I made myself a pot of my favorite coffee early this morning with fresh ground beans mixed with one teaspoon each of ground cardamom and ginger and a good tablespoon of cinnamon. While my coffee dripped along I reviewed a section in my novel-writing book and sat down to read up on the craft I am aspiring to: putting together a (coherent) book! It’s the one I may have mentioned to you over the past decades: I used to call it “Now That They Are All Dead”. Well, despite the fact that they are all are dead now, I’m thinking it’s not such an intriguing title.
I poured my coffee, added a little coconut milk and switched on Commercial TV to see what bad news they were covering. Well, the traffic sucked, and our coast to coast weather was drastic, Americans are full of automobile rage; and lots and lots of people got shot by guns. Oops! I know – I know: they got shot by people.
So I switched to RT, (Russia Today) the non-commercial station many of us turn to for more balanced news, not drivel and giggle-stuff. And I found what I wanted to bring up and Blog on: Our Economy, from a non-scholar’s view.
I watched a film about a leather tanning factory in Bangladesh, where shoes are the ultimate product. Bangladesh is a small country on the Bay of Bengal above Australia and to the left a bit. It periodically gets washed out in monsoons, and more recently a garment factory collapsed, killing over a thousand employees. Many were mothers who never returned to their children that evening. As a mother I am very shaken by that thought. The tannery and the garment factory share one American element in their businesses: They are both disasters because we are convinced we deserve cheap product.
Two standard stores found in every American mall sold the garment factory products to women to people like you and me and our kids. Americans need to understand, and hopefully will come to a decision as to whether cheap product is worth a mother’s cheap life.
In Sudan we had a good friend named Michael. He made it clear that he was of Greek extraction, not Arab, and told an amusing story about his Great-grandfather, Georges, who as a young man, was awaiting his ship to America, having drinks with his mates in the port of Piraeus.
Georges changed his plans when he was drunk and someone told him of a ship departing for Port Sudan. It was much cheaper than the ticket to America! Georges changed his plans, and forever changed his descendant’s lives. Each year the family “celebrates” the Great-grandfather’s birthday by dumping a bottle of liquor over his grave and cursing him soundly, Michael said.
Michael was a finesser, Mr. Ten Per Cent: If something needed done, he knew just the guy, and for a 10% cut would connect you to the person. He handled imports and visas and passport control and if you wanted alcohol (in a country under Sharia Law) he knew how to get it. He could even get people out of jail. In the US we call this “net-working”. It’s possibly illegal if it involves monetary gratuities or baksheesh.
Michael stopped by our home one day to announce he had a great job lined up. He was going to make a lot of money and have all his expenses paid! First he had to go to Pakistan and pick up an order of women’s kid skin shoes at a shoe factory. Then he was to arrange and escort the shipment to a sole-insert factory in Spain where each shoe would receive an upscale liner, black with gilded script stating the brand name and inscribed “Made in Spain”. It is true: the liners were made in Spain! Just don’t believe everything you think you read.
His final duty was to then escort the quality Spanish made shoes to New York and return with roughly a half-year’s salary, paid in US Dollars, and deposited to his offshore bank .
I shook my head wondering how many 5th Avenue Mavens would fight for the right to pay a thousand dollars for exquisite Spanish kid skin pumps. I found it very funny back then, which I of course now find appalling. And today after watching the leather tanning processing horror in Bangladesh I again felt shame for my ignorance.
It’s easy to believe Michael’s Packistani shoes originated in a similar tanning factory, where barefoot and barehanded workers sloshed through, absorbed and breathed ammonia and toxic chemicals day after day, then come home to sick children to feed them rice cooked in contaminated water.
On the heels of the difficult recession of the 1970s, the 1980s sparked an unrealistic and unsustainable economy in the United States. We did it by capitalizing on the desperation of cheap overseas labor. Then Americans then were marketed to demamd Oversized Personal Vehicles, the attendant Dream Homes, Dream Vacations, Season Tickets, Brazilian Waxes, Mani/Pedis for Mommy and Me, Wine Parties, and storage units for all the junk we can’t cram into the Dream Homes.
Credit was easy, construction was hot and the “finessers” showed up in doves: people who got a broker license then told you they knew how to get your Dream Home for you; “Don’t worry your pretty little head about the 150 pages of loan documents; just sign, move in, and throw a party! Be sure to tell your friends that I can handle even the most difficult cases! I have connections!” Well, here we sit and LOL.
America, understand that in the real world of this new millennium, Joe Plumber who makes quite a nice hourly wage plus gets his union perks; may not want to pay fair salary for American-made goods. Our sales-driven country demands slave labor. Consumption may be “American.” How long can it remain our current business plan?