I've been trying to wrap my head around Michael Moore's new movie Capitalism: A Love Story. The film is highly involving and tugs at one's intellect and emotions--and afterwards makes viewers consider where they fit in economically in America. As I've mentioned before, I'm part of a consortium called Backword Books. We're seven independent authors who have banded together to pool our marketing resources together. I see us as a bunch of Joe the Plumbers.
Certainly we probably write better than Joe the Plumber, whose full name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, but Joe was famous for fifteen minutes for holding hopes of attaining the American Dream. He didn't want to change the tax code because he wanted to buy a plumbing company and get rich rich rich.
Heck, none of us would mind getting rich rich rich. It ain't gonna happen with books, but, like Joe, each of us imagines making it. We even are likely to picture saying before a TV camera, "Thanks, Oprah, it's a pleasure to be on your show. I'm happy to talk about my book."
I mentioned a little something about Moore's film on Facebook, considering how unemployment is up, half my classes have been canceled this year, and I'm not meeting a lot of positive people. What can we do? A friend wrote on my wall, "I love capitalism. No better system around!"
So I wrote back how one part of Moore's film shows how airline pilots' salaries have been squeezed so much that a number are making less than $20,000 a year. Capitalism isn't making us safer in the air with pilots working the maximum hours they legally can-which may be too much considering the crash in Buffalo last year was due in large part to pilot fatigue and a lack of training for icy conditions.
The same friend wrote back privately saying, "Monkeying with capitalism is dangerous. So some pilot is stupid enough to agree to fly for $20K per year. He's a fool. But why shouldn't the CEO make a lot of money? He has a complex job. Where is the moral responsibility of the pilot who knows he is too tired to fly? Maybe he should change careers."
My response is that people are driven by self-interest. That's the very force that capitalism uses. Over the last hundred years in particular, our government has found that while capitalism is indeed the best system around, it still needs regulating, otherwise people in power become too extreme.
Witness the situation in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. It showed, I suppose, people stupid enough to work for ultra-low wages with no safety or health benefits, and if they were dumb enough to lose a hand in cutting meat because the company pushed its workers too hard--too many hours and quotas too high--then fuck 'em for losing a hand and not being able to get a job after that.
While that was capitalism working the bugs out in the twenties, something akin to that is happening in the airline industry now. Piloting used to be a high-paying job, but then upstart companies that had no pensions, no older pilots, no unions, started flying and offering cheaper tickets. That forced the bigger airlines to do something, including using more regional carriers to carry people. The regionals have fewer regulations.
A close examination of what caused the Buffalo commuter flight to crash in February showed the problem wasn't icing but slow speed. More experienced and less fatigued pilots would have reacted to the warning alarm better. The National Transportation Safety Board suggested the pilots suffered from lack of sleep and inadequate training. The airline did not have to give training on flying in icy conditions, so the company did not. Co-pilot Rebecca Shaw had been working a part-time job to help supplement her $16,000 salary with the air carrier. The day before the fatal flight, she flew on a FedEx redeye flight to Newark, with a stop in Memphis. That was permitted. The regulations made it alright.
When we fly, we want Capt. Sullenberger or someone like him at the controls. The cost-cutting the airlines have done, however, especially at the regionals, have given us tired and less-experienced pilots.
Just because executives can screw their workers, does it mean it should happen? Northwest Airlines recently went through a restructuring after going into bankruptcy, cutting $1.4 billion in labor costs. While the pilots and other workers all took cuts, the company's CEO Doug Steenland exited the bankruptcy with a big pay package. On top of Steenland's more than half-million-dollar annual salary, he received a compensation package of more than $26.6 million in stock. That's $5.8 million in stock options and $20.8 million worth of restricted stocks that will vest over four years. Should we be happy this is permitted?
I'm not saying get rid of capitalism, but I also understand human beings, being self-serving, need to be watched and regulated.
You'll be happy to know we're regulating ourselves at Backword Books. We're flying on our keyboards after a full night's sleep and proper caffeine ingestion. No books before their time.
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