Monday, June 26, 2006

The Broken Conveyor Belt

My dad swears up and down that Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture talks about society's conveyor belt. After several attempts to read the ground-breaking anthropology treatise, the detailed, intimate descriptions about the rituals of various "primitive" cultures bored me to death. Maybe the conveyor belt is in there, but I am never going to get through the entire book to confirm one way or another.

In any event, dad and I were discussing the state of American society, as we are prone to do while working on tax returns. The theory I advanced was the destructive nature of the stock market; the conflict between being a citizen and a shareholder; the uncertainty of collecting a pension the value of which is inexorably tied to the whims of a corporate czar. He disagreed. The problem with America today, he said, is that "the conveyor belt is broken."

"Look at Egypt", he went on. "Your mom and I left because it is corrupt, because no one there who earns anything does so because of his merit. He earns it because of his family name and connections. The conveyor belt only works in one direction. A chosen few are allowed on the conveyor belt to the top. Once they reach the top, they lock the gates tightly so no one can follow."

Very true about Egypt. It is not a meritocracy. It is a corruptocracy. You can be the world's biggest imbecile and it does not matter. You can be a minister of government or the head of a corporation. The only questions that matter are who do you know and how much of your soul are you willing to sell. Merit shmerit.

"There was a time in America where the heads of big business were talented people with vision. But not anymore. Now we hear the stories of corrupt CEO's who bankrupt one corporation, leave with their golden parachutes and are hired to run another corporation into the ground. The conveyor belt takes them to the top, but it does not remove the incompetent and take them back down. You cannot have an efficient system when you have corrupt, untalented people at the helm of the ship. "

Dad has a point. The conveyor belt has to work in both directions. Up and down. Move the talent to the top and dump the stupids to the bottom. What we have now are untalented people who hold on to their positions at the top by obfuscation, fear-mongering and corruption. Instead of fixing problems, they hire PR companies to manage sentiment about the problem. Bandaids. There are no ideas, no vision.

We are ruled by our inferiors. They have locked the gates to make sure intelligent people are excluded and to protect themselves from being ejected. That is called tyranny.

The conveyor belt is broken.

22 Comments:

At 12:21 PM, June 26, 2006 , Blogger Free Agency Rules said...

Your Dad is very smart. :)

I have often thought that having "Corporations" may have been a bad idea in the first place.

Maybe all we really needed was to make it so people didn't need corporations because of a litigious society.

Then we would not have share holders and Board of Directors.

I am sick of big business and the above is my feeling why.

Small business is what makes this country strong and we need more of them and less of the Giants.

WhatDaYa Think?

:)

FAR.

 
At 1:04 PM, June 26, 2006 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

I am with you. Corporations are collections of people who, collectively, get away with things individuals would never be allowed. The stock market only exacerbates the problem. When you think about how intertwined the economy is to the fates of the giants, it is sobering.

Add to that the Fed and the repeal of the Glass-Steigal Act a few years ago (a Depression-era law that had prohibited commercial banks from engaging in investment banking) and we are flirting with economic disaster.

 
At 6:17 AM, June 27, 2006 , Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

And of course when the boundary between corporations and government becomes invisible, we have the same pirates running everything, squeezing the life out of America like juice from a lemon.

 
At 10:19 AM, June 27, 2006 , Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

In the corporate and governmental jobs I've worked, it's very clear that the sons and daughters of powerful people get the plum jobs. In my opinion, one of the reasons John Kerry lost Ohio and Florida was that his campaign staff was made up of totally unqualified trust fund babies.

I wouldn't say that Americans with intelligence can't make it. It hasn't gotten that bad yet. Maybe some day soon though. The primary problem in America is the breakdown of the family, especially among the middle and lower classes.

I'm not a Communist like you guys. :-) What's wrong with commercial banks engaged in investment banking? Please explain.

 
At 11:23 AM, June 27, 2006 , Blogger Reign of Reason said...

"Small business is what makes this country strong and we need more of them and less of the Giants."

FAR we are in complete agreement... Small business is the hot-bed of innovation and creativity in this society. Small business leaders live and die by their decisions.

The problem is that big-corp America essentially owns the government, and continues to stack the deck in their favor. As II points out, they are part of the good 'ole boy society where performance is not the issue: just who your friends are.

Until we get governors who reject this model and regulate the influence of corp America on government; foster small business growth, etc... well, we're not going anyway fast...

 
At 12:51 PM, June 27, 2006 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

BoB -

The reason there was a law prohibiting mixing the two was because of the Depression. If I put $100 in my bank account and the bank takes that money and plays in the stock market, there could and did come a day when the market collapsed and there was no money left for the depositors.

That is the reason for FDIC as well but, with this government, I would be shocked if shit happens and the government actually protected the little guy.

 
At 2:02 PM, June 27, 2006 , Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

Ohhhhh. I see.

 
At 5:23 PM, July 22, 2006 , Blogger Brent said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:25 PM, July 22, 2006 , Blogger Brent said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:28 PM, July 22, 2006 , Blogger Brent said...

Great blog...I've lurked occasionally for some time.

To respond to Capt. Fogg's comment...the boundaries between corporations and government only seem to have *become* nonexistent. They have, in fact, never existed at all. And this phenonmenon traces to something deeper: the notion of a free market -- as if government and business have ever been separate entities free from each other's influence.

Appropriate, smart regulation has always been a question of mature restraint. Right now, our culture lacks restraint in just about everything, including commerce. And so we see a market that has always been free doing the things that self restraint once caused us to opt, on our own volition, not to do.

The precepts for our circumstances have long waxed and waned throughout human history, but for a while, a healthy respect for this restraint disallowed rapacious behavior. These days, we lack that healthy respect.

 
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