Gardener – No, no, no, we’ve lost sight of Adam Smith’s butcher, you know the butcher, the baker and the brewer. What’s become of them, of their self-interest?
Writer – Ahh yes, that butcher. It is comforting to think of our nation’s prosperity resting on his shoulders down on Main Street.
Gardener – Now that you’ve given up on John Galt.
Writer – I haven’t given up on JG completely. He’s not such a bad guy, you know. A little like Thomas Edison. Perhaps a tad too full of himself and a bit misguided with his faith in the power of the dollar sign. But once he settles down with Taggart and begins to raise a family he’ll realize as his children become teenagers that all the best laid plans for a prosperous world led by wizards like himself will falter around the family diner table. Kind of like waiting for Plato’s philosophers to guide us in utopia, and we all know what happened in Syracuse.
Gardener – I don’t know what you’re talking about!
Writer – In A History Of Greece, Chapter XV, Section 9, check out what J. B. Bury has to say about Plato’s visits to Syracuse. No, Main Street isn’t about superman but everyman. Naturally we benefit from the work of a genius, just the way we benefit from a rich man’s taxes or the economy benefits from his consumption of goods. But neither a genius, nor a rich man can compare to all the people combined. It might be less glamorous depending on a million citizens, who are either poor or middle class, buying key rings than a super star buying a gold ring; and it might be less impressive depending on the taxes from a million small paychecks to the single large million dollar check from a resentful billionaire; and it’s certainly not as clear hearing the collective voices of a million people, all with ideas of their own, than the occasional clarion voice of a genius, whose sudden appearance strikes us with awe; but in spite of appearances it’s the little people who make, move and consume the majority of goods and pay the most taxes that keep our economy running.
Gardener – Where would I be if the Youth had lost his way without strangers to guide him into the profession where he, that is me, finally made something of himself, that is, myself.
Writer – Oh great! What about me? The Youth wanted to be a writer, to be me! Can I help it if we possessed too many ideas and lacked certain useful skills.
Gardener – It doesn’t matter, you’re working now as you were when the Youth left. Just remember the Youth belongs to me too.
Writer – You’re right. He belongs to both of us.
Gardener – I mention him only because he would be among the many nameless people who are the majority seeking some kind of way to contribute to the universal good, and if we don’t listen to all these nameless folk, the nation . . .
Writer – The world!
Gardener – Yes the world, will not benefit from their potential contributions.
Writer- Well said, but let’s return from the grandiose to the everyday. Let’s imagine a summer morning, the elm trees along Main Street are in leaf. With deft hands stained with blood the butcher prepares Mrs. McGillicuddy’s pork chops. Next door the baker tells his two apprentices. . .
Gardener – Apprentices? When I was at Wave Hill we thought of using that word for our seasonal training positions, but we chose the word “intern” instead.
Writer – Alright, interns!
Gardener – Don’t get me wrong, we wanted to call them apprentices, but it seems that word reminded our fund raisers of manual labor. They wanted to elevate the novice gardeners to the level of doctors training in hospitals.
Writer – Labor unions would do well to encourage the training of young people going into the crafts.
Gardener – They do. You and I know a retired ironworker who teaches young people welding for New York Ironworkers locals apprenticeship program. I can’t believe you forgot.
Writer – Alright, let me finish! Where was I?
Gardener – The baker. . .
Writer – The baker tells the interns about the specials of the day. He’s tired. He wants to go home and sleep for a few hours. A few doors down the cobbler pounds away on the heel of an old shoe bringing it back to life.
Gardener – What cobbler?
Writer – Why, Main Street has to have a cobbler. You can’t forget the cobbler.
Gardener – Adam Smith talks about the brewer, not a cobbler.
Writer – We can infer that Smith included the cobbler. He takes the place of the brewer who has already moved on into folklore. Do you know any brewer’s on Main Street? We all know cobblers.
Gardener – You mean shoe repair person?
Writer – Yeah, shoe repair person but where’s the rusticity we need when speaking to our fellow Americans, that dreamy world where time has stopped and where these artisans on Main are doing their best to advance their personal interests while our mother . . .
Gardener – Don’t bring her into this! Adam Smith did not have her in mind!
Writer – How can I avoid bringing mom onto Main Street? Why I was just strolling down Main Street the other day. . .
Gardener – What in hell are you talking about? What main street?
Writer – Why the Main Street! “Main Street America” as the congressman from San Diego, Dare Say called it not long ago! As all the other representatives and senators and white house tenants and would-be tenants speak so fondly of, Main Street, USA! Isn’t that the name of every street in America? A street that threads it’s way through every home. That’s where we shop!
Gardener – Oh yeah, you mean the internet.
