Chapter Sixty-five

Consumerism and Fiscal Disorder

The American standard of living is a vague mental average of many
typical American life-styles and consumption patterns.
Between, say, 1870 and 1995, keeping always in mind that "American"
to us really means Everybody, almost everybody came
to possess a larger kit of things, greater bodily comfort in daily life,
more varied audio-visual entertainment, more years of schooling,
and less hassling from discriminatory agencies and hostile groups in
the environment. But 125 years? Six biological and
two memorial generations?

This progress carried along even the South, although the South still
included practically all of the 300 poorest counties in the United
States, and still lacked the ideology of the twentieth century for
economic advancement and social order.

These were huge achievements. They were and are paid for at great
cost. Nor do they mean necessarily the same to everybody. For
instance, I would include in "bodily comfort" improved medical and
surgical techniques, reliable cheap drugs like aspirin, a toilet in the
domicile, softer and more clothing, more bed-space, improved
heating and cooling at work and at home, riding in well-sprung
vehicles on smoother roads, and not much else that is major.

If we ask an explanation of this defined "progress," the answer seems
to be found in a dozen developments:

*Better organization and biochemical advances in agriculture;
*A variety of improvements in industrial design and organization;
*The facilitating concentration of people into urban centers;
*Real-time "capital" infusions through heavy immigration, whereby each
year on the average, an army of half a million able-bodied men
assembled itself at various embarkation points and landed in the New
World and finding low-paid jobs;
*Exponentially faster exploitation of forest, mineral and metal resources;
*Economic imperialism abroad;
*The accumulation of goods such as homes and schoolhouses, despite
wasteful habits;
*And the exponential increase in personal and business credit, and
government borrowing into the future.

In 1959 the top 4% of households earned as much as the bottom 35%
all together. In 1989, the top 4% of households earned as much as the
bottom 51%. In 1984, the top fifth of American households earned
48.2% of the national income, the
bottom fifth just 3.6%.

The trend to inequality continued no matter how measured. In the
decade of the 1980's, the number of people who earned between
$20,000 and $50,000 rose by 44%, of those earning $200,000 to
$1,000,000 went up 697%. In 1920, 156 earned over $500,000; in
1929, 1489 did; in 1989, 183,240 did. In regard to household
wealth, the top 1% of households owned 29% in 1970, and
36% in 1989.

The average Chief Executive Officer of America's 100 largest
corporations earned in 1994 walked away with a total compensation
of $3,554,000. One student had it that to be of the leisured rich you
needed an income of $400,000 per year, which would presume a
basic wealth of $10 millions. Roughly equivalent figures were valid
for the whole period 1870 to 2000.

Congress greatly decreased taxes on the rich between the 1950's
and the 1990's. Meanwhile, tax burdens from all state, local and
federal taxes on middle-class families rose to two-fifths of their
incomes. The course of politics, the mythological thought process of
the middle classes and media, and the declining place of the U.S. in
the world economy seemed to assure that its tax problems would
continue beyond the pre-millennial decades into the future.

Yet, by comparison with its sister summit economies, using the
measure of the total Gross Domestic Product divided by total tax
receipts, the USA with 30% has been lowest, Japan a little above;
Germany, Britain, Italy and Canada ran around 37% in 1990,
Sweden, 56%.

It will be remembered that the U.S. finally adopted a Progressive
income tax just before World War I. The tax was low. "Soak the rich"
was imputed to be the New Deal slogan, but in fact rates were low for
the well-to-do, as the New Deal spent sums that today would be
considered modest. World War II jumped rates.

High rates continued until the 1980's, a decade of greed,
ostentation, takeovers, leveraged buyouts, and savings and loan
bank failures. Rates, especially of the rich, were then inexcusably
lowered. Property taxes and sales taxes were on the rise, putting onto
the lower-middle and poor classes more
expenses of government.

A typical example occurred in New Jersey when an upper-class
(defined as a high-scorer in wealthiness, formal education, and
old-family exclusive social circles) Republican lady named Christine
Todd Whitman discovered that she could win the Governorship of
New Jersey in 1994 in a race she was losing by telling a whopping lie,
that she would reduce state taxes by a third -- in the face of large
deficits -- and still balance the budget.

The gullible electorate let her slip in, and, in looking for ways to
escape the trap she had set for herself, she announced that
she would effect billions of dollars in savings by using several
billions of dollars from the State employees' pension fund to balance
the budget, a "No-no!" to respectable economists and informed
citizens. Her income tax reductions also forced local school districts
and governments to raise their taxes on real property.
Her tactics here emulated and in turn inspired
hundreds of related actions in other places.

Budgets continued in perennial deficit. The national debt mounted
steadily. (Deceit and extravagance were not uniquely American; few
countries balanced their accounts or reduced their debts.) In 1960, $9
of every $100 of tax revenues went merely to pay interest on the
public debt. (State and local debt financing was costly as well.) But by
1991, $30 went into interest for every $100 in federal revenue. And
this interest-income was tax-free. Most of this huge interest payment
went to the well-to-do citizens, since few bonds are owned directly or
indirectly by the poorer half of the population, but the poor were
blamed for causing the bonds to be issued.

