NPR is normally one of our less schizoid news outlets, so it was disheartening to two stories that were juxtaposed on Morning Edition this morning. One was about Reebok getting a regulatory smackdown for having falsely advertised a $100 pair of shoes as being clinically proven to improve the tone of the wearer’s feet and glutes, in spite of there being no evidence whatsoever that wearing these shoes resulted in a fine-ass ass. The other story was of that most pedestrian sort, a piddling downturn in consumer spending or confidence—I forget which, but I don’t give a rat’s ass because both of these measures are utter bullshit as they are usually applied in the press. Utter, irredeemable fucking bullshit, because if the fundamental health of the economy is actually contingent upon unrelenting consumer spending on luxuries, we’re well and truly fucked.

How do we get unfucked? Easy: stop listening to consumer spending and confidence statistics for any reason but sideshow entertainment. Those who put stock in such statistics as indicators of fundamental economic health are to a man either con artists or idiots. Period.

But we can’t get away from the damned things. Even on NPR, which normally has the judgment to decide by its lonesome what’s news and what’s not. NPR devoted a few minutes to Charlie Sheen during his winning meltdown, a brief story or two to the effect of, “look at that freak and all those other freaks gawking at him,” followed within days by a comparable segment devoted to shame-on-NPR-for-pandering-to-that-crap listener letters. NPR’s editorial staff has the intellectual capacity to limit coverage to an occasional report from the circus: “Last night in our Stories from the Zoo series, we brought you a story about Charlie Sheen and Bobo, two large primates at the National Zoo, members of different species, but both known for throwing their own feces at their keepers. Tonight, we go to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for a visit with Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli….”

NPR’s head honchos are too mentally addled to allow such a piece. Maybe beholden, too: NPR has made the master list of Stuff White People Like; it’s fine for radio shows that White People Like to poke fun of Stuff White People Like, but bad juju to honestly rebuke or discredit anything that White People Like as a fraud or a house of cards. Even though it hasn’t made the official list, I can safely say that White People Like investing, and successful investing depends on confident consumers to buy the goods.

Consider Steve Jobs. Omm shante omm hare hare! All power and honor and glory be to the One in the turtleneck! Actually, Jobs is an extreme case, as is Apple, because both are idolized to an extent that is just out of this world, even for a culture as openly idolatrous as America’s, but his investors might have dumped their money down a rat hole were it not for the tens of millions of Americans who sport wood at the sight of every advancement in pocket telephony.

Which I don’t. My old, ratty pocket telephone/telegraph/calculator/calendar/datebook works well enough for my purposes. It would be bad news for the economy if the average American sported as little wood as I do at the sight of pocket computer telephones with hypersensitive touchscreens and autocorrect settings that fuck up anything you try to write. Actually, I should clarify. It would be bad news for the economy in precisely the way that it was bad news for my alcoholic drinking buddy Prefontaine’s brokerage account when I told him that I had absolutely no interest in buying a Sirius satellite radio: “No, you really need one for your cross-country road trips; I own Sirius stock.”

A crash in iPhone sales wouldn’t be an economic calamity in the sense of the Dust Bowl or the Allied naval blockade and bombardment of Japan. We’d still be able to eat, drink, be merry, and have the same full array of landline, cellular, satellite and voice-over-Internet protocol phone services.

Theoretically, we might even have some money left over to establish bus systems that don’t suck, since one of the foundations of economics is that innovations are usually paid for with surpluses. I don’t wish to defend anything as eminently sensible as fifteen-minute transit service intervals at the moment, however, because such things fly in the face of what Americans hold dear, or what we’re at least taught to hold dear. Among other reasons, that kind of dirty socialism is an affront to American values because it relies on a sense of commonwealth and pays more than lip service to Mexicans. There are good private-sector alternatives to taxpayer-supported public bus services, including taxis, and God bless Georgia, some Mexicans are finding out about them. (Lord, exempt from thy blessing Atlanta and its socialistic train system, which saps self-reliance for the White Man and gives too much to the Dark Man.)

