This is my next installation in my economic series about the coming Corporate Feudalism and how we avoid it.
I was raised in a Christian family, more specifically, a Methodist family. (I’m Catholic now, but was Methodist then.) In our church, while the adults attended services, the children attended Sunday school. In Sunday school, we would be told the stories in the Bible and talk about how those stories applied to our lives today. One of those stories was of David and Goliath.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with that story. Back in the days when Saul was king of the Israelites, a great Philistine army came to their borders. The Philistine general sent word to Saul that instead of the two armies fighting each other, each side could send out a champion to do battle, and if the Philistine champion won, the Philistine army would take over the land of the Israelites, and the Israelites would become their slaves. If the Philistine lost, the Philistine army would become the Israeli subjects. Then they brought forth Goliath. He was a huge man, and he had been supplied by the Philistines with the best weapons and armor that could be forged at that time. He struck fear into the hearts of those in the Israelite army. For 40 days, Goliath came out in the morning and at night shouting this challenge. For 40 days and nights, the Israelite army quivered in their tents and did not send anybody out to meet the challenge. Finally, one day, David (who wasn’t in the army, he stayed home tending sheep) was visiting his brothers in the army and taking them food. Goliath came out and bellowed his challenge. When nobody stepped forth, David said, “I can take him,” and volunteered. He picked up five smooth stones from a nearby stream and used his sling to hurl a stone at Goliath. The stone hit Goliath in the head, and Goliath died. David won, and the rest is history. Or a morality tale. I have no interest in arguing which.
So then the Sunday school teacher began to talk about how this story was applicable in our lives. She said, “You see? David was just a boy, not very big, not trained to be a soldier. But he was able to kill Goliath. If you have faith, and if God is with you, even you can beat the big bullies you come up against. You can beat the bad guys.” And so it seems, that whenever anybody goes up against a big corporation and wins, or goes up against a big anything and wins, we recall the story of David and Goliath.
I got to thinking about that story a while back (I don’t know why, I just do things like that sometimes). Today, there is a Philistine army looking to enslave us. It is corporate America. They have an army of Goliaths, in the form of managers. The armor they have given their Goliaths is the power of the corporation. The weapons include, “company policy,” and “it’s the going pay scale,” and “nobody else expects …,” and “if you don’t like it, we can always find somebody else,” and “team player.” Those words have as much bite to them as the sharpest Philistine sword, and they beat employees into submission even more quickly. You have to be quite a David to stand up to that.
And here’s where something about that story began to bother me. Suddenly it dawned on me. The passage in the Bible doesn’t say how big the army was, but in context you can gather that the army was tens of thousands. On top of that army, there were the non-soldiers of Israel, who, like David, were doing normal things. David was tending sheep. Others were also tending flocks, or raising crops, or building houses or whatever people did. So in all of Israel were more than tens of thousands of people. Yet, in all of those tens of thousands, there was only one David. Only one. The odds of that one in tens of thousands being any particular person were really small. Sunday school teachers were talking to the children as if each of them could be that one in tens of thousands. But in reality, there was a higher probability of any one of them becoming a professional NFL player than being that one David. Applying that to today, the chances of any employee being able to stand up to the Goliaths sent out by the Corporate Philistines is really, really tiny. The Corporations set forth their terms, and the employees surrender. Another thing. Saul had chartered David to represent the Israelites. Whatever David gained was gained for and on behalf of all the kingdom. If a single employee does somehow manage to be a David, he is not chartered to represent anybody but himself. Anything he is able to wrest from the local Goliath is only for himself.
Something else occurred to me. There was only one David, but behind him was an Israelite army of tens of thousands. That is a part I have never heard anybody talk about. Recall that every day, for 40 days, Goliath came forth in the morning and at night to bellow his challenge. 40 days. The Philistine Army sat idle for 40 stupid days. Armies aren’t meant to sit in a camp waiting to attack for 40 days. Why didn’t they just attack? Because in front of them was an army of tens of thousands. While the Israelite army was not full of Davids, it was made up of tens of thousands of trained, competent soldiers. Those tens of thousands were standing in solidarity, defending their freedom, defending their families, their land, their homes, their futures. They did not have to be Davids to be good soldiers. They were prepared to put up a good fight. Even if the Philistines were able to defeat that army of tens of thousands, many would die, and many more would be badly injured. And they could lose. For some reason, this feared army that had rolled over other kingdoms en route to Israel did not really want to fight this battle. So they sent their Goliath out in the belief that their Goliath could defeat anybody the Israelites could bring forward. If there had been no Israelite army, there would have been no David. Rather, without that army, the Philistines would have simply run over the kingdom killing anybody who got in their way. That would have included David. Standing alone, the people were helpless.