The hypocrisy of Presidents and Congressmen was particularly
acute and evident. Although the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act of
1985 imposed automatic spending cuts if the government did not
reduce the deficits substantially each year, and President Reagan
happily foretold their elimination, a real deficit of $283 billions
occurred in the next year and was concealed by using Social Security
funds, put aside for the future.
The USA wavered over separating social security funds
from regular Treasury receipts or segregating them.
If segregated, and not used for seeming to reduce the deficit,
budget limitations will seem more urgent. Moreover,
it would be easier for advocates of
de-governmentalizing governmental activities
to persuade the public that these funds were personal
and could be placed beyond governmental control in the hands
of commercial investment funds.
If unsegregated, social payroll collections might be used
to balance the budget, whereupon loose spending practices
and more governmental activities would be promoted;
then, at some future time,
taxes must be voted to pay for old age and health benefits coming due.

All the world decried
deficits, and the mounting national debt of nearly
seven trillion dollars gave mocking reply.
Even President Clinton in 1998 let slip the prayer
that stock market prices should continue to spiral upward
to let tax revenues keep up with spending.
At this moment in time, the leaders of the government
were breathing softly that a budget surplus was about to be
realized in Fiscal Year 1999.

Both government deficits and debts were grand illusions of the times.
They would probably not end, because the basic programs
causing deficits would not be annulled, and deficits increase debt;
they cannot repay it. Meanwhile, opposition to new taxes,
in times of prosperity as well as in times of recession,
except in wartime, would be furious.

A long memorial generation ago, spitting mad at the New Deal, the
rich with their media and politicians brayed
incessantly, "You can't beat Santa Claus!" By the end of the
century, they were playing Santa Claus to themselves,
while the people consumed greedily their own
substance and their future.

Not only were taxes regularly met with heavy resistance
by the powerfully placed wealthier classes and even more
by the self-pitying working class
(sentimentalized by the press), but taxes raised
high enough to reduce the deficit and pay any part of the
debt would be deflationary, and cause an immediate
decrease in tax collections. So then the deficit would
hardly be affected or might even be increased.

A new game of fiscal default brink was played as the deficit and
debt mounted: Threaten to default on the debt, so to force spending cuts.
The President's fiscal authority turned out to be strong and slippery
enough to find cash and credit in places that hurt the opposition's
policies. Anyhow, for the U.S. to default on a debt would be like
the sky falling.

Over a rocky quarter-century world-wide, only seven nations had
defaulted: for political and revolutionary reasons, as the USA itself
forced the vanquished States to default their war debts in 1865, so
too North Vietnam to South Vietnam, but also in the face of
rampant inflation, to wit, Argentina and Brazil.
Russia evaded ex-Soviet Union debts.
Many countries were threatened, as interest on
domestic and foreign debt ate up current
receipts of their governments.

A simple lesson seemed incomprehensible
to most economists and the press:
deficits were inverse methods of paying for programs
when increased taxes were taboo.
Hence irresistible spending required deficits,
and without deficits the social welfare state would collapse.
So, in examining the psychopathology of the national debt and
deficit one must look into their subterranean functions.

The extremely rapid growth of indebtedness in good times and bad, in
wartime and in peacetime, indicates that an effective means of
restraining and reducing mass anxieties, and therefore repressing
demands for radical measures by the masses against rich families
and corporations, has been found. The hugest government borrowing,
and the smallest credit car item, each, in its own way,
performs this magical therapy.

With incompressible costs, the most likely
disposition of both deficit and debt would be inflation.
No one could foretell when this storm that
has been gathering for a full memorial generation would break, but,
if and when it did, it would wipe out hundreds of
millions of individual and collective private and
public obligations, and everyone could start over
again to spend and incur new debts.

Consumer credit ran hog-wild. Credit card issuance rose
astronomically in the last decades of the millennium. Millions of
middle-class Americans incurred all the debt that increasingly loose
bankers would let them have. In the "reckless" twenties, a salaried
clerk or worker could hardly borrow a modest sum to purchase a
home or car; by the 80's he could borrow simply on his record as a
gradual re-payer of debt for everything from medicine to yachts.

The savings rate of Americans was the lowest in the
group of rich countries. Half of adult
Americans had life savings of under $3000.
Over $3000 per household was owed
on credit cards, averaged in 1996.
At one point in 1998 Americans spent in toto
more than they earned, a phenomenon not witnessed
since the pit of the depression in 1933.

America began the twentieth century as a net exporter;
her goods were to be found all over the world and
caused anguish among British, German and other competitors.
It ended the century with decades as a
net buyer from the world.

American consumers were the major factor in these deficits.
Government spending abroad on behalf of the military and foreign
aid programs accounted for some of the rest. Enormous annual deficits
of foreign trade were incurred - amounting for example to $152
billions in the peak year of 1987 and $84.3 billions in 1992 -
that had to be paid for by selling U.S. assets abroad or by
borrowing at home or abroad.

