Warm spring days take me back to days as a boy when I would stand in the front yard, baseball glove in hand, anxiously watching for Dad’s car to appear. It was like clock work. 4:50 every day for as long as I can remember he would be home. Poor Dad would barely have the car door open and I’d be after him to play catch. “Here’s your glove Dad! Please?”
I don’t remember a single day when Dad didn’t arrive home at 4:50 . He put in a solid 8 hour day. This meant long evenings at home. After throwing the ball a bit, he would often pot around in the garden, tie tucked into his shirt, pulling weeds, watering vegetables, or turning melons. Some evenings after dinner there would be a bike or canoe ride.
Fast forward about 45 years. Dad passed quite some time ago now after a long retirement. He retired from Dupont at my current age. At the time, American companies offered pensions and healthcare to retirees along with many other benefits. Companies valued a dedicated, long-term employee. But Dad’s retirement was a harbinger of things to come. He was given a choice to retire or move to a far less bucolic setting. Dad worked with fuel mixing equipment in Dupont’s petroleum lab. Work that is, no doubt, done overseas these days.
As I type, it is almost 4:50 here but that is 4:50 a.m. Very shortly, I’ll log in to my work computer and begin my day. I have team members around the globe including Pennsylvania, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Kansas City. For the next couple hours I’ll chat electronically with folks in a far different time zone. We’ll talk about the status of work, what needs to get done, what is blocking them from getting done, and there will no-doubt be spreadsheets to fill out. In a couple hours the first of my team from Pennsylvania will begin to reach out. More statuses and spreadsheets will follow.
By 8:00 a.m., the first meetings of the day will start. Hours will drag by. Hands will be wrung as “important” work is pushed to the next release or squeezed into the current release despite deadlines having passed. The general level of corporate anxiety will ratchet upwards as we realize over-sized, last-minute projects are falling behind. (Typically, they never had a chance in the first place.) My teammates from India will flag and begin to drop off calls. It will be late Friday evening there. Meanwhile, the folks in Kansas City join in. It is early there, and they won’t have had coffee yet but will be gearing up for the day. The meetings continue and more spreadsheets will get created and updated. The corporate world would implode without spreadsheets.
By 1:00 p.m. Friday, my calendar starts to thin out. I will close the spreadsheets in front of me and stare at the long list of “to dos” scrawled in hurried short-hand on the piece of paper in front of me. There are weeks worth of “to dos” I’ve never gotten to because there is always a new fire and not enough water or time to put them out. I’ll start crossing off things undone but no longer important or too late to matter. The remaining list is still daunting.
“Bing”. My computer will chime electronically with a message from someone needing my help. Another meeting or endless chat session will begin burning much of the rest of Friday. I’ll add more items to the bottom of my “to do” list. It is impossibly long and if I stopped attending meetings, accepted no more work, didn’t bother to sleep most days, I probably still couldn’t get it all done by the required deadlines. But the meetings will keep coming often into the very end of Friday business hours. It will be another 12 hour work day to finish the week. Chances are, any one working in the corporate world can identify with this. These types of days are much more the standard than the exception in the “do more with less” world of corporate America. I know many of my co-workers burn the midnight oil. Timestamps on e-mails show late nights, early mornings, and weekends.
Once in a while, I come up for air and ask “Why?” Why do we push ourselves so hard? Time and again we’ve watched friends mercilessly cut from the ranks of the employed and sent packing with no pay check or healthcare. These are friends that have worked as hard and as long as us. Friends that were dedicated, faithful employees who put their jobs ahead of their families foregoing vacations, and weekends to make sure those spreadsheets stay up-to-date and accurate. It isn’t 1982 anymore. The corporate model these days no longer says to care for the people whose back you rode to success. Instead, find less expensive people or eliminate the work altogether and send those expensive former workers into the wilds to fend for themselves. There are hungry stock holders out there who are never satisfied.
Certainly there are rich rewards for all this hard work, right? Yes. There is a good pay check. Never have I complained about my compensation. I feel lucky that from day one (some 34 years ago) that the corporate world has treated me well financially. But government not so much. About a week or so ago, I got my tax packet from my very trustworthy accountant. Despite enormous withholdings from my paycheck, I still owe the Federal government the GDP of a small, eastern European nation for my tax bill. Then there is the state, the county, and the local schools all of whom want their share of my hard-earned pay check. There is also life expenses like food, shelter, insurance, and of course medical care which, with today’s deductibles, is basically out-of-pocket. When all is tolled, the astonishing reality is most of us are working really hard just to pay bills. There really isn’t enough money left for a “some day” or a reward other than a cozy grave.