It is no different when the employee faces the corporate Goliath. If he stands alone, he has no chance. The corporation has all the advantages. It is only when employees band together into an army and stand in solidarity that the power is leveled. Because the union army will be standing in solidarity, defending their freedom, their families, their homes, their futures. When they form a union, join the union, and stand with the union, they are on a common footing with the corporations. It is then that the union can find and charter a David to go to battle on behalf of all the members. And what happened when David killed Goliath? “When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron.” While we don’t expect the union army to kill all the corporatists, we can expect the corporations to back off. Back in the day, before Ronnie the Destroyer broke the air traffic control union and his party began to dissemble unions, unions had won for their members (and for many who weren’t in the unions) pensions, paid vacation, health care coverage, competitive salaries and safer work environments. As unions have been dismantled, all those benefits have either been eliminated or cut back drastically. We need unions to help get them back. Because we can’t do it individually. There was only one David. And even he didn’t stand alone. The Israelite army made David possible.
My next piece will be about how we help our unions regain influence and what unions need to do.
In my last posting, I discussed the similarities between medieval feudalism in Europe and corporate feudalism that we are entering today. I also promised to identify what finally brought an end to medieval feudalism, and thus, the antidote to corporate feudalism today. I am not a historian, and I will not be going into a lot of historical analysis, dates or specifics. Instead, I am going to approach this topic through the eyes of an economist. I welcome real historians to contribute as they deem appropriate.
There is debate about the correct date of the end of the Roman Empire and start of the middle ages, however, most historians consider it to be either the sack of Rome on June 2, 455 CE, or September 4, 476 CE, on which date Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus. However, Rome was also sacked on August 24, 410 CE, which was an important factor in the decline of the Roman empire. With the fall of the empire, much of the cosmopolitan element of the society disappeared. There was much less travel among communities, fewer people moved from one state to another, and society fell into isolated fiefdoms, with only the church as a somewhat uniting factor. From that time until the crusades, feudalism, as described in the previous post, prevailed.
In 1095, Pope Urban issued the Crusades, whose purpose was to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims. According to Lisa Blades and Christopher Paik in their paper, “The Impact of Holy Land Crusades on State Formation: War Mobilization, Trade Integration and Political Development in Medieval Europe,” there were “four causal channels by which crusader mobilization strengthened nascent states. First, the departure of relatively large numbers of European elites for the Holy Land reduced the absolute number of elites who might serve as challengers to the king, increasing the stability of ruling monarchies. Second, crusade tithes were also among the first “per-head” taxes to be levied on European populations, creating precedent for later forms of centralized taxation and encouraging the development of representative institutions. Third, the large-scale sale of land by rural elites seeking to finance crusade expeditions undermined existing feudal institutional forms. Finally, the Crusades were a catalyst for the reintegration of Western Europe into global trade networks with implications for the rise of towns and urban governance structures. Using an original dataset of the geographic origins of elite crusaders, we find that areas with large numbers of Holy Land crusaders saw increased political stability, a higher probability of establishing parliamentary institutions, higher downstream levels of tax revenue and greater urbanization, even after controlling for a number of possible confounders.” Others have pointed out that large numbers of lords and nobles left for the Holy Land, many died while they were there, others were bankrupted. Their lands were escheated to the monarchs, thus increasing the power of the monarchy. Still others had their properties seized while they were away.
While the first three channels are interesting, they don’t seem to me to be the biggest influence on the changes that occurred. It is the last channel that I believe had the greatest impact. Let me explain.
I first revisit the factors of production:
Land (including all natural resources),
Labor (including all human resources),
Capital (including all man-made resources), and
Enterprise (which brings all the previous resources together for production).
While the result of the first and third channels did cause ownership of the land, the first factor of production, it did not really change that ownership in a way that was felt by the peasants working the land. It made no difference to that peasant whether the land was owned by a lord or a monarch, it was still not owned by him. The second factor could not really be felt by a peasant either, taxes were what they were, regardless of who they went to. Capital may have moved from lord to king, but the general population didn’t experience benefit or otherwise. However, the reintegration of Western Europe into the global trade networks was significant.
