corporate America is willing and able to deploy billions of dollars to protect its vampire-like hold on our nation's blood. A corporate structure that will block the import of life-saving drugs are reasonable prices is not interested in your life and health.
  • On a personal level, you need to prepare to lose your job! At the very least, you need to figure out what to do if your income falls disasterously.
  • Education is not necessarily going to help you. It's good to be constantly learning, but too many people are now coming out of school well-trained for jobs that aren't there, and are not going to be there.  My particular area of interest is the legal field; the number of unemployed entry-level law school graduates is seriously bad ... and heaven help you if you have a liberal arts degree!  One thing you can count on: your school debts will dog you, eating up whatever income you can get from your entry-level job.
  • Adopt the MultiModal Approach to Maintaining Yourself.
    Most of us in our United States are used to a single mode of maintaining ourselves; usually we rely on income from a job, although some of us are farmers. Contrast this to the experience of  one of my buddies worked on land reform in India. The easiest way to get people there out of poverty into a decent living standard was to get them owning enough land to support themselves. This worked in general pretty well, with one limitation: often, a family did not WANT enough land to support themselves 100%. Instead, many wanted smaller plots of land on which they could be part-time farmers, supplementing income from a job or a shop. In retrospect, the advantages are obvious: being a full-time farmer is risky, because of natural fluctuations in the market, weather and so forth; a bad year for a farmer is very bad indeed! Having multiple means of supporting yourself reduces risk and, in good years, can lead to significant prosperity. It can also be more interesting, challenging and perhaps fun.

MultiModal Maintenance

Most of us in our United States are used to a single mode of maintaining ourselves; usually we rely on income from a job. Few jobs are safe anymore, although as long as you have one it can be very helpful.

Assume that our jobs, or other sources of income, will not be enough for prosperity. Find something in addition that you enjoy.

There are all sorts of get-rich-quick schemes, multi-level marketing and other scams. Don't do it. If it sounds too good to be true, it's not true.

However, there is a lot you can do to develop supplementary income. Millions of Americans are doing this small-time through the internet, via eBay, Amazon, and a thousand other venues. One of the great national benefits of internet marketing in used goods is that it increases the value of things we already have in our country; instead of importing another gadget made abroad, we're reselling something from our existing stock, essentially remanufacturing here in America.

Try starting a business, doing something you love and for which there is a demand. I can't advise you on this, except to keep VERY careful track of your money and get help. Many people start businesses in Depressions and it's hard for you to outsource yourself involuntarily!

My favorite suggestion ... the route I am taking ... is to plant any piece of dirt that you own or rent with low-maintenance crops. If you have the use of land, even as small as a parking strip, plant it! Replace that sterile shortgrass with something low-maintenance and high-yielding. This can really work! while you can invest way too much time gardening, you can get good results also with but a little effort.

In 2009, with access not nothing but pots on a rooftop patio, I produced enough greens to keep 1 person in salads for most of the summer! (Some of it was a private effort, another part was an urban agriculture effort that helped a localfood bank.) You may be especially interested to keep in mind that food you grow on your own can be organic if you like, use varieties developed for taste and nutrition instead of the ability to be shipped a thousand miles, and tax-free. This IRS does not monitor the value you get from home-grown tomatoes!

I'm interested in hearing your comments on other modes of maintaining yourself other than income from a job.  While we will never return to the Ozzie and Harriet days in which one person worked one job to support his family, we can still maintain a decent standard of living if we're smart and determined.

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