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Monday, October 16, 2006

Quarrying 300 Million Toasters

A century ago, it was not at all uncommon to have an entire extended family - one or two sets of grandparents, parents, at least a half-dozen children - all in one house. Families like that used to pose an enormous problem to modern economies.

Think about it. A dozen or two people living in one house find hand-me-downs virtuous, they only need one set of cook pots, they only have one toaster. Large households are not good for the economy because they consume fewer goods.

If there were some way to split those people up so they inhabit three, four, five or six households, then we can sell five or six toasters, five or six sets of cook pots, five or six sets of dishes or cars or houses. From a capitalist’s point of view, it would be best if every one of our 300 million Americans lived in a separate house since that would maximize both purchases and profit.

However, as one might expect, while there are enormous economic advantages to creating this level of social disintegration, there’s a downside as well. In order to break up the multi-generational family, sowing social dissension between the members of the family is absolutely critical. The most efficient way to set the various family members in opposition to one another is to encourage every kind of selfish behaviour. If each person thinks only of his own best interests, then each person will spend his income on himself, saving none of it for anyone else.

Unfortunately, this selfishness bleeds over into the workplace. A selfish worker is more likely to steal, to use up sick days and similar benefits at the highest possible rates, in short, s/he will have little loyalty to the company.

Part of the cost of doing business is precisely the controlled anarchy that tends to be engendered in the larger society as each person looks out primarily for number one. As experience shows, anarchy can be managed so as to produce significant profits for particular people.

But, to be fair, most businesses don’t do well in total anarchy. Rather, they do best at a level just below total anarchy, a situation in which everyone invests their money in goods and services that will protect them from the various kinds of physical, emotional, and social harm which the larger society so willingly inflicts on the weak.

Unmade in America
Since World War II, the United States has been the pre-eminent leader in creating an economy whose citizens tremble on that knife edge between maximum profit-generation and general anarchy.

We do this by placing enormous obstacles in the way of every personal relationship. Early daycare, year-round schooling and the perceived need for a two-income family effectively separates parents from their own children for as long as possible each day, guaranteeing that the family is essentially composed of strangers living at the same address. Better yet, the schools teach children how to be consumers: needy, unable to solve their own problems, always looking towards the external authority: peer pressure.

We encourage pornography and contraception, and thereby divorce, by transforming every person into an object of use. Easy access to abortion and euthanasia encourage family members to destroy one another at the first sign of burden. Homosexuals become the icons for our generation because they (1) rise rapidly on the corporate ladder through assiduous attention to their own good and (2) spend all their money on their greatest love, themselves. Homosexuals are the darlings of the media because homosexuals have far more per capita disposable income than a married couple with five children.

But, even as the corporate world encourages homosexuality precisely because it is profligate, encourages contraception/abortion precisely because it is an abdication of responsibility and encourages euthanasia precisely because it does cut costs, Christian faith attempts to undercut these movements. America’s economy works well because it has harnessed two opposing forces: integration and disintegration, and kept both from gaining majority control.

We Need a New Quarry
But there’s a problem in paradise. You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once. America’s famously strong Protestantism has slowly crumpled under the assault of secular capitalism. Even as America reaches 300 million people, a population growth accomplished only by renting the wombs of Hispanic immigrants, it is no longer a majority Christian population. It is estimated that only one in ten households are headed by a married, never-divorced couple with children.

In its endless quest for profits, too many sheep have been skinned. American corporations are running out of families to exploit. There are fewer and fewer families to break up, fewer and fewer children to dispossess.

But not to worry. We still have Mexico.

Hispanics are the ideal foil for the corporation. The Chinese may have more people, but their one-child policy and their non-Christian culture means they are already atomized. Communism has already set them against each other. There is no mother lode here.

Western corporations have been trying to break into the China market for hundreds of years. The only nation that ever succeeded to any great extent was the British, and that only by waging war on the coastal cities in order to force the Chinese into opium addiction. No, for all the talk of the China market, very little market is actually there.

Hispanics, on the other hand, are Christians who still tend towards multi-generational households, households whose piggy banks are growing through the money sent home by immigrant workers. The American economy needs Hispanics not just because they do jobs Americans will not, but also because their unbroken families are as untilled fields to us, their Catholicism is strong enough to maintain the necessary tension against anarchy. Like a new granite quarry, they can be tunneled into, mined, and blown apart. These are sheep we know how to shear.

Update:
2012 statistics confirm this.

1 comment:

Rhys said...

Thanks, Steve, for giving me something interesting to talk about next time someone makes snide remarks about the fact that I still live with my parents, instead of moving out as soon I hit 18. (I see no need to move out until I get married.)