When most people think of the Crusades, they think of phalanx of knights riding off on steeds with grim faces. This picture is misleading. Those phalanx of knights had to be fed, clothed, and otherwise provisioned. It was an enormous mobilization of various trades required to keep the lords and their knights battle ready. Peasants were not often part of this mobilization, but the craftsmen were. There needed to be blacksmiths to tend to the horses, the swords, and so on. There had to be people to work on the wagons, to mend the harnesses, to make or mend clothing, and even to build structures to house the armies. There were vast amounts of food that had to be transported, and cooks to prepare that food.
Most of the craftsmen who traveled with the knights had never left their villages before. On the journey, they met and worked with people from other villages, from other countries, who spoke other languages. They were exposed to different ways to apply their crafts. The new people they encountered were not only fellow Europeans, they also associated with locals in the different places they went. This included Muslims. They developed friendships. Most important, as I see it, they encountered the Muslim Guilds. Originally begun in the 9th century as a way to control the quality and value of documents, the Muslim guilds had developed to control the quality and value of many other crafts. These guilds took various measures to protect their customers, and restrict access to techniques, materials, and markets. Through these guilds, the craftsmen were able to command a reasonable, preset price for their services and know they would not be undercut by a competitor. In other words, the guilds removed the control of the labor factor of production from the user (the lords, etc) to the provider (guild member).
The guilds did not return from the crusades fully developed. Being introduced (or, more truthfully, reintroduced, since they had been in existence during the Roman Empire) to a society that did not have them, they had to mature, through starts and stops. However, eventually, the mature guilds had some common characteristics in their charters: protection for the workers and protection for the consumers. The following is taken from the Medieval Guilds page of Medieval Life and Times:
Guilds in the Medieval times – Protection of Workers / Guild Members
The Guilds in Medieval times protected the workers, or the guild members as follows:
- Members of Medieval Guilds received protection from excessive taxes imposed by the lords and land owners
- Competition between members was regulated by fixed pricing policies – advertising and price cutting was banned
- Illicit trading by non Merchant Guild members was banned
- All members of guilds were obligated to retain all trade secrets
- The number of Guild masters and members of guilds were restricted to ensure there was sufficient business for each of the guilds
- Sickness Protection
- Protection for their members, goods and horses when traveling
- Help with funeral expenses. Orphans of members of guilds were also cared for
- Guilds funded the first non-religious schools of the Middle Ages
- Working conditions and hours of work were regulated
Guilds in the Medieval times – Protection for Consumers
The Guilds of the Medieval times in Medieval Times also protected the consumers. The spin-offs from the regulations of the guilds led to:
- Fair pricing policies – all prices were regulated by the guilds
- Quality of goods or workmanship. Goods and services were inspected and members of guilds were expected to undertake long apprenticeships.
A review of the mature guild charters reveals a strong similarity to today’s Labor Unions, in fact, they are the same thing by a different name. The first recorded registry of guilds is in 1170. Note that guilds funded the first non religious schools of the Middle Ages. This is important. The guilds felt it was their responsibility to ensure the education of their members and their children (ok, boys back then, for the most part). By establishing non religious schools, the guilds could teach students information that was outside that allowed by or pushed by the church.
Another factor of production was recovered for the guild members by the guilds. That is the factor called Enterprise. The guilds could, as a group, put together resources in a way that an individual could not. They could also provide a forum for sharing ideas that could lead to innovation. Innovation is a part of the factor called Enterprise. The sharing of ideas stimulated the minds of the guild members, and offered an incentive to innovate. We notice that the first castles built in the middle ages were essentially earth works, large earthen mounds. We begin to see stone castles emerging in the Norman castles in the 12th century, coincident with the emergence of guilds.
The playing field was greatly leveled with two of the four factors of production in the hands of the laborers.
Now I turn to discuss corporate feudalism. I begin by pointing out that the guilds, which broke medieval feudalism, were to all intents and purposes labor unions. The only difference is in the name, and many of our labor unions today call themselves guilds (i.e. screen actor’s guild). Labor unions are our antidote to corporate feudalism. We can trace the strengthening of workers rights with the rise of the Labor Unions. Unions got us child labor laws, paid vacation, company provided health care, the 40 hour work week, pensions, workplace safety and myriad other benefits.