Writer – You’re getting way ahead of me. Don’t you remember mom taking the three kids down to Main Street? Those were the days! There’s Sussel the butcher, wiping his hands on his apron, leaning forward to hear mom’s question about the price per pound of a stewing chicken.
Gardener – I thought it was pork chops!
Writer – Why do you constantly interrupt me!
Gardener – You’re drifting through Currier and Ives. . .
Writer – The pork chops were for Mrs. McGillicuddy! Mom was looking for a chicken to stew.
Gardener – Forget I mentioned it!
Writer – So where was I, oh yes, from the baker, a dozen rolls, a baker’s dozen – white flour was a craze then.
Gardener – When’s then, 1860, 1890?
Writer – 1950s! It was a time when all of us down on Main Street were the unwitting but willing accomplices in the prosperity of the nation, each of us seeking out the better part of the bargain. . .
Gardener – Until the A&P bought out Sussel, the butcher, expanded his shop and started selling everything under one roof at bargain prices!
Writer – Sussel didn’t loose his job. He just started working for the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.
Gardener – Remember when the Youth and his girl moved to Geary and Chestnut in San Francisco in 1970?
Writer – Yeah, you mean the first time they ever shopped in a Safeway Supermarket.
Gardener – The aisles were at least ten feet across and the ceiling was as high as a cathedral. When they looked out the great picture windows by the cash registers the whole bay opened up, blue sky and blue water.
Writer – They’d never shopped in paradise before. A cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables. . .
Gardener – Artichokes from the artichoke center of the world, apricots and walnuts. . .
Writer – from the Imperial Valley seemed to spill onto the counters right before their eyes!
Gardener – Now days that’s nothing compared to Costco, where shoppers buy enough food to feed Washington’s army at Valley Forge!
Writer – Yes, and away we go, leaving Main Street for the shopping mall.
Gardener – And this is where the Internet Highway begins. Besides, all the elms on Main died of Dutch Elm disease.
Writer – Yes. The baker couldn’t pay his rent nor the room and board of his two
apprentices. . . interns. And the cobbler couldn’t feed his large family. The brewer, remember, gave up long ago because he couldn’t keep up with the mass production of the new pull-tab aluminum cans and closed shop.
Gardener – Thank god for today’s small independents, who’ve brought beer back from the brink!
Writers – That’s true. But these local independents aren’t the merchants or the manufacturers Adam Smith had in mind at the conclusion of Book I, Chapter XI entitled Rent Of Land. Nor are they property owners, like Congressman Dare Say from San Diego, who have always benefited from rising rents no matter what the state of the economy. They are closer to the wage earner, who depends on good times to prosper. In Smith’s time, the wage earner, whether working for a landowner as a farmer or a manufacturer as a laborer lived close to the subsistence level in good times and below it in bad times.
Gardener – Nothing’s changed.
Writer – During an economic downturn these merchants and manufacturers downsize, that is, they let people off or they lessen or eliminate the shareholders’ dividend or, as Congressman Dare Say’s company did, buy back shares at reduced rates from small investors before selling the company off at a better price to enhance their personal profit at the shareholder’s expense.
Gardener – It’s difficult seeing how a Congressman’s self-interest benefits the wealth of the nation.
Writer – For this reason Adam Smith adamantly states later on in Book IV, Chapter III, Part II of Wealth Of Nations and I quote him, “The capricious ambition of kings and ministers has not,” and I repeat, has not “ during the present and the preceding century,” – 1775 and Britain is about to lose its richest resource, the colonies – “been more fatal to the repose of Europe, than the impertinent jealousy of merchants and manufacturers. The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil, for which, I am afraid the nature of human affairs can scarce admit of a remedy. But the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be,” and I repeat, neither are nor ought to be “the rulers of mankind, though it cannot perhaps be corrected, may very easily be prevented from disturbing the tranquility of any body but themselves.” 365
Gardener – And how can they easily be prevented?
Writer – Regulations.
Gardener – Regulate self-interest?
