“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”
~ Gordon Gekko
By: Bill the Butcher
This is the Age of Profit, as even a casual flipping through the economic news will inform you. Corporations can do more or less as they desire because they have a right to make a profit; and governments will usually fall over backward in their eagerness to help corporations make the said profit. If a corporation wants to take over a river, and charge people from the nearby city (who have been using the water of the river for drinking, irrigation, etc for merely the last seven hundred years) a fee to use it in the name of “resource maximisation”, you know, there won’t be any shortage of government officials and economists defending their right to do it.
Yeah, that’s to say, profit is the thing.
Now, there’s a small problem with profit. That problem is the fact that you have to actually, you know, find a way of making it. The money won’t just leap out of the wallets and bank accounts (if any) of your victims customers and into yours, so you have to finagle some way of making that happen.
Life’s a bitch.
If you are a corporation making armaments in a military-industrial complex based economy, there isn’t a problem, of course. You have a nice, captive customer – the armed forces, whether the real armed forces or the “security contractors” (what used to be called “mercenary commandos” back in the day, you know). And these days there’s a permanent market for your smart bombs and depleted uranium rounds, with the clients for your services conveniently living on the other side of the world, so you don’t have to deal with the mess your products create. Y’know, all the blood and guts.
No, it’s when you aren’t a corporation making armaments in a military-industrial complex based economy that the problems start. See, as I said, there’s the problem of how to entice money out of peoples’ pockets and into your own. And it becomes worse when you remember that fewer and fewer of those people have money in their pockets (in part because of the direct and indirect side effects of the military-industrial complex based economy – splashing around all that blood and guts does have a kind of depressing effect on earning power). So, you have to do one of two things – squeeze more money of the few people who do have enough of it to be able to spare some; or find some way to entice or compel others, who hardly have enough to survive on, to give it to you.
This is where you have to get slightly creative.
Let’s get this clear before we begin: you have to choose your source of profit. Your choices come down to three: the ultra-rich, the middle (or, in some cases, Muddle) class, and the poor*.
First of all, let’s get the ultra-rich (in most of the world, there are no plain “rich” any longer; they’ve either graduated to the ultra-rich or slipped middle-classwards) out of the way. Unless you’ve got some miracle product, which nobody from the very topmost of the field is already making, forget it. The ultra-rich know what they want.
So, your target clientele comes down to the Muddle Class and the poor. Let’s take them one by one.
The Muddle Class: The defining characteristic of the Muddle Class, above all others, is vanity. The Muddle Class is incredibly full of itself, and measures its success by – above all other things – acquiring gadgets. The more gadgets, the better, even if they don’t have any applicability – you know, that’s why they invented the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.”
The Muddle Class is also incredibly scared of the poor – both as a direct threat (which is useful if you’re selling home security systems), and, more importantly, as a sign of danger – the danger of poverty. The Muddle Class is terrified of being poor, even more than the ultra-rich is of being poor.
The ultra-rich can barely imagine poverty; it’s like a movie to them. The Muddle Class can feel the reality of poverty, just one rung below them on the ladder, and snapping at their heels. They have to keep reminding themselves they aren’t poor, even if it means going into debt to prove this. You can leverage this very well if you take a little trouble to market your product. However, you wouldn’t be advised to put too much faith in hire-purchase schemes, because the Muddle Class is on the knife’s edge these days. Better get them to take a nice easy-payment consumer loan, and when they default, it’s going to be the bank or loan company’s headache, not yours.
The poor: The problem with the poor, as distinct from the Muddle Class, is that the former doesn’t have to be persuaded to part with its money; the only question is who (you, or your competitor) benefits from it. The poor, while they do have the desire to own things, are also intensely aware that they can’t afford them. Unlike the Muddle Class, they must be compelled to part with their money, by any means possible.
In this, the local government can be an invaluable ally. Let’s be clear about this – the average local government hates the poor. They are unsightly, often obstreperous, and don’t earn enough to pay taxes. At least some pretence of hospitals and schools have to be run for them. They are often useful for votes at the time of elections, of course, but there’s always a doubt about which way they’ll swing; if the other party promises cheaper food or better streets in the ghettoes where the poor live, they might vote for it instead, unlike the Muddle Class and its fairly predictable right-wing voting preferences.
So, given the opportunity to shaft the poor, but good, the local government will be eager to comply. All you’ll need is to drop a few words in appropriate ears and bribes funds for the proper education of government officials in what’s the best for the economy.
