In the US, even unpaid time is money for those who have an unlimited supply.
The way public figures talk about the problems of ordinary people has the merit of revealing the inner workings and culture of the dominant ideological system. We have seen an example of it in Emmanuel Macron’s France. US President Donald Trump’s 35-day government shutdown — which may start up again in February — has inspired some delicious examples.
Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary and a billionaire, offered his analysis of the plight of federal workers left without income or the ability to plan their budgets: “You’re talking about 800,000 workers and while I feel sorry for the individuals that have hardship cases, 800,000 workers, if they never got their pay, which is not the case, they will eventually get it, but if they never got it, you’re talking about a third of a percent on GDP so it’s not like it’s a gigantic number overall.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A quantity that deserves our attention, anything less than gigantic being trivial or negligible
Great business minds and masters of economics know how money circulates. They understand how to play the game of short term versus long term in the interest of managing their own and their businesses’ concerns. Therein lies much of the challenge and fun that capitalists find in capitalism, though not quite as exciting as shorting a stock.
For them, everything can be reduced to a problem of numbers and timing. When the timing is off, like when a customer doesn’t pay on time, you use your position to secure what you need. If you are “someone,” you have a position: a public reputation, a sterling credit rating and the respect of your banker, who sees you as a person worth knowing. Thanks to your position, you can simply go to the bank and explain any current difficulty to confront the short term or even a longer term.
If, however, you don’t have a position, which appears to be the case for most government workers, starting a constructive dialogue with your banker or even getting an appointment might be a challenge. Meeting the challenge means having a strategy and some bargaining chips, including your own comfortable feeling about the future, that will convince the banker to take an interest in your affairs.
Only a person used to having a “position” could fail to understand that low-level government workers may not have the recognition and the personal disposition required to get past these hurdles. Such people with a position also fail to realize that the damage often goes further than the family budget, affecting credit ratings and one’s personal image in the family and community.
Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, like Secretary Ross, apparently feels “sorry for the individuals that have hardship cases,” generously acknowledging that some “pain” was involved. She showed the furloughed workers the same high respect that so many Americans of her social class express with regard to the troops, who are ready to die for their nation: “It is a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country, and their children and their grandchildren, and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice right now.”
Trump himself offered this explanation of Wilbur Ross’ suggestion: “Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else. And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along.”
Once upon a time, in small town America, this used to be true, at least in storybooks and sometimes in Hollywood films. The local post office worker would drop by the mom and pop to the shop on the corner to buy a few groceries after visiting the general store to pick up useful items needed in the house, or as Trump indicates, “everything else.” That’s how America looked in Frank Capra’s movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, which Trump must have seen on TV a few Christmases ago. That may well be the image he had in mind when he invented the slogan, “Make America Great Again.” It’s an America of some mythical past where crises may happen, but people will always agree to “work along.”
The reasoning of the capitalist class relies on the typically American cultural notion that gave capitalism its meaning: “time is money.” All intelligent and responsible people manage their time as if it was money and spend their lives converting time into money. More than that, they know that money plus time means more money, without having to lift a finger. But rather than enjoying the automatic production of profit from the interest on their money and living comfortably on it, they do lift their finger. They find ways to increase the amount of money their cash produces or devise creative ways of avoiding taxes. The money they make is what defines their existence and their narcissistic “position.”
Ultimately, what this whole episode reveals is the radical qualitative, rather than the quantitative, constantly growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. This is a cultural phenomenon that is progressively undermining an economic system built on the complex mirage that, like time itself, all value — human, artistic, social, cultural — can be translated directly into monetary value.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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