Of the trillion dollars of consumer credit - retail charges,
mortgages, car-loans, etc. - an immense debt that was abetted
cordially by the Federal, State and local governments,
the principal beneficiaries for the first time in U.S. history
were the lower middle class (white-collar and blue-collar)
semi-skilled workers and minuscule businessmen.
The rich and poor did not gain, nor minorities.
They lost much in this process.

It was a trillion-dollar subsidy taken on by the total economy and
government. It grew in fury after World War II and lasted more or
less 50 years before showing heavy strain, as the mythical promise
of future earnings became less and less believable as
collateral for the loan. Tricky methods were devised to
allow credit to unreliable borrowers, however.

Americans spent their money this way on average: 41.4% for
housing (too much), 17.4% for food and beverages (dubious diets,
but cheap), 6.93% for medical care (not counting public spending),
6.01% for apparel and upkeep (fashions and soaps), 17.1% for transportation
(exhausting), 4.35% for entertainment (98% of which was vulgar),
6.9% on other goods and services.

The well-to-do spent their money remarkably in the proportions of
the poor - less of a proportion on food and beverages. A family of
four, with one or two salaries totaling $100,000 in 1995 would often
pay $30,000.00 in direct taxes, leaving $70,000.00 which would go
$30,000.00 for a four-bedroom-home mortgage, utilities and
maintenance, $15,000.00 for car and other transportation, leaving
$10,000.00 for food and entertainment, and $15,000.00 for
education and travel.

Such figures have at least a little more of the quality of life than the
Gross National Product, Gross Domestic Product, Cost of Living
Index (CLI), etc. For instance, the more you became addicted to
gambling, the more you contributed to the first two indices
of well-being and distorted the CLI.
Casinos legally invaded most States and Puerto Rico.
Soon, according to a trend that seemed to
be heading for a peak as the twenty-first century came on, the
sprawling grotesque gambling casinos
would be found in most major cities and many resorts and
Indian reservations of the country.
Forty-eight states had legalized
gambling in lotteries and horse and dog racing.
Gambling quickly entered the Internet, too.

The gambling economy passed $482 billions over to the
Gross Domestic Product. State government lotteries
enlarged the gambling effect and gave millions of citizens otherwise
quite indifferent to civic affairs a sense of the existence of the State.
The television audiences watching the drawings every evening around
the country were larger than those watching the returns on the much
rarer occasions of elections.

The class that bought lottery tickets contained the largest proportion
of non-voters; if one wished for the largest turnout at elections
without making voting compulsory, one would require a proof of
having voted at the last election for the purchase of lottery tickets.
The typical gambling addict was an aging man
with a moderate income of over $20,000.
Five million Americans were compulsive gamblers,
with an illness as hard to cure as alcoholism,
and 15 million people were considered at risk.

Many forms of individual spending were downright silly.
Furthermore, consumerism, if maximized, could deteriorate and
even bankrupt the nation, and lead to complete pusillanimity in
world affairs. That military spending can break a nation, we know
from the Soviet experience; that heavy social security and medical
payments can, is increasingly plain.

Even the enormous cattle and pork herds, with their impoverishment
of the soil and diminution of the water supply, are insufferably
costly, especially when they are a principal source, with their
flatulence, of the methane that is causing global warming and
damaging the ozone layer. The automobile - let us not speak of it;
nor of some of the extravagant kinds of medical attention.

Consumerism, the consumer and service society, did not zero in on
vital problems by any means. For instance, while 76% of the elderly
householders owned their own homes (using up an excessive and
lonesome 965 feet per person), 30% of elderly renters paid over half
their income in rent, 30% lived in subsidized or public housing, and
30% were poor. Persuading and forcing the old to give up their
housing to enter retirement and rest homes were the usual solutions.

Much of what consumers spent went to pay salesmen and
advertisers. America was always a land of hype. Benjamin Franklin,
hero of a thousand faces, was a clever avid advertiser of his own
and other people's products, and recommended increasing one's
advertising for selling anything, even slaves.
The more full-blown American society became, the more advertising
could take on the contours of a ballooner; every device of
communications, which grew exponentially in the twentieth century,
was seized upon by hucksters:
fax machines were no sooner installed in a few thousand places
than they began to spew out someone's ads;
e-mail followed suit;
computers did well to boost the low-returns of
telephone-selling agencies by tirelessly dialing and talking.
Internet carried multitudinous ads around the Earth
to business and personal computer screens.

Advertisers, these less desirable performing artists and decorative
artists, whose high pay rates lured and spoiled many a potentially
distinguished creator, defined values and destroyed honest, purposeful
behavior. Advertisers grasped the fact, that 90% of the people live
principally to enjoy consumption - even if half of them take a little
time off to get next to Jesus, a relationship sold also by the hucksters'

The "Letterman Loss" is typical of the crazed consumer scene: in
1993 the GDP was $6.325 trillion. Roughly 4,690,000 million
Americans of the civilian work force, or nearly 4%, lost an hour of
sleep because of CBS moving the David Letterman show to a late
hour, which, because of extensive sleep deprivation