The 5th Always Follows the 4th

While the candidates for president were out and about on the 4th of July, lying to American voters, I spent the long weekend uncharacteristically relaxing, even attending a wonderful family gathering and cookout hosted by “the hostess with the mostest,” Aunt Tomato.

Alas, another work week’s begun. There are still a few jobs to be done in what remains of the Republic.

In this age of truncation and Twitter, I thought something I read in Jay Parini’s biography of Gore Vidal was fitting and Twitter-ific. It was also noteworthy enough to break my silence on politics here at the JBE.

Vidal (just prior to the nation’s Bicentennial year, working on his new book at the time, 1876) was being interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, and he gave an answer to Wallace about the reporter’s claim that Vidal was being overly cynical about the nation’s fate at the time, 40 years before we’d suffer from an election choice of Clinton vs. Trump.

Vidal explained that “cheap labor and cheap energy” were gone, and the results would be dire. He continued, “We’re never going to have that again. We’re going to have to have less gross national product, not more.” Prescient, I’d say.

Promising things they can't deliver.

Promising things they can’t deliver.

But of course, post-July 4th, we will be treated to the shyster, Clinton, promising us (while flying around on Air Force One with our “Magic” president) that she’ll bring our jobs back, and Trump will continue his tired refrain about “making America great again.”

Vidal would have considered them both idiots.

4 thoughts on “The 5th Always Follows the 4th

  1. Well, Vidal was half-wrong. Plenty of cheap labor, that’s what our open borders and legislated immigration policy are all about. Which when combined with the last bubble of cheap energy (North Sea and Alaskan pipeline, neither of which Vidal foresaw), that was enough to break the back of American labor and start the constrictor’s squeeze of the last forty years on the middle class. Energy is still so cheap that it is less expensive to ship pork from Tennessee (slaughtered by illegal immigrants) to China for processing (by real cheap labor) and then back again.

    But it’s worth remembering that Vidal (and many others) said this in the 1970s because we, as a society, have completely forgotten the reality of the 1970s, of fuel shortages and newspaper recycling (are there any newspapers to recycle anymore?) for home insulation. Reagan, Thatcher and Kohl are looked at as economic heroes, but they would be scorned as economic zeroes if not for North Sea and Alaskan oil coming online during Reagan’s first term.

    Neither candidate wants to say it out loud or consider it, but for those with open eyes the real question is who can better manage decline. “Hey, I can shrink our nation better than the other candidate,” just doesn’t seem a real winner.

  2. You are correct, LP, in that at the moment, cheap labor is back in force, given our open borders policies.

    However, I think that in 1975, when Gore is being quoted from, cheap labor wasn’t quite as abundant, although guys like Jack DeCoster, up in Turner, were doing quite well with workers from Vietnam (and later, Mexico). I actually dug this out of an old news clip form 1996, with DeCoster being cited for a host of safety and sanitation violations in Iowa. The article dredged up this from the period that I was quoting Vidal from.

    In 1977 the Maine Times reported that DeCoster was habitually deducting penalties and expenses from the paychecks of Vietnamese workers without prior consent or means of appeal. The workers were being charged inflated prices, the Times said, to live in company-owned trailers from which they would be immediately evicted if they resigned or were fired.

    “Their labor practices were completely authoritarian and kleptocratic,” said Myron Levin, the reporter who wrote the 1977 series and now heads FairWarning, a public health news service based in Los Angeles. “The scene was so oppressive it was almost cartoonish.”

    DeCoster employed children as young as 9 on his farm, according to federal investigators. In 1979, a series of accidents involving teenagers at the farms prompted Maine lawmakers to pass a law banning children under age 16 from working near hazardous machinery and substances.

    Being able to run a business with slave labor is a great way to maximize one’s bottom line.

  3. Yes, I think Vidal was errant in not seeing that labor costs were not fixed in stone to rise with inflation.

    But the last paragraph of that quotation contains a gem. “… a law banning children under age 16 from working near hazardous machinery and substances.”

    You and I could not have worked on Hillcrest had that been in effect. Your lawnmowing business? Anyone could drop a dime on you now. Those laws have effectively prevented both my children from working where they were perfectly capable of working. In fact, my son (14) cannot even VOLUNTEER to work the concessions at the local little league. He can’t volunteer to maintain the fields until he is 16! Why? A rake is “hazardous machinery.” An electric screwdriver is “hazardous machinery.” This is the same reason Joel Salatin has had to end all internships for under-18s.

    Vidal really was a knee-jerk statist, but his comment is worth remembering because we used to assume wages would always keep up with inflation, and we knew forty years ago that oil wasn’t going to last forever. Now we know wages have been eaten by inflation, we know who gets to keep them (banks, of course, make the greatest profit off inflation), and somehow we are convinced that cheap energy will always be here. Mass self-delusion is an amazing thing.

  4. “Mass self-delusion is an amazing thing.” Indeed.

    When one longs for a thing one cannot identify, it is easy to be deluded and to do anything but feel the discomfort of the missing “something.” For instance, the Worumbo is being gnawed down day by day and the town’s residents and passers by look and feel something they know they cannot understand. Some look and say “oh, it is for the best, it was an old eyesore.” Others look and want to remember and reminisce. Others belittle the nostalgia and say “oh, when was that glory day, Pops? 1947?

    I do recall Gore Vidal’s book “Burr” gracing the shelves of many middle class homes when it was released. Men and women watched “talk shows” and Vidal was a regular on these broadcasts. I recall thinking that adult life must be this magical place of witty conversation, intellectual stimulation, and sparkling cocktails. I would be a “fashion merchandiser” and then a “housewife” and involved in “clubs and civic activities.” It was what I longed for as a child looking forward to adulthood. So here we find ourselves, clicking on keyboards and still longing.

    Please know that as the aging and magical hostess, Aunt Tomato will never serve you a shit sandwich and tell you it’s a granola bar.”

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