Writer – In The Marketplace of Revolution, T. H. Breen makes a case how the new consumer culture brought on by the incipient Industrial Revolution, run by the very people Adam Smith describes, united the American colonists long before they became politically adept and helped them realize that England’s wealth depended on their consumption of goods. Because the majority of people were always short on cash, a credit system developed to encourage the consumption of goods. It began with the manufacturer giving credit to the middle man who gave it to the shopkeeper who finally gave it to the farmer up on the Hudson River, a chain of dependence. Only England, not acknowledging how much they depended on this continually growing consumption of goods, decided to tax the colonists. But no benefits, such as better roads, were derived from these taxes, nor did the colonists have any say in England about the use of these taxes. So what did the colonists do? Did they put tricorne hats on and shout for smaller government? Did they sit in parks calling for an end to Wall Street Greed? No, the weapon used by half the colonists to counter taxation without representation was to boycott the goods. This lead to the eventual revolution. Today we feel just as the early colonist felt, that it’s our inalienable rights to consume goods. But unlike the colonists who were new to factory made goods, we’ve been nurtured to buy stuff! When we say “don’t tread on me” we mean don’t tax me, because we’d rather have the freedom to use our tax money to buy a new TV or a sit-down lawnmower. Corporations couldn’t be happier. They tell their customers that if the government tries to regulate big business, people will lose their jobs and people will have to pay higher prices for their TVs and lawnmowers. And to help their proxies in government understand this, the Corporations use their gold to broadcast a message to one and all throughout the Kingdom of Capitalism. “People, you must take up your revolutionary cudgels again, tempered in the fires of the market place and boycott big government.” Naturally our elected leaders quake with fear and are quick to hand the government over to the Corporations making them King of the land. But King Corporation also has a generous heart. In return for following orders the King offers gold and pretty women and a round of golf on a Scottish Golf course to those congressional leaders who go forth and struggle against the socialist infidels who would smother capitalism under the stifling blanket of “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Gardener – So no one regulates the King’s self-interest! King Corporation gets more gold and the miller’s daughter to boot!
Writer – You forget that the King and his vassals in government believe the King as well as all the vassals can self-regulate their own self-interest!
Gardener – Of course a good king will act in the best interests of his people, a bad king will act for himself.
Writer – The King knows what it wants. The King wants more gold to rule it’s world through fear and entertainment. John Galt saw that.
Gardener – But destroying Rumpelstiltskin was not in the King’s best-interest.
Writer – Nor in the best interest of his ministers in Congress. At the time it didn’t matter to the King how the miller’s daughter filled each room full of gold! Whether she ran a sweat shop of spinners or contracted a third world nation in Africa to produce the gold at any human cost. The King knew what it wanted and didn’t care how it got it.
Gardener – And whatever the King says our ministers in Congress nod their heads like bobble head dolls, believing every word.
Writer – But look at us, we too nod our heads out here in TV land, our ears plugged with sounds, our eyes glued to images on sets. When the King says we brought you the I-phone, we all babble, me, me, me.
Gardener – I wonder if the Queen ever came clean?
Writer – She didn’t have to. Because the King always knows what it wants and never questions that and the ministers never do their homework by checking up on the King or the Queen
Gardener – But we get hurt!
Writer – What happens when King Lear wants early retirement but finds the administrators of his security more interested in themselves than in him?
Gardener – I assume the King created security by fostering a healthy economy. . .
Writer – But the King’s vanity sows division and castes the nation into a civil war.
Gardener – Where innocent people die.
Writer – And when the energy Czar of Endrun hires Harvard geniuses without practical experience to administer the empire with their marvelous tall-tale bookkeeping?
Gardener – Innocent people lose their life savings.
Writer – Do we mention the fiefdom of Standard Poor who provided its liege of Endrun such high ratings before the paper tiger imploded?
Gardener – They saw what they wanted to see, like all the adults who couldn’t see the King was naked! To see the truth we need the eyes of a child!
Writer – What about the emperor Murkydoc and his son, the heir apparent, who rule their worldly kingdom of news with an iron fist then plead the impossibility of knowing what is being done in their name?
Gardener – We must guard our phones, guard our computers from their illegal intrusions.
Writer – And what about the kingdom of banks, the Sacking of Mensgold trying to squeeze the last dime out of the chimmering real estate market which they’ve insured against their inevitable holdings of worthless subprime papers?
Gardener – We, the people at the bottom of their pile of worthless paper, bailed them out! And what did we get in return?
Writer – The Great Recession.
Gardener – If these are the only models of success that King Corporation can follow then I’m taking my self-interest back to the garden before the season ends so I can do what I do best and that’s working alone!
Writer – You can’t hide from people. Beside there are dozens of economic models out there in the business world that differ from the King’s prevailing economic view that self-interest means attaining wealth, as practiced by its many CEOs. According to the King, who knows best what it wants, if we all should strive to be as wealthy as the King’s ministers and vassals, the economy will continue to grow ad infinitum, with only, as the King’s pundits crow, an occasional necessary adjustment. This of course is neither possible, nor desirable. Take Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods.
Gardener – We buy Red Mill flour!
Writer – Bob Moore and his wife Charlee, are the founders and part owners of a company that makes and distributes Bob’s Red Mill flours and grains, both organic and conventional. The company is over thirty years old with yearly revenues of more than 24 million dollars. Moore admits that Red Mill has had plenty of buyout offers. “. . . I had a choice. . .” is the way he put it in OregonLive.com, when asked about the future of the company. “But in my heart, I didn’t. These people,” referring to the company employees, “are far too good at their jobs for me to just sell it.” So he developed a plan with his partners by which the vested workers become the eventual owners of the company.
