Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Exploration Of Plastic Shows Why I Am Not A Total Communist

Childhood is the mold that will form the cast of your life. The impressions and experiences you have during your first few years on planet earth will shape your world outlook whether you like it or not. Whether you realize it or not.

In my case, plastic has a lot to do with my world view.

My dad worked at a factory making the stuff. Vinyl siding, hula hoops, cases for IBM computers, that kind of thing. I just now punched up the website for his employer and saw that they "specialize in thermoplastic raw materials in single, dual and tri-extrusions." I don't even know what that means, but I guess that's what Dad did for 40 years. The bossman started the plastic factory after World War II and went on to become one of the wealthiest men in Ohio, partly off the sweat of my father's brow. Good for bossman.

You heard me right. Good for him. People need stuff, and if you make stuff people need, and can sell it for more than you paid for it without being an evil bastard, you deserve to be rich. Bossman was able to do that. He got plastic to the people, made a shitload of money, and shared enough of it through decent salaries and a generous profit sharing program that someone who showed up at his factory and was willing to work hard and play by the rules could end up sending his slacker son to a private school to get a pharmacy degree. Slacker son then gets a decent job himself and you get your prescription filled by someone who knows what the hell he's doing and can tell when maybe you need a little more than the bare minimum of service. 

Everyone wins.

Now let's say sometime around 1984 Bossman would have decided to cash out and sell his factory to Plastic, Inc. You know exactly what would have happened. Or should. If you don't maybe you've been spending a little too much time doing things like watching "Dancing With The Stars" or straight guys who don't know they're gay playfight over an air filled leather sack. Turn off the TV for a minute and hang with me here:

For the sake of argument, let's say in 1983 the factory turned a profit of 10 million dollars. That made bossman happy, 'cause he got 10 million dollars. The first thing Plastic Inc. does however, is issue a memo that says its earnings target for 1984 is $12 million. Profit for the year comes in at $11 million dollars, making 1984 a failure.

The first thing to go is the profit sharing plan, as all profits must now be directed to placate angry shareholders. This wipes out the college fund for the slacker son. Raises are cancelled and lunch is cut from an hour to 45 minutes. A hiring freeze is implemented, meaning all employees are doing more work for the same amount of pay. Grumbling is heard up and down the assembly line.

Profit for 1985 is $11.5 million, an amount that would have bought bossman a yacht, but which sends the price of shares in Plastic Inc through the floor, as the corporation has now missed its earnings target for two years in a row. Retirees are replaced with agency temps and the speed of the assembly line increases. Lunch is now half an hour and insurance premiums increase 15%. Leadmen on the factory floor are reclassified as managers, meaning they can work unlimited hours for no overtime pay. The grumbling grows louder and someone from the International Union of Plastic People starts hanging out in the parking lot. As the old saying goes, companies that have unions generally deserve them.

Profit for 1986 is $7.4 million. IBM calls and wants to know why the quality of their dual extrusions sucks donkey turds. Plastic Inc. deals with the problem by sending someone from marketing to razzle-dazzle IBM, as opposed to putting money into making a better product. The plastic case on your new computer melts the day after its warranty expires.

In 1987 Plastic Inc. moves all operations to China. The only person involved in the last few years who made the kind of money bossman used to make is the hedge fund manager who shorted a million shares of Plastic, Inc's stock.

You kinda remembered the old plastic factory as you drove by its empty shell on your way to pick up your asthma medicine. If you remember right, the old man working as a greeter at the Wal-Mart where you get your prescriptions filled used to be a Leadman there. The pharmacist working that day is here from Cambodia on an H1N1 visa, and while no one doubts he's doing his best, he has trouble with your accent and has no idea what you mean when you say you "took two hits off your puffer" and it didn't work. He just kinda smiles at you as you talk and you leave the counter wheezing. Slacker son punches you in the face in the parking lot after you refuse to give him a dollar for cheap scotch.

Plastic Inc. is able to produce siding for 10% less than it used to. It is later found to be contaminated with lead.

Everyone loses.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Does it? Because in case you haven't noticed, we're living it. We've let the corporations take over our lives and now, we're living it. The funny part is, the corporations have convinced you you don't have a choice. That if you don't let them fuck you in the ass unlubed civilization as we know it will collapse. A real person gets 20 years for forcible sodomy. An artificial one gets free speech rights.

Thing is, you do have a choice. Your interests and the corporations do not always coincide. Society's interests and the corporation's do not always coincide. You can realize that and not automatically defer to the corporation. Or you can keep your mouth shut and watch the football game.

Which may be a reason this year's Rose Bowl is brought to you by Vizio™

Wake. Up.


Anonymous said...

Is this why the industry of making things is in the pits and the industry of providing personal services is still plugging along?

N James said...

But DrugMonkey, thinking is soooo haaaaarrrrd.

belovedparrot said...

I love you, Drug Monkey. For years I've been shaking my head listening to corporations talk about profits being "down" and the necessity of cutting the workforce. They were still making a profit! And had to cut the workforce???

Thank you for explaining it in plain English that even a CEO could understand.

Anonymous said...

Quite a concise and accurate analysis. I would add one observation (the best of all in my opinion). Everyone up and down the organization has been cooking the figures that were used to make all the changes. They are ALL eyewash. Highly suspect tonicity...but very potent.

Rex Henricus

Anonymous said...

So the first pharmacist I ever worked for 26 years ago, a man I consider a mentor, called me this last spring to tell me he is taking an early retirement. (and no, he's not retiring to Rite-Aid) He just couldn't take it anymore. After a brief but emotional farewell, he said something in all sincerity that hit me like a ton of bricks: "I just can't believe that nobody has gone postal yet"

This from one of the kindest, gentlest and most caring men I have ever known? My god, is this what this profession has come to??

Anonymous said...

Cambodian pharmacist on H1N1 visa...thats funny. Maybe slacker boy should have studied a bit harder.

Anonymous said...

...and that is exactly why privatizing Social Security will solve EVERYTHING, my friends!

Phathead said...

We cover this sort of things in-depth in my undergrad finance courses.

One of the things our prof would pound into his head (and he's rather liberal in the business world) is to not paying attention to quarterly earning sheets. Hell, he would tell us to shred them immediately if we could.

Business moves in cycles that do not fit the quarterly, or yearly, method we use to judge success. Just because you're 'down' at one point, doesn't mean the world is ending. Revenues and profits cannot climb forever, but big business cannot fathom that.

"Sales ONLY increased 7% last year? Well sound the klaxons, the company is going under!" Logic and common sense is devoid from current business practices.

What's ironic is that the truly successful companies, GE for instance, do not employ the methods that you mentioned above. If you can be that successful for that long using logic-based business practices, why can't everyone else?

Anonymous said...

After breaking the embargo in 1990 by teaching at Ho Chi Minh Polytech, I came back to USA and joined the Communist Party. The poorest people there said that they never had it so good.