We can also trace the weakening of workers rights over the past 35 years to the weakening of the labor unions. The pensions that our unions had won for us at great cost, have been largely lost since then. Health care and workplace safety are now at risk. Corporations are pushing to regain the labor factor of production by controlling the availability of jobs and removing the ability of individuals to defend themselves. Corporations are also pushing to regain the land factor. Notice their buying up of farmland and creating corporate farms. Notice their use of eminent domain to lay pipelines or create shopping centers and the like. They are using the financial system to make home ownership more difficult.
It is important for us to stand together with unions to restore their place in our financial system. An individual cannot stand up to the corporations alone. It is only through unity that we can reestablish the rights of the workers. In my next installment, I discuss the union movement in the U.S.
In my last posting, I wrote about the indefensible theory of supply side economics. Today I posit where this theory is heading. Whether or not it is the goal of supply side proponents, the result will be corporate feudalism. Let me explain.
Feudalism is defined as “the dominant social system in medieval Europe, in which the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants were obliged to live on their lord’s land and give him homage, labor, and a share of the produce, notionally in exchange for military protection.” From a historical perspective, I’m sure this definition is as accurate as one can get while being brief. I am not a historian (I welcome relevant input from those who are). I will be looking at feudalism from the viewpoint of an economist, and my focus is on the factors of production.
A better definition of feudalism from an economic standpoint is a system of government based on the tenure of land, or the system of land tenure and of government in which the landholders are the governors. These governors were the nobility, and were part of a structure that will be described later. The term tenure means the right to hold property, however it does not mean the right to own that property. The person is allowed to live on the land in exchange for his services. If a lord was displeased with a tenant, he was allowed to remove that tenant from the land and give the right to live there to someone else. No compensation was involved.
The feudal hierarchy was like a pyramid. At the very top was the pope, and initially, the emperor. Technically, the king was at the top, but he could be unseated by the pope if the pope became displeased. Below the king were nobles – lords and ladies, sometimes counts and countesses, etc., who were granted land (hence the term counties) in exchange for an oath of fealty, or loyalty. The nobles were expected to support the king in both offensive and defensive wars. In turn, the nobles granted land to knights in exchange for their services. According to one source, knights were expected to provide two months per year of service in peace times, and whatever time was necessary during war. Below these were tradesmen, who did not have land per se, but did have housing in exchange for their trade. At the bottom were peasants, who were allowed to stay on the land in exchange for farming and herding. Ownership of the crops and herds appears to have varied from place to place. In some locations, the land was mined for various ores, and those who worked the mines were granted housing near those mines. Many of the forests were retained by the king, and in England, hunting in the King’s forests was subject to execution.
In economic terms, the pope and the kings controlled all the factors of production. Factors of production are defined as follows:
Resources required for generation of goods or services, generally classified into four major groups:
Land (including all natural resources),
Labor (including all human resources),
Capital (including all man-made resources), and
Enterprise (which brings all the previous resources together for production).
These factors are classified also as management, machines, materials, and money (this, the 4 Ms), or other such nomenclature. More recently, knowledge has come to be recognized as distinct from labor, and as a factor of production in its own right.
The nobility controlled all the land, the capital and determined the enterprise. They controlled trade routes crossing their land or ports. The only thing technically not controlled by the nobility was labor. However, in a practical sense, the nobility also controlled the labor, because an individual peasant could not provide for his own livelihood without land or work. Since the peasant could easily be replaced, he was in a position of having to work for the lords, or leave.
Today, the factors of production are the same, but they have a different flavor. In place of kings, we have large corporations. In place of the nobles and knights, we have the companies that are part of the large corporations supply chain. In place of the peasants, we have the workers. And, in the place of the pope, we now have a president who appears to be prepared to bestow rights and assets to corporations or withhold them at his whim.
Corporations largely control the factors of production today. They own the rights to much of the land (i.e. corporate farms, mining, drilling, etc.) They are pressuring congress to give them the rights to critical infrastructure that the taxpayers have built and the people own. They have convinced the Supreme Court to grant them rights of persons when it is to their advantage, but not the obligations of persons. They are rapidly rounding up the resources and means of distribution. They do not yet control labor, but they are reaching a point where their control of jobs means that labor must submit to their rule.