Gardener – Imagine that. And they said it couldn’t be done in the name of capitalism!
Writer – Yeah, so it’s easy to see how we support these manufacturing and ethical practices when we buy their goods. But how do we support a company that sells wall to wall industrial carpets we’ve never had the need to buy? In the case of Interface Global, the company founded by Ray Anderson, we have an example, beyond our personal economic reach, of a company with a global vision of using only renewable resources, something that benefits all of us. Somewhere during his tenure Anderson developed a strong belief in corporate responsibility not just to its clients or shareholders but to the environment which sustains all of us, neighbors and strangers. As a result he set out to change his company’s reliance on non sustainable ingredients derived from oil, with all its negative by-products for workers and strangers. He is quoted in Ray’s Legacy at Interface.com “ I wanted Interface, a company so oil-intensive you could think of it as an extension of the petrochemical industry, to be the first enterprise in history to become truly sustainable—to shut down the smokestacks, close off its effluent pipes, to do no harm to the environment and take nothing not easily renewed by the earth.”
Gardener – He takes self-interest to a new level.
Writer – We don’t buy industrial carpets, so we are the strangers who benefit from Anderson’s moral point of view. There’s no reciprocation.
Gardener – Well I congratulate the efforts of these two companies. But few set the tone where self-interest can be translated into a moral and ethical paradigm that improves the health and wealth of the entire world. These two examples sound like fairy tales.
Writer – These two examples prove that it can be done. No matter what the system – even one that establishes the mean where personal gratification is norm – many of us will work to improve the environment and the lives of those around us without expecting a material return.
Gardener – Like the person who stops to pick up the broken glass on the sidewalk instead of saying, “that’s not my job.”
Writer – Or like the person who doesn’t expect the soldiers who are working under him to do something he or she has never done him or herself, saying “I’m too important to fight.”
Gardener – Like the hawk, VP Chintzy, who claimed he was too important to be drafted into the Vietnam War.
Writer – We don’t expect others to do all the dirty work, because we’ve established a personal standard of what is good and what is right. We interpret self-interest as something that must satisfy this personal standard.
Gardener – You sound like that accountant who retired from the Long Island Railroad without beefing up his pension by faking a disability.
Writer – You mean Mr. Kueffner.
Gardener – Yeah, Mr. Kueffner. What was in it for him playing it ethically straight?
Writer – When Kueffner was asked why he didn’t take disability like everybody, he said: “I didn’t have a disability. . . I was doing a job that people do everywhere. I worked at a desk and I retired in good shape.”
Gardener – I think he is remarkable, because his moral gyroscope kept him balanced while working inside a permissive society. He knows the difference between right and wrong and that wrong has ramification somewhere down the line, whether it’s the honey pot running dry for younger generations or getting caught like Pooh Bear with his head stuck inside the pot.
Writer – I’ve never thought of Pooh Bear being greedy. In Winnie The Pooh A. A. Milne describes what Pooh experiences one day when he is taking a honey jar to his despondent friend, Eeyore for his birthday. “. . . a sort of funny feeling began to creep all over him. It began at the tip of his nose and trickled all through him and out at the soles of his feet. It was just as if somebody inside him were saying, “Now then, Pooh, time for a little something.” Tell me if that doesn’t describe me in a bookstore in front of an interesting book or you in a nursery among beautiful plants. It would be in our best-interests to not spend precious cash on yet another book I won’t be able to read in the next three years nor more specimens, no matter how unusual, which you’ll have to plant and water in addition to your already full list of chores.
Gardener – But Pooh always finds an excuse to look inside the jar and then it’s too late, he forgets himself and the next thing he realizes he’s eaten all the honey.
Writer – Not quite. There’s always a little bit at the bottom of the jar and that’s how he gets his head stuck in the jar!
END PART FOUR
The Writer and the Gardener meet the unemployed butcher and baker and cobbler down on Main Street, where self-interest introduces the to King Corporation, then gives them a glimpse of the power of the consumer before taking them to the edge of the Kingdom of Capitalism where they find Pooh bear stumbling about, his head stuck inside the honey jar.
New York Ironworkers locals apprenticeship program
Congressman Dare Say
King Corporation gets more gold and the miller’s daughter to boot!
THE GARDENER RETURN, A DIALOGUE, PART THREE
Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods. (http://www.oregonlive.com/clackamascounty/index.ssf/2010/02/bobs_red_mill_natural_foods_ro.html
Interface Global, founded by Ray Anderson
The Long Island Railroad pension/disability scandal
Adam Smith, Wealth Of Nations,