Monday, July 13, 2009

Our sick economy

Nothing Pencils Out

Nothing pencils out anymore. Maybe nothing ever did, but it seems flagrantly more obvious today that virtually all business activities are entropic. Unsustainable. Oh yes, businesses survive, even thrive, but only by begging, borrowing, stealing, cheating or government subsidy.

No business seems to make it on its own. No business can operate profitably without either cutting corners or receiving unearned revenue.

You know the big names, the ones who got the billions and hundreds of billions from the feds. So you know:

--Banking doesn't pencil out. Banks need large infusions of your tax dollars to stay afloat.

--Ditto for insurance companies. In addition, insurance companies have to aggressively deny benefits to their customers to stay in business.

--American auto companies haven't penciled out for decades and now need not only government money but supervision.

Certainly, the failed economy doesn't help matters, but this thought came to me awhile ago, before millions of jobs went up in smoke.

--Big agribusiness doesn't pencil out. The corporate farms are totally dependent on the pork-laden agriculture bill that Congress passes every few years.

--Small farms haven't penciled out for nearly a century.

--Food product manufacturing doesn't pencil out unless the product is loaded with heavily subsidized commodities such as corn and soybeans.

--Most other kinds of manufacturing doesn't pencil out in the U.S., which is why it's done in China and elsewhere.

In Portland, however, it's no different, just perhaps more bungled up than many other places, but definitely not alone.

--Major league sports franchises, though universally owned by billionaires, evidently can't make it unless taxpayers pay for their stadiums and arenas.

--The hotel industry doesn't pencil out, since it needs to hire illegal aliens to clean the rooms. And it needs subsidies from local governments to build new hotels.

--Restaurants, too, need illegals in the kitchen to pencil out.

--Bars evidently will go bust if they don't get revenue from video poker.

--Newspapers aren't penciling out and thus are near extinction.

--Radio and television news doesn't really pencil out either, because these media really don't report news, just gossip and opinion.

--The construction of buildings no longer pencils out, because there's no buyers anymore. Unless a builder wins a contract from the government, at which point taxpayers foot the bill.

--Pharmaceuticals don't pencil out. Yes, the drug companies make obscene profits, but only by convincing people to take lots of drugs they don't need—and then the government or the insurance companies pay for those drugs.

--Health care in general doesn't pencil out, even though prices are escalating at three times the general inflation rate. Hospitals can't make money treating the sick, but instead have to seek profits treating the vain.

--A lot of little boutiques in trendy areas may appear to pencil out, and do so in the short run, but wait a couple of years and see how many are still around.

--Small business in general hardly ever pencils out. Either the employers or the owners make pitiful wages for what they do, and never have good health plans.

--Big business doesn't pencil out either, because it doesn't have to. Big business is too big to fail, so the government keeps it alive.

I can come up with a handful of business activities—coffee, sex, IPhones—that seem to pencil out. Maye I haven't examined them closely enough. Maybe there are more. There definitely are more that don't. Give me your list.


  1. Kitchen table school pencils out. $100 for workbooks and supplies from the teachers' store, research visits to the library, two years of public school education covered in six months, in just over three hours a day.

    Backyard gardens pencil out. Seed, straw, scrap wood, chicken wire, home grown compost, recycled glass jars, back-breaking labor (kids available, as school only lasts til lunchtime.) Chickens double as pets, replace themselves on demand. Freeze well.

    Living below the Joneses pencils out. Second-hand, used, found, re-imagined. But you *have* to buy new shoes.

    There's not a damn thing we can do to stop the gallop to doom in which our civilization, and the global economy, is engaged. We can vote out, vote in, wave banners, stand in front of tanks, expose the theocratic 12-step plans of C-Street's ego-mad denizens... we're still dealing with selfish human nature. Not one of our leaders will put aside the banquet of today (or yesterday) for the good of next week. That includes Gore, and his huge carbon footprint. Idealogue poseur.

    Pencil me in for the End Days as cannon fodder. In the meantime, I'll blast the kids out of bed with surf music, bitch about Amazon's shadowy presence and interference in the Kindle owner's e-books, keep an eye on Palin, and hope I'm still on the planet when the plug gets pulled. Because leaving before the credits roll is rude.

    It's everyone for themselves!


  2. Great comment. Seems as if a lot of us are living under the Joneses these days, especially in SE PDX, and doing just fine with small and overlapping social and economic networks.

    At some point I'm going to take on a serious look at how a craft economy would work--or if it would work at all. By a craft economy, I mean one in which people buy (and thus own) fewer things, but those things are well made by people they probably know.