The latest battle in years of partisan political bickering by our elected officials in Washington was the passage of the American Rescue Plan. Predictably, Democrats couldn’t get their pens out fast enough to endorse the spending plan, and Republicans couldn’t speak out quickly enough against the unfunded costs of the bill. (Republicans were quick to endorse similar spending under the Trump administration.) Ultimately, with the new Democratic majorities including the White House, the bill slipped easily into law and Americans started cashing their “free” checks for $1400.00. The total cost of the American Rescue Plan was $1.9 Trillion. That’s 1/10th of the GDP of the United States. This from a country that was already $26 Trillion in the hole.
I realize America is under duress from the economic effects of COVID-19 and people need help. We should be able to help people in times of trouble but we just can’t keep blindly spending. The tax payers don’t have infinitely deep pockets and whether we believe it or not, sooner or later the debt crisis will destroy our economy. Certainly the United States has the largest military budget in the world. (A whole ‘nother blog post for another time.) But guess what!? By 2025 the interest on our National Debt will surpass our bloated military budget!
Bills like the American Rescue plan and similar acts by state and local governments have been pushed through the political process in the name and fear of COVID-19. The news media whipped people into a panic and a fearful populace simply focused on the incoming checks from the IRS rather than questioning anything else in these laws. Money in the pockets soothes all. And truth be known $3200.00 in cash over the course of a year isn’t too shabby! Why would anyone notice or complain about the American Rescue Plan including $200 million for The Institute of Museum and Library Services? An Institution whose fiscal year 2019 budget was $230 million. Or who would notice $1.5 million earmarked for the Seaway International Bridge, which connects New York to Canada? Incidentally the Canadian border is currently closed but New York is the home base of Senior Senator Chuck Schumer. I’m not clear how funding a bridge to a closed border in Canada is possibly considered as part of emergency funding. Perhaps Senator Schumer has a reasonable explanation but I doubt it. The 591-page American Rescue Plan contains a long list of funding earmarks for organizations and special projects of dubious emergent need. I’m sure one could make an argument for any or all of them but like the mandatory business shutdowns of last year, I’m not convinced that America understands a truly dire situation. We could have helped the people that really needed help without spending $1.9 Trillion but those raising this question in Congress from either side of the aisle were shouted down and silenced.1
Our new administration is not done yet though. President Biden has unveiled a new $2.2 Trillion infrastructure investment plan. Not to worry since the whole plan will be funded by a large increase on US Corporate taxes. Those big companies have loads of money and can afford the increase. It won’t affect the taxpayers. ‘Cause you know . . those big companies and their stock holders are all good taking the financial hit as long as it’s for the good of America. I refer to this as political math. “If we have X taxpayers, and we increase their taxes by Y% we’ll have X times Y% more tax dollars”. Never does political math account for Z in their calculations. Z is the amount of taxpayers who depart for less expensive pastures and escape the burdensome tax bill. Then there is $N which is the cost of goods and services passed along to the consumers that drive the profits of all corporations. $N is the bill paid by all of us either directly or indirectly. Taxing those evil corporations is no different than taxing us directly. And what’s worse many will lose their jobs as corporations seek less expensive parts of the world. I’m not opposed to paying a tax for fair services but government at all levels has long-since surpassed the basic levels of services they were supposed to provide. A more worrisome trend is the socialist “Progressive” movement which, despite repeated historical failures, gives even more power and money to the government. The premise is that the government will spend wisely and frugally for the good of the American people as a whole. I’m not sure how a voting constituency has become so naive in 2021.
Last week was a difficult week. I was raised to believe that through hard work, saving, and living within your means, one could be self-sufficient and look forward to enjoying rewards later in life. Unfortunately, that lesson came at a different time. A time before the governments and the corporate world began wringing every last bit of life energy from humanity and throwing away the empty husk when it was no longer useful. I’m not sure I know the way forward or what comes next especially when I see the plans on the horizon that lead to inevitably higher costs of being allowed to live in the United States of America.