One element of feudalism that allowed it to continue was the control of education. Knowledge was controlled by the church. We all know the price Copernicus and Galileo paid for presenting science that was not approved by the church. We do not know how many other scientists were silenced. For the most part, only male nobility could learn to read and write or do basic arithmetic, and while there are instances of women and lower class persons doing so, they are the exception. Books were primarily in monasteries and lords’ castles. Lords would hire a monk or priest to educate their sons. The education provided to the peasants was of a religious nature, and a fearful type to keep them in line.
As with feudal times, those currently in power are trying to disrupt public education. They would put in its place private and religious schools. Already we see many recommending watering down education to those things a person needs to ply his or her trade.
The similarity between the feudal system in what we call the Dark Ages and the direction we are heading with the corporate world is startling. The speed with which we are moving in that direction is breathtaking. If we continue on our current trajectory, we will be soon entering a corporate Dark Ages.
Eventually feudalism was pretty much broken. I will discuss the key to breaking corporate feudalism in my next installment, The Antidote to Corporate Feudalism.
Today the feather I pull out of the featherbed is the meme that unions are the reason for our deficits and loss of jobs.
The conservatives claim that costs resulting from unions and their activities is the reason our country is in such an economic mess and the only way out is to break the unions. So, I pull this feather out of the featherbed of lies.
The governor of Wisconsin has issued an ultimatum: Break the unions or lose 6000 jobs. He claims that the deficit is so bad because of unions, and that unless the unions cave, public jobs will be on the chopping block. The claim is that if we no longer have to give in to union demands, all will be well with the world and the jobs will come back. He says their budget woes are the fault of unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. As was diaried earlier, the reason for the deficit was tax cuts for the rich and for large corporations. Now they want to make those gifts they gave to the well heeled and well connected be paid for by the hard working public service employees. “It is the unions’ fault that we are in financial trouble.” Let us examine this.
First – if corporations and wealthy persons paid the same share of their profits that the public sector and middle class pays, there would be a surplus. Without the recently passed tax cuts there would be a surplus. The argument made by Governor Walker is the same as an argument made by a person who gives a lovely present to a wealthy associate to impress the associate, then tells his children they have to go hungry because there is no money. Would the spouse put up with that? Of course not! So why should public service employees accept that? Why should the citizens? The fact is, their government was well funded before the corporate christmas present. It is a remarkable piece of chutzpah that they would give away the surplus and then accuse the unions for causing their problems.
Let us look at what unions do for us. Does anybody get paid vacation? That was the result of unions bargaining on behalf of their workers, then those benefits extending to non-union members. Health care? Same thing. Pensions? Ditto. What about a safe workplace? Unions. Workman’s comp? Result of union work. Reasonable hours? Same. NONE of those things would be on the American plate without the benefit of unionization and the protection of those unions on behalf of everyday workers. Are we prepared to give these things up in order to give goodies to corporations? I hope not!
Did exorbitant union contracts cause the financial mess? I am not convinced. I do know that even with these contracts, nobody lost jobs until Congress started giving tax incentives to corporations to hire overseas workers. It was a misguided attempt to give third world nations a seat at the table at the expense of the American worker. It was also a money grab by multinational corporations who paid for our congresspersons’ expensive election cycles. Did these union contracts include the derivatives and other silly financial instruments that collapsed under our past president? Not at all. That last was the major culprit in our financial mess, not the unions.
So the accusation is that unions protect the lazy and at high expense. Of course, anybody who lost a promotion because of seniority or experience will blame the union. It is normal human nature for everybody to believe he or she is performing better than the next person. But in fact, my experience observing a union shop indicates otherwise. Further, many of the union rules people chafe about were imposed by management during the bargaining process, and the unions accepted them in order to promote the good things we all look for and have come to expect.
Are most union members lazy? Not in my experience. And I have seen unions choose not to support a member who did not perform. Face it – workers, who are union members, do not relish picking up for lazy coworkers. If called in for a review, these coworkers will speak out about the person in question when the person deserves to be chastized. Unions keep their workers in line better than management does. Is there sometimes favoritism? Sure, unions are made up of people. But there is, in my observation, more favoritism when there is no union to watch out for it.
