What choice do we have?

SUBHEAD: For the vast majority of us there is a high price to be paid for independence from Corporate America.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 15 December 2014 for Of Two Minds -

Image above: Detail of painting "The MadTea Party" by Mark Bryan, 2010. From (http://www.artofmarkbryan.com/wp-content/gallery/politics/mad-tea-party-detail-2.jpg).

It's jolly good fun to discuss alternatives to the doomed status quo, but what choice do most of us have to participating in the current system, even if we loathe it? The lack of choice is of course a key characteristic of the status quo-- if alternatives were plentiful, how many would opt out of Corporate America and the Financial Nobility's manor house of debt servitude?

The absence of alternatives results from several interacting dynamics.The first is false choice, the illusion of choice that enables the Powers That Be to claim we live in a democracy that is also a meritocracy where anyone can rise to the top if they follow the prescribed pathway: a four-year university degree, followed by a graduate degree, and so on.

The political slaughterhouse has two entrances: Democratic and Republican. Nothing about the system changes regardless of which door you enter. "Democracy" is a false choice in a nation in which the big banks order their politico flunkies, toadies and lackeys to do their bidding: Fed Vice Chairman Shocked At Wall Street Influence After Jamie Dimon "Whips" Congressional Votes.

Going to college is also a false choice, given that those who choose not to get a 4-year degree are (we're assured) doomed to lifelong financial insecurity. Meanwhile, having a 4-year degree does little to guarantee an escape from lifelong financial insecurity.

The second factor is the status quo grants all the advantages to global corporations and the central state.The mechanisms used to enforce these advantages are both numerous and well-masked. One is cheap, limitless access to capital--what I call free money for financiers. Imagine how many profitable assets you could buy if you too could borrow $1 billion at .25% interest from the Federal Reserve or another central bank.

Several of these mechanisms are described in these articles, recommended by correspondent Chad D. (transnational is another way of saying global):

Why Transnationals Thrive
The Problem with Transnationals and what to do about it

Once you can access unlimited nearly-free capital, it's a snap to buy political influence, at which point the state (government) enforces your monopoly/cartel on the populace as rule of law. And we all know what happens if you challenge the state: you are targeted for marginalization, impoverishment and trumped-up Kafkaesque charges.

Given all these advantages, Corporate America and the State can afford to pay those who pledge their fealty far more handsome sums than can typically be earned outside these fortified fiefdoms. Above the entry level, Corporate America and the State both pay far in excess of the median wage in salary and benefits, and in the security promised to government employees.

It's not that difficult to earn $60,000 or more in government service (remember to include all the bennies--healthcare, vacation, personal days off, sick leave, pensions, etc.) and Corporate America pays its managerial/technocratic class very well.

Try earning enough outside the State or Corporate America to equal the pay and benefits offered to those inside. Of course a slice of professionals (accountants, attorneys, surgeons, engineers, etc.) can make handsome incomes as independents, but this is becoming more difficult even for highly educated professionals.

Below this level, making an upper-middle class income requires owning a profitable business. an increasingly challenging task in an economy which over-regulates all enterprise. As I have noted here many times, the fixed costs of doing legitimate business in America are rising constantly: healthcare insurance costs have skyrocketed for employers, along with junk fees, regulatory compliance, penalties for non-compliance, property taxes, rent, and on and on.

The sacred creed of the American economy is that the proper set of values, innovation and work ethic can make anybody wealthy (and thus powerful). The hype surrounding the "living proof" of this creed (Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, et al.) fails to describe the considerably bleaker truth that the income earned by those outside the Corporate America/State fiefdoms follows a long tail distribution.

The long tail distribution is a handful of people (A-list actors, sports stars, tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, top-tier attorneys, corporate raiders, etc.) earn the majority of the money, while a relative pittance is distributed to the vast majority of those outside the fiefdoms.

The bottom line for the vast majority of us is that there is an extremely high price to be paid for independence from fealty to the State or Corporate America. Comparing the financial benefits and security offered in exchange for one's working life and fealty to Corporate America and the State, and the low income and precariousness of independence, most people choose the safety and security of working within the fiefdoms.

But there is a cost to this sacrifice of one's working life and fealty. It's difficult to put a price tag on it, but for most of us it's a significant sum--often hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. For those who can't stomach the absurdity of spending their lives in service to these fiefdoms, it's not really a choice; it simply isn't an option.

While we understand the price is far too steep for most people, for us it's a bargain. We will never have the corner office, the fat pension, the gold-plated healthcare, the Mercedes, or any of the other trappings of working in the top rungs of the fiefdoms. We may never own a new vehicle, or a house. We may never get a college degree.

We understand the immense appeal of the financial rewards and the security, and we don't begrudge those who choose to spend their lives in the fiefdoms. They have kids to raise, and dreams of a house and pension and all the rest. Nobody willingly accepts insecurity and low income if there is any way to avoid those burdens.

But for some of us, the price of independence is worth it for the simple reason we have no choice. 

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