Why the hell am I carrying on about Mexicans who ride the bus? Who cares about the help? That’s un-American. And I wasn’t even trying to lay a guilt trip on other White People. Maybe it was because I came into town today on the least sorry-ass route in Jackson County’s sorry-ass bus system. Back on topic: paying a one-dollar fare to ride into downtown Ashland on a county bus, get lunch at 7-Eleven, drop half a Spicy Bite in the tanbark and not even go back into the store to get a new one, and then spending the afternoon nursing one of the cheapo coffees at Starbucks—all that falls short of my fair share to buck up the economy. Even though I wasn’t terribly hungry, I should have bought that replacement Spicy Bite. I should have gotten some frou-frou drink whose very name confounds me. Hell, I should have gone into Market of Choice and bought a bunch of overpriced stuff from a deli counter employee who doesn’t believe in anything that she can’t observe (been there, done that). If I’m worried about costs, I should get a credit card and banish my cares to the next statement period.

The American economy depends on all that and more. Its very lifeblood is the heroic actions of the Consumer, whose Confidence must be bolstered at all costs. The consumer must buy more pocket telephones and ass-shaping running shoes. Only the Stakhanovite efforts of the Consumer can stave off the inevitable curse of people not buying enough stuff. The economy is like a bicycle: we have to keep peddling and keep the cumbersome thing moving forward, or it’ll fall over, and then….

Well? Would that really be so bad? The problem won’t be a shortage of material goods. As it is, we have more stuff than we know how or where to store. Most of the destitution allegedly resulting from the current depression (which is what it is, not a fucking “downturn” that is showing “green shoots”) is actually the result of one scam or another that worked well in headier times but extracts a pound of flesh today. Housing and consumer credit fall into this category, and they’re enormous parts of the problem.

This is an easy enough problem to solve. We can tell the racketeers that they’re shit out of luck because the money ain’t there, so it’s their choice whether they want their next career to be as televangelists, Bernie Madoff hustlers or Nigerian royalty. I know, I’m expecting an unreasonable level of political cohesion and sanity, but still, I’m putting it out there.

Once we’ve told the racketeers that their backstops are gone, what will be left of the economy? For starters, field work. I don’t mean field work in anthropology or sociology or geology. I mean the kind of field work that the White Man devolves to swarthier peoples that he simultaneously accuses of being lazy and feckless. Tom Lehrer was on to this in 1964, as was George Murphy:

“Should Americans pick crops? George says no,

‘Cause no one but a Mexican would stoop so low.

After all, even in Egypt, the pharaohs

Had to import Hebrew braceros.”

The good news for the rest of us is that they aren’t making Mexicans like they used to. Birth rates in Mexico are down something fearsome, and there’s not a bloody thing the bishops can do in a country that is becoming First World and more heavily Protestant and nondenominational. Unfortunately for most White People, the good news is also the bad news. Even if Georgia and Sweet Home Alabama didn’t see it fit to establish a second, official layer of Mexican Jim Crow, we’d be reaching the end of the line for people swimming the Rio Bravo del Norte and jumping desert fences to be our help. These folks aren’t living in the United States without civil rights as some sort of cultural exchange, and the moment there’s decent work in Mexico they’ll name their own price and working conditions up here. We may have to go back to the chain gang model to bring in the crops and save face.

Americans talk a lot about work, but it’s kind of a projected Freudian thing. Much of the country is a glorified plantation where the watchword is “yes, massa, I’s woykin’!” We can’t admit too freely that we hate our jobs and don’t much care to work, either. If you listen to Joel Osteen, you’ll hear a lot of reassurances that God has the audience in exactly the job and commute where He wants them. Translation: the audience hate their jobs and would rather stay the hell off the 610 freeway for the foreseeable future. Osteen’s constant reassurances that his audience have self-actualized lives prove that they have nothing of the sort. The trick to understanding Osteen is to invert everything he says, and to try to ignore the Vaseline oozing from every pore in his face.