Do unions keep wages and benefits artificially high? It depends on what you mean by artificially high. Sure, they keep them higher than management would like. But management would like them artificially low. Unions make management justify cuts. When the corporation is raking in huge profits, it is only fair that those profits be shared with the workers. When profits drop, unions tend to understand market conditions and negotiate accordingly.
Here’s the deal: an individual cannot stand up against a corporation or large company alone. It is one person against a huge and impersonal thing. For all the Supreme Court’s declarations, corporations are not people. They don’t know the people who they employ. It isn’t Joe negotiating with Bob, his boss. The corporation doesn’t see Joe as a person. It sees Joe as a piece of machinery. As Seth Godin says in Linchpin,
You weren’t born to be a cog in the giant industrial machine. You were trained to become a cog…What factory workers want is compliant, low-paid, replaceable cogs to run their efficient machines.
That is the problem. The corporation sees people as replaceable cogs. Unions at least give a voice to these “cogs” by telling management that these are people who are not to be used up blindly and thrown away. Left to themselves, management uses the cheapest people possible in the cheapest environment possible and wants no responsibility for them on or off the job. If they are sick, management wants to ignore their sickness and if they can’t come to the job they don’t get paid. If the equipment is not safe, management wants them to go home and not get paid if they get hurt. When someone is all used up and ready to retire, management wants them to go away and figure out how to live the rest of their days. Management does not want to have to pay to let them get a breather, either for ten minutes on a shift (which they would rather was more than eight hours), or for two weeks in a year. Unions are the only way a person can get the human needs met. Left to themselves, management cares more about the good working order of their machinery than of the good working order of their workers. It is only because of unions that humans get “maintained.”
So would the work force be better off without unions? Certainly not. Would the nation be financially better off if they did not have to concede to unions? Perhaps, in the very short run (and I don’t even believe the perhaps). But in the long run, not only would quality of life decline for the workers, but for everybody. Quality of our goods and services would be trashed because of an overworked, undercompensated and demoralized work force. It is already happening as unions are weakened.
What is happening in Wisconsin is vital. What will be happening in Ohio will be vital. In 20 years, all the gains for the everyday American way of life – antitrust laws, employment laws, tax equity – have been eaten up by the ugly Reaganomics. If we allow the final dismantling of unions, the lifestyle of the average worker will return to the way it was pre-1900.
Unions don’t cost jobs. Tax incentives to send jobs where there are no worker protections cost jobs. Encouraging corporations to move the work costs jobs. The only reason the other countries have such cheap labor is because the people there have no other choices. They have no laws to ensure their children are not tied to benches making tiny stitches all day without even bathroom privileges or water nearby. They have no laws that the wages paid are enough to buy the food they need while on the job. They have no laws to ensure workers do not risk their health or lives on the job. Is our ability to buy cheap goods worth the ruin of people’s health and safety?
Unions are our last bastion against a corporatocracy where the only rights are held by meganationals and the only wealth is held by a few. Those who today are railing against unions are, in their ignorance, ensuring that the benefits they now take for granted become history. They sleep comfortably now thinking that taking those benefits from unionized workers will not be taken from them. However, they will be taken. They are already being taken. They will find themselves in a nightmare as this featherbed becomes lumpy.
I was watching another report of the Tea Party rallies and felt a strange sensation of deja vu. The views being presented, the way they were presented, the way the partiers reacted, the energy expressed were all familiar somehow. I sent my mind back to find out where this was coming from. All of a sudden, there it was. I saw it. I knew where I had seen all this before. I was shocked, then I realized I should have known all along. Here is my theory of where this extreme right ideology came from.
I realized that what I was watching was reminiscent of the Amway rallies I used to go to. It all made sense. I remembered how they got us involved – promises of wealth and the easy life. Promises that anybody could do it. Anger at the establishment and how the establishment had sold us all out. Religion. Protect the wealthy because you would soon be one of them and enjoy all the benefits. Super patriotism. Did I say Religion?
It was the religious piece that drove us away from Amway. I didn’t see how false the promises were, I didn’t see the exploitative nature of the company at first. I saw the extreme religious aspect. I resented that. It offended people I was trying to work with. My cross line was Jewish and they were extremely offended. I was offended for them. They were considered second class citizens because they were not of the correct religion. The rallies they and we paid good money to attend were full of proselytizing. They actually had calls to become born again at these business functions. They said ugly things about people who were not the “right” type of Christians.