If you think really big, you can do this by forcing the poor to pay for a service they had got for free. For example, point out to the local government that a private fire service, maintained by user fees, will be so much more efficient than a state-run one which is paid for by tax money, and whose personnel spend most of their duty time sitting around in the fire station doing nothing but wait. Of course, the government would have to pay a certain fixed rate of money to your fire service every month in order to make it worth your while to buy and maintain all that equipment, rent premises, and so on, but it would still be more efficient. After all, being private, it’s automatically more efficient! And as for the poor? It’s true that they might refuse to pay you at first, but once you make an example of a few – letting the fires burn down a few tens of recalcitrant houses – they’ll have learnt their lesson. Especially as they probably won’t have any insurance anyway.
The problem with this approach (or with the water-privatising venture I’d mentioned) is that the poor are ingrates. You never know when a left-wing pinko commie liberal socialist political movement might make an issue of it, and ride the rank ingratitude (the so-called “popular anger”) of these poor to a victory in an election. And then you’re faced with either having to splurge enormous amounts of money to purchase a place in the new government’s good books, or – even worse – having to dig deep into your cash reserves to finance a media misinformation propaganda public education campaign designed to provoke a colour-coded revolution, which might or might not succeed. And if it doesn’t, your only choice (other than licking your wounds and crawling from the field) is to beg the military-industrial complex based economy to use some of its products to spread enough blood and guts around to end the pinko liberal commie socialist government and replace it by a more friendly one.
In all probability, then, it might be better to leave that part alone for the really big players and stick to consumer goods. Your tactics might outrage some people, but not surely to the extent of voting for a pinko commie liberal socialist government. In fact, that way you might kill several birds with one stone.
Let’s imagine you’re a car manufacturer. Now, of course, in much of the world, people are still primitive enough to use public transport most of the time. They will continue, atavistically, to use public transport, ignoring your excellent products, unless compelled to take notice of them and purchase them.
This is again where the local government comes in. Point out to the relevant officials just how effectively a huge car plant could help the local economy, how the farmland so uselessly given over to mere grain production could be so much better if it were covered in concrete and turned into factory sheds. Use the word “growth” at least once a sentence – this is very important to remember, you cannot say “’growth” too often – and point out how the illiterate farmhands will be trained in industrial production and get jobs as engineers and quality-control professionals in your factory. With a little prodding, the government will even take over the land from the farmers and hand it over to you at a low price or even practically free. Then you’re ready to start production.
Unfortunately, there’s a hurdle before you can begin selling your excellent products. That hurdle is the public transport system I mentioned. Alas, the poor, and even much of the Muddle Class, are wedded to the concept of this socialistic hangover, so blatantly against the concept of free enterprise. However, a few words in the right ears should remove the problem by allowing the public transport system to fall into decay. Obviously, this effort should begin early, while you’re still setting up your factory, so that by the time the first car runs off the production line, the buses and commuter trains will be so poorly maintained, and running so badly, that the Muddle Class will be ashamed to be seen on them. They’ll be a nice, well-primed target for your cars, which should be at the low end of the price range.
Since the Muddle Class is out of the public transport equation, then, that socialistic monster can be allowed to deteriorate further, to the extent that the poor will find it more and more difficult to use it. For instance, how can even the poor depend on going to work when commuter buses are completely unpredictable, and break down on the way? It’s then that you ought to begin pitching your cheap, cheap cars at the poor on easy-easy terms. They won’t have an option but to buy.
And there’s the beauty of the scheme – when the Muddle Class discovers that the poor are driving, not just cars, but the same kind of cars as they, they’ll try and upgrade to bigger, flashier cars. Of course, you’ll be ready with your next, and higher priced series – won’t you?
And, yeah, about those farmers you were to take on as engineers? Just slip in a clause in the fine, fine print – the finest print you can find, god damn it – that they can be dropped if you find them unsatisfactory during the probation period. Make a big production of hiring them, have pictures pasted all over the media (money well spent, I can assure you) showing them grinning happily as they accept their appointment letters, and then quietly dump them over the months, in ones and twos. Nobody, I can assure you, will make a fuss. After all, how can illiterate farmers ever make engineers?
Yes, profit is easy to make, if you just know how.
All the best wishes for your enterprise, and please don’t push a slice of the action my way.
[*The poor translates here as people who still have some kind of roof above their heads and enough money to be able to feed and clothe themselves. It does not include the poor-poor, people so economically constrained that they might have no home, or savings of any nature, or must beg for food in order to sustain themselves. This underclass is of absolutely no use as a source of profit directly; however, by serving as a reminder to the poor of how low it’s possible to sink, they can be a source of indirect profit to you if the poor are frightened into spending money just to prove that they aren’t part of the poor-poor, just like the Muddle Class does to stay ahead of the poor. Otherwise, it’s better just to ignore them and let them die off.