Saving Happily-Ever-After

Earlier today I wrote something on Facebook as a status update – and I think it bears repeating, and elaboration.

After attending the East Somerville Foodie Crawl last night, I found myself thinking [yet again] about the politics of my local economy. Although these issues seem specific to time and location, it has become all too apparent that [East] Somerville is but another redundant chapter in a familiar, yet unavoidably tragic, tale that we all know by heart. Dare we to dream of another ending, another outcome – a happily-ever-after for ourselves?

To do so, we must dismiss our preconceived notions of what it means to be the hero, heroine or savior – empowering ourselves, rather than some unseen, intervening force – as the authors of our own destiny.

I always say that every woman has the magic within herself to be her own fairy godmother… So that must also mean that every person has the authority to rewrite his/her own story – and that every community has the power to save itself from being written off as insignificant!

Just as an ecosystem requires diversity, so too does our local economy. By offering authentic, high-quality versions of various ethnic cuisines, cultural artifacts and handmade products, small business owners keep their culture, and the American dream alive. Most small businesses naturally increase the sustainability of the entire community by reducing the number of unnecessary “outsourced” steps needed to complete any given economic transaction. Because they need to keep costs low, many small businesses refrain from the wasteful, extravagant, and excessive practices of larger companies. Less likely to invest in frivolous packaging, advertising and product “embellishment,” small businesses contribute to environmental conservation simply because most of the budget is reserved for product quality – rather than superficial appearance. Ironically, it is the limited nature of profits/available funds that keeps small business owners intimately connected to their community, past patrons, and all investors. Once a business becomes so large that it no longer “needs” its original clientele to turn a profit, it begins to invest more in growing, and less in providing a reliable, high-quality product or service.

Furthermore, once a business no longer relies upon “loyal” neighborhood customers or “regulars” for its profit – it begins to depersonalize both its employees and its customers. Because all of the involved labor is simply a means to one end [growth], employees are no longer seen as collaborators or colleagues. They become another expense, as do customers – and the goal becomes maximizing profit, at the expense of all but the original owner(s). And because money ceases to hold the value it once did when the business relied upon its customers to remain functional, large businesses become detached from the economic transactions they engage in – encouraging a sense of inflated self-worth, and deflating the value of all new employees, customers and investors who make contributions. As transactions become further detached from their origin – and the number of employees, customers and investors explodes beyond the level where relationships are involved – the business owner transcends all safeguards against immoral, selfish and/or entitled behavior. Falsely deriving business success from himself/herself, top business owners fail to recognize or reciprocate the contributions of those below them – equating employees with mere livestock or interchangeable parts – simply because they can “afford” to lose and replace any individual piece.

When the number of “middle men” involved in economic exchanges increases, the middle class decreases, because:

(a) “Middle men” are a form of excess – created to multiply the number of steps in an otherwise easy or self-explanatory process. “Middle men” generate profit by removing “laypersons” (“unqualified” individuals) from his/her authority to “serve himself/herself,” often using inflated terms or phrases like “qualified, certified, licensed, approved, and legally permitted” to justify the importance of these roles (e.g., attourneys). This is the same tactic used to create “novel” products that drive up demand – even when it would otherwise dwindle because a product is redundant, unnecessary or already owned by most of the targeted audience (e.g., seasonal nail polish colors and fashion). In short, a false need or state of deprivation is insinuated to provoke desire – and maintain a continuous illusion of scarcity, poverty and low status – to individuals who are relatively “wealthy” and successful. It creates need, when all needs are already met, and feeds off of the consequences. The “middle man” role also serves to alienate people from one another – using the same inflated certifications and qualifications as fuel for competitive aggression. This competition distracts most people from recognizing their own cooperation with a model that constantly devalues – yet insists they place high value upon – self-worth.

{You are all special, but only some of you are qualified enough to be called “nail technicians.” Only “the chosen” few, who braved beauty school  (ah… excuse me, cosmetology school!) are granted with the divine right to paint the fingers of the common masses! Now go forth, and share your gift with the world… but not until you’ve gone to school, taken out loans, crippled your future earning power, accumulated insurmountable debt, maxed out 3 credit cards, and accepted a minimum wage job from a chain salon for 10 years (to gain enough “experience” to EARN a full-time, health insurance-granting position as an employee with benefits)… God forbid you think you have the experience to start your own business or open a store! What do you know about painting nails…!?}  

(b) The average worker cannot save money for stable economic investments (e.g., car, house, college, etc.) that grow in value over time, because most resources must be surrendered repeatedly to various institutional “middle men” for their services (bank/ATM/service/processing fees). No house, car, or family vacation = No American Dream!

(c) Because these people feel frustrated and agitated by their lack of money – and want to purchase at least something that they alone can enjoy – individuals overindulge on luxury items and various temporary substitutes or replacements, which are riddled with even more fees (gambling, drugs, food, entertainment). Forced to “wait” for decades just to feel secure (while contributing ALL of their available time, energy and health to their employer for so little), many develop impulse control issues and cannot help but buy on credit (feeling they have already earned it, as they most likely have!). 

(d) The middle class becomes the working class simply because it is forced to literally become the “middle man” in order to survive and maintain an “acceptable” standard of living (which is also a fabrication… etc., etc.). 

{You may be saying} ENOUGH! Soooo much negativity! What can I do!??

The equation to happily-ever-after is simple: WAKE UP!  Dispel the trance you have fallen under – and confront the villain! If we are our own hero, then we too must be the evildoers. How can we remedy such an awful state of affairs?

You can help this cause by donating your monthly “take-out” or “restaurant” budget to your favorite local shop, stores and small businesses that genuinely benefit from your support – no matter how meager. Small businesses across the country serve as an indicator of healthy, growing, and changing economy; scarcity of the entrepreneurial spirit indicates a lack of opportunity and the oppression of individuality. And once you save your own happily-ever-after from crashing and burning, return the favor and save someone else from economic oppression!

When small businesses are “hunted” into extinction by corporate greed, the middle class becomes an endangered species. Encourage diversity by supporting businesses that cherish and take pride in the cultural heritage they represent – avoid contributing to businesses that use the term “ethnic” simply to drive sales. Above all, remember that your contribution is part of something far larger than yourself – and that all monetary transactions are personal and meaningful – no matter what you have been told to believe. There is always another person, family or child that will benefit or suffer from the effects of an unhealthy economic model.



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