After we left and were able to look at the business more things became clear. The products were inferior, but sold at inflated prices. The uplines would tell you to buy these products at these inflated prices, and as you convinced your own downline to overbuy overpriced products your downline would subsidize your own purchases. They encouraged us to enlist people who were in dire financial straits, assuring us that this would help them get out of debt. In other words, they preyed on the desperate. But the Diamonds and Emeralds did not get wealthy selling chevrolet products at cadillac prices. They became wealthy selling tapes. Every week, downline were told to purchase two tapes. The tapes cost $.50 to make and distribute, but they were sold for $7.50 apiece. In them, the diamond or emerald selected would tell you to buy more, how to be Christians, that the wealthy deserved the fat of the land and that anybody who was broke deserved to be broke. The Amway distributors listened to these tapes night and day. They were paying for their own brainwashing. That is the most effective way to brainwash somebody. What was said on the tapes is what I hear the extreme right wingers saying now.
Many of the big-time self help and motivational speakers today got to be household names and millionaires because of Amway sponsorship. One example that comes to mind is Robert Kiyosaki. I don’t have a problem with Mr. Kiyosaki, but I know that his books had few sales until Amway pushed his books to the distributors and had him speak at functions. This is one reason so many motivational speakers tell you that an MLM is a smart way to become wealthy. In fact, you have about as much chance of becoming wealthy as an Amway distributor as winning the lottery (the odds may be different, but the fact is, becoming wealthy is highly unlikely).
When people left Amway, they rarely blamed the company. The brainwashing had done its job. They blamed themselves, they blamed their upline, they blamed their own financial circumstances, but not Amway. I remember one upline we had went and had a garage sale. They sold everything they owned including their furniture to finance their business, as their upline advised them to do. When they left the business two years later, they had two small children, an empty house and a garage full of outdated product.
Rich DeVos and Jay VanAndel became very wealthy from Amway. They used this wealth to contribute to Republican candidates who shared their extreme right wing views and to muscle out more moderate candidates. They put forth a litmus test, both religious and economic. The candidates accepted this litmus test in exchange for their donations. Thus the Republican party made a steady swing to the right.
Look at who the extreme right wingers are today. Look at where Amway was particularly strong and where the tea party is strong today. Look at the demographics. Is it just coincidence? I am beginning to wonder.
Many years ago, our family was visiting the missions of California. We were traveling from Mission San Antonio de Padua (or San Miguel, I forget which) to Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. Since it was well off the highway we were traveling back roads. We were driving by huge corporate farms. As we drove by, we passed many people out picking the crops by hand. Many of the laborers appeared to be children. Then we drove past the migrant camp where they stayed. Not only was the camp almost uninhabitable, there were no adults in sight. It appeared that small children were watching small children.
When I got back home, I asked our parish priest, who had spent time tending to migrant workers, about what I had seen. What he told me has haunted me ever since.
I was correct that there were no adults at the camp, if it was a day good for picking. Even if it had been raining, there would have been only the very old in the camp. Most of the shelters are portable, like tents and adapted trucks. And yes, I had seen children in the fields beside their parents.
He said that when children turn seven or eight, they go out to pick. The babies are left with six and seven year olds in charge. The babies are tended by their siblings all day. They learn their language from six and seven year olds who never learned any language properly. (In other words, they don’t speak English well enough to get by and they don’t speak good Spanish either.) Of course, schooling is nonexistent. If a toddler gets hurt, it is up to his/her young sibling to figure out what to do, because the parents can’t afford to come in from the fields. There is not good water in the camp for anybody, and there is almost never enough to eat or wear.
Out in the fields, the water sources are far apart and there are few if any toilet facilities. The work is backbreaking, and goes on from first light to last light. The pay, of course, is worse than substandard.
At that time, one of my favorite songs became Woodie Guthrie’s Deportee:
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves and to rot on the topsoil
And be called by no name except
Deportee by Woodie Guthrie
Later I moved home to Colorado and worked with homeless children, which I covered in another diary. In both cases, this nation closed its eyes to vulnerable children in this country. I don’t particularly care whether it is the fault of the parents, although much of me blames the corporate farms for the migrant worker situation. I do care that the children did not ask for these circumstances, and the only thing they did to be in this plight was be born into the wrong demographic.
While I agree that there are other urgent and important issues to handle during this administration, is there some way we can find occasion to find a solution to these children?