January 2, 2013
Vol: 20 No: 1

Dr. Wes

If it’s not possible to manage your own expectations, can you really expect to manage others?

By Dr. Wes Browning

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Yesterday as Anitra and I were hobbling home from Real Change, we overheard someone telling a friend, “If you don’t have $5 million to put into a new business, you might as well not bother.”

When I got home, I read that some scientists connected with NASA think 2013 is the year we’ll discover an Earth-like planet around some other star.

That’s some high expectation, I thought. Isn’t it great that we live on a planet from which new worlds can be discovered even as we make life on this one unaffordable to all but an increasingly alien rich?

How alien are they? Richard Branson, who is either a lizard man under his fake skin or British, gives away £124,000 tickets for fractional Earth-orbital trips to his less rich friends. There could be an answer to our question in that.

Consider that rich people only want the Bush era tax breaks to continue if they get them. If the tax breaks go to middle classes and lower classes only, then let’s not have them, they say. The result of such thinking, apparently, is a harder life for rich people. Let’s say you’re rich and you want to get richer. You can’t even think about starting a new business to get richer for less than $5 million said the woman we passed on the street. Why is that?

It’s because you can’t set up a business that caters to the poor, and expect to make a substantial profit to compare with what you’re used to, that’s why. If you’re rich, by which I mean someone for whom having $5 million on hand is a reasonable proposition (“Oh, we’ll just sell the summer home, we can always live in the spring, fall or winter homes”), you aren’t going to be satisfied by a business model that doesn’t make you richer on those terms.

Economic inequality creates inequalities of expectations that drive more inequality. In order to take the rich to new riches, new businesses have to serve richer clients. So they have to provide high-end and more expensive goods and services.

Soon the poor are not only poor because they have less money, but also because there are fewer and fewer businesses selling goods and services in their range.

This process is most complete in the housing market. You can’t rent cheaply because the properties are owned by people who want a life better than cheap rent will get them. Chances are they also own business properties and condos, and they have lawyers to pay and their pools need cleaning. They want to vacation in fractional Earth orbit. Your lousy rent check is barely worth cashing. It’s your fault for not working your employees hard enough. What’s that? You don’t have employees? Well, no wonder you’re hopelessly poor.

In this world, everything is possible if you can maneuver yourself into being one of the job creators. Here’s the trick. Create three times as many jobs as you have full-time positions, plan to pay each less than a sixth of what you’d pay a full-time worker, offer no benefits and fill the positions from temp agencies.

These methods were taught in colleges in the 1980s, back when I was still teaching math. They were all the rage in the 1990s and the sudden growth in high-end wealth they promised was delivered in that decade.

Unfortunately, the growth of high-end wealth without a corresponding growth of low-end wealth isn’t sustainable. You’d think that people would have figured that out, around this time four years ago if not sooner, but I’m still waiting for people to catch on.

It would actually be better for the majority of the world if all the Richard Bransons and all their friends got one-way tickets to space and used them. We are already living quite well doing without what they sell.

It would be no loss to me if I couldn’t fly Virgin Galactic.

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