Random Thoughts

Poikilotherms, Slave Labor and Crony Capitalism

Warm-blooded animals like us (mammals) maintain a steady temperature different from the ambient one and sweat to cool off and shiver to warm up. Frogs (amphibians), lobsters (crustaceans) etc. are poikilothermic and their body temperature is the same as the environment. Their nervous systems are geared to detect rapid and large temperature alterations and react defensively to them. If a frog is thrown into a pan of hot water it will jump out. If on the other hand if it is put in a pot of water that is gradually heated, it will stay put and be boiled to death. In fact that is one way lobsters are cooked.

Human labor has been historically exploited in a similar fashion. Serfdom, caste system and slavery were used to mentally and physically coerce the poor, uneducated and intimidated to work for unfairly small or no wages, while the rich and powerful reveled in the fruits of their labor. The abolition of slavery after the American Civil War brought about no lasting change. The agricultural system of the US south depended on cheap or free labor. The victorious northern armed forces and political leaders with limited attention span for the suffering of the freed slaves and lack of general interest and covert racism allowed the southern politicians to enact Jim Crow laws. A common statute still misused by police all over the US is that of vagrancy. The police on suspicion, often unjustified and without cause, can accuse a person of loitering and vagrancy and incarcerate the accused for lack of gainful employment or legal purpose. In the civil war era, there was no universal photo identification or employee ID card and blacks were imprisoned by the police and then hired out as convict labor or enforced slavery. A recent book by a WSJ reporter details this abuse that lasted well into the nineteen fifties.

This atrocious practice persists in agriculture and textile industries even today in the US. Migrant farm laborers are underpaid, abused and held captive. Only now they are from Central America. Similarly the US Congress (scum buckets) has passed a law, exempting workers in American Samoa from minimal wage laws. This allows the factories to hire Chinese and Filipino women and underpay and exploit them. A few years ago fire led to the death of workers in sweatshops in the Los Angeles garment district. A recent incident of protesting workers imported from India as pipe fitters is another telling example. Certain types of H1B and L visas leave IT workers to the exploitative mercy of their unscrupulous employers.

There is more than one way to skin the cat. Leaving the minimum wage unchanged for years or a decade while inflation eats away the worth of the pay is a different way of exploitation. The poor, unskilled and the young (school teenagers) are abused willingly but knowingly in this fashion. These are ways to enrich small businesses under the pretext that white teenagers are only working for pocket money and black ones are too unskilled to deserve more. COLA adjustments for retirees and frequent substantial pay raises for elected officials and company executives require no prodding. In India domestic workers and daily wage laborers face the same abuse, as their pay remains the same even as inflation is galloping.

To the shame of America and the executive, legislative and judicial branches, it was the progressives, socialists, communists and unions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we have to thank for a forty-hour week, overtime pay and improved working conditions. The Supreme Court judgment in US vs. Lochner is as bad as the Dred Scott and Plessey vs. Ferguson verdicts. The Reagan and Thatcher era destroyed the unions (air traffic controllers) and wages have not kept up with productivity or inflation. The incomes of the top 1% and really only the top .1% have reaped the gains. Now with rising oil price, galloping inflation, a sinking housing market, increasing job losses all due to the mismanagement of corporate executives with lack of supervision by the Fed, SEC and other regulators, connivance by the Congress and an idiotic ignorant president, we as a nation are up the creek.

Socialism for the rich and jungle capitalism for the common man is manifested in rescuing Bear Stearns, other investment banks and brokerages by letting them borrow from the fed window, while workers' pensions and 401Ks evaporate by market meltdowns or Enron, WorldCom and similar misappropriations and scams. Public money is wasted on pork barrel projects like the bridge to nowhere, earmarks and unaccounted defense spending on sweetheart contracts without competitive bidding. Now the chickens have come home to roost like the Taliban and Al Qaeda that the US financed and nurtured to become our Frankensteins. Our young men and women are dying and becoming disabled and lack adequate medical care and economic support and guidance. Automobile and airline industries are gasping their dying breath. Congress and the president fiddle as America burns. It is gotterdamerung time in the last act of Wagner's opera.


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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