What would a self-actualized life work life look like for the average American? For a lot of Americans, it might be less of a work life than a life of drinking tall boys by the railroad tracks all day. As Det. Mickey Cohn told one of the suspects in the Bypass Liquor murder case, “I solve these cases for a living. You drink beer for a living.” Given the amount of malice and fraud pervading American business, drinking tall boys by the railroad tracks doesn’t look so bad in the grand scheme of things. It’s a waste of an unexamined life, but no one else who isn’t standing directly downwind has to deal with the consequences.

There is some self-actualization in farm work. I’ve done a bit less than three hours of it so far today, and if every other ablebodied American also did three hours’ worth a day my workload would be much lower. On the other hand, I’d also be putting up with more hopeless romantics, ideological nuts and incompetents, and I’d have to listen to their stupid small talk all the time, so I don’t exactly mourn the labor dearth or see any need to rush a mass transition back to yeomanry.

Did I mention that it doesn’t pay? My current job is rather typical for small-scale farms. There isn’t money in food production. As a rule of thumb, pay rates are inversely correlated to honesty and productivity. We don’t value food because it’s cheap and traditionally harvested by inferior people. Besides, by paying more for food we have less money to spend on such necessities as fancy pocket telephones and ass-shaping sneakers.

In times of economic contraction in a plantation economy where management frowns on job-sharing arrangements because they limit opportunities to wield the whip on the help, the paradox is that many people find themselves with fewer, not more, opportunities to say, “yes, massa, I’s woykin’!” Because they ain’t woykin’. Or if they are working, it’s through some odd hybrid arrangement that involves bartering among hippies for real necessities while raiding savings and petty cash to pay Arco and the tax authorities.

But let’s leave aside the hippie precincts for the time being. What will remain of the cash economy if Americans decide that they have enough shoes and that it’s bullshit to even pretend to be Imelda Marcos?

We’ll be driving less because we’ll have less need to work at paying jobs. There will be somewhat fewer than the current 9.4 million jobs in America’s oil and natural gas industry, especially at the pump jockey level. Actually, since the good lady on CNN includes these dudes among the 9.4 million (no way in hell there are 9.4 million roughnecks and petroleum geologists), I prefer to call them “downstream end-point delivery technicians.” They’ll feel better now that they’re the administrative assistants of pumping gas. What’ll really make them feel better is if they can make ends meet by spending less time pumping gas and more time pounding tall boys from the Bypass Liquor.

If you’re employed upstream or midstream, don’t worry. We’ll still need oil, so there will be work. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a share of that work, even if you’re actively looking for it, because personnel management in the entire geology industry is fucked up beyond words.

There will still be jobs in the travel industry. If the jet set start slumming it, the pay grades may drop. Greyhound drivers make something like $30 k a year, Amtrak conductors and engineers more like $40-$50k; airline pay often tops $100k. The advantage of being in the travel industry rather than the shoe or phone industry is that trips to Florida and Europe don’t directly clutter up anyone’s closet. No one needs a storage unit to hold the memories. That said, business travel will be down because there will be less crap to hawk. If you’re the manager of McCarran or Kennedy or SFO, you’ll continue to see high passenger volumes. If you’re the manager of Quad Cities-Bumfuck Field, you may want to build a better bus station instead because no amount of advertising in American Way will get people to fly to your town for the fun of it.

If you’re the manager of JFK Terminal 8, HIRE SOME FUCKING BAGGAGE AGENTS ALREADY, YOU STINGY BASTARDS! YOUR TERMINAL IS A CLUSTERFUCK! That screed was a bit off-topic, but I’m not letting American blame its customer service on the economy. If its investors are going to take a Marine Corps haircut anyhow, the least American can do is staff its terminals.

There will be jobs in the healthcare industry, since we’re getting older and sicker. Someone will need to run the grocery stores. There will be jobs for baristas, since we like our fancy-ass coffees. Your college degree will allow you to ask the important questions in life: “How’s your day going so far?” “Room for cream?” There will probably still be work suing people, but not enough to justify paying market rate for a law degree. And, yes, there will be work making and furnishing booze.

The sun’s getting low, so it’s time for me to get back on the loser cruiser and do another hour of farm work. Or sit my fat ass down by Bear Creek and pound microbrews. Yes, massa, I was woykin’, and I will be agin.

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