Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Rant: It’s Hard to Take a Stand When They Have You Over a Barrel

There are a number of reasons why I decided many years ago before I even got married that I didn’t want to have children. One consideration was not wanting to experience the feeling of being financially trapped by an employer and forced to compromise my integrity for the sake of still being able to feed, clothe and house a family. As it so happened, there ended up being one time during my professional career a few years ago in which I was forced to make a ethical stand that could have gotten me fired. I survived it, thank goodness, but it was the worst year of my life—and I can only imagine how much worse the stress would have been had the possibility of becoming an unemployed head of household been hanging over me all the while.

I’ve often heard it remarked that with all of the malfeasance in the corporate world these days it’s amazing more whistleblowers don’t come forward. Actually, what I find amazing is not that more people don’t blow the whistle but that any actually do at all. I’ve been there and it’s no fun. But it’s even less fun when you have children who are depending on you.

There was a Mother Jones article published recently featuring anecdotes from workers both blue and white collar who are feeling stressed by overwork as their employers heap on more and more duties without raising their compensation. Many have been forced to work long hours without extra pay, but in this awful economy are afraid to complain for fear of being fired. One woman even told the interviewer, “I have four children and I’m scared of what’s going to happen to them.”

And that’s how they get you over a barrel these days. Want to keep the plebes in line, slash salaries and benefits while increasing their workload but making sure they don’t protest? Get them thinking about what effect losing their salary will have on their kids. Works every time. Now then, you weren’t REALLY planning to put in for overtime for all of those extra hours you had to work to meet your higher quota, were you?

Several weeks ago I wrote about Leslie, the young college graduate burdened with $100,000 in student loan debt whose search for a job has thus far been fruitless. Leslie is a progressive-minded young woman who deplores America’s various wars around the world and has soured on President Obama. And yet she told me she would consider joining the military as an absolute last resort if she exhausts all of her other options. Given my opinions regarding America’s war and empire foreign policy I might have been expected to object, but all I could do was agree that the very first thing anyone can do is what they have to do to survive. Have you noticed how you don’t see stories anymore like back during the middle of the last decade about the military having trouble meeting its recruiting goals because of the wars? Lots of young adults are doing what they need to do to survive these days, apparently.

The really sick part of all of this is that it’s happening in the same country that pioneered the very idea of having a robust middle class. After World War Two, the economic protections put in place by the New Deal during the Great Depression combined with the effects of a postwar, cheap oil-fueled economic boom to create opportunities for working people such as no society has ever provided before in human history. For the first time ever, the scales between capital and labor were relatively balanced, and all of us who were raised between the late 1940s and the 1990s benefited immensely from it.

Today, ironically, as the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression descends upon the land, all of that progress made during the New Deal is under assault and slowly eroding thanks to insatiable greed of the same corporate elites who brought on the crisis in the first place. Even more tragic is that it's happening after 30 years of those same elites being able to use their political hand puppets to convince enough of those very same workers to vote for the very policies that are now destroying their livelihoods.

Perhaps it was all inevitable. As soon as the first postwar suburban tract homes began being purchased by returning servicemen and their families—who then needed automobiles and new automotive infrastructure to get to work, and shopping malls and supermarkets to meet their daily needs—America had started down a path that would eventually lead to this point. There were several opportunities along the way to recognize our collective folly, most notably the warnings sounded by the oil shocks and gas lines of the 1970s, but the greed and avarice of those same corporate elites assured those warnings would go completely unheeded.

I realize there are plenty of parents who are aware of the impending effects of peak oil and resource depletion and who are likely very afraid for the futures of their children. I’m actually a bad one to ask for advice on how to cope, being childless as I am. It seems to me that at least you can console yourselves at having a chance to educate them about what’s coming so that they can be as prepared as anyone could ever hope to be. Being prepared will place them above most of their peers and help ensure that they won’t be consumed by economic collapse before they even get started in life. The other thing being prepared does is keep the bastards from ever being able to get you over that barrel, forced to do their bidding or face the risk of utter destitution.

Forget what the libertarian types and Randian fellow travelers might try to tell you, that is the REAL definition of freedom in this day and age.


  1. Great Post. I am a peak oil parent and all the paranoia and stress is ALL TOO REAL.. I deal with it every single day..

    Want some advice parents... Know your priorities... Is it work or is it your family.. I am sickened by people I know and have worked with who make so much money and yet instead of working to reduce their load, pile it on so that they can afford more.

    They take trips to China for several weeks and are gone 3 or 4 days a week.. I ask them "Must be nice to travel around so much and not have to worry about kids and stuff".. And many if not all respond " Oh I have kids, they are 3 and 5"... And I just have to stop speaking... YOU ARE NOT A PARENT... You are a paycheck to them...

    I got my head on straight in 2004 and sold our home and got small and have been getting smaller ever since.. After loosing my job from my long time employer of 11 years in 2008, I lost any and all loyalty I have to ANY employer.. My loyalty lies at home with my wife and my kids and my extended family(brothers/mom/dad/neices/nephews)...

    I expend 8 hours a day of my precious time away from my family to make sure we don't end up in some Fed Camp otherwise known as public housing.. And more realistically in the near future A REAL FED CAMP....

    But I will continue working and no sooner does my chair get warmed with my ass at my new job, then I am out on the interwebs looking for something better that will take less time away from home and hopefully makes the same amount... My loyalties are clear to me now...

  2. Great comments Robert. I always tell people that their first loyalty should always be to themselves rather than their employer. After all, the employer is increasingly unlikely to show any loyalty to them.

  3. I love my wife, my daughter, my two sons and the rest of my family.
    I let them know every time I talk to them. nor am I afraid to cry or ask for directions if need be.
    There is nothing more important in my life than family - I can always make money; TV, radio and the internet (or some other distraction) will always be there; True friends will understand and forgive.