Thursday, October 20, 2005

Men's Raging Hormones
The rantings of an old fogey

Now that I’ve got your attention, I must admit making gender role generalizations can be dangerous, but it does seem the tendency to turn life into a competitive sport occurs more frequently in those endowed with the most testosterone.

I first noticed the phenomena in the sphere of driving. How else can one explain the fierce determination to not let any one impinge in the slightest on one’s maneuvering of an automobile? Can anyone really think that a three second delay will have a serious, consequential impact on one’s future life? Road rage is not usually about getting somewhere on time but instead part of a game of honor, much like the jousting of older times.

Much more dangerous, however, is the sport of accumulating more than anyone else. What exactly is accomplished by dying with billions of dollars in your estate? Anyone can make all their children financially independent with far less money. Do people really think there is some great possession scoreboard in the sky that will reward them in the next life? The game even affects the middle class. Probably at least one half of SUV owners can not plausibly explain their need for such a vehicle; most are not even conscious of the game they play.

Most worrisome about hoarding of wealth (to win a spot on Forbe’s list) is the impact on the overall economy, especially in the context of the conservative fiscal ideology of the free market. The idea is just a new version of the Republican "trickle down" theory of the 1920s. (Look what it got us back then: a complete economic breakdown). In theory if the rich get richer they will invest their capital in ways that create jobs. If you give money to the poor, they just spend it on things like food.

However, the new corporate management style has also become a competitive sport. Thus, rather than worrying about producing goods or services or securing the long-term survival of the company, the CEO scoreboard only records profits, which have to grow each quarter or the game is lost. The reward for winning the game is being grossly overpaid, so one can win the possessions game, as well as estate building, even if having a helicopter eliminates competition in the driving game. There is great incentive to focus on the short-term bottom line. It really doesn’t matter if the company survives, CEOs can do a lot of looting before the corporation is a corpse.

A small problem arises, however, in free market reality. Layoffs and wage cuts increase profits, and out-sourcing cuts costs. Nevertheless, both leave fewer people able to buy the goods and services being created. Billionaires may buy a different car for each day of the week, but at some point they run out of places to put more cars. If wealth is concentrated at the top and everybody else maxes out their credit cards, who will buy the other cars? Can capitalism thrive without consumers? Isn’t that what is happening now as profits rise but incomes falls? Can we afford to continue to treat life like a competitive sport as resources become depleted? Will we ever get the supply-siders out of power? Will the Supreme Court changes enshrine the games?

Well, at least I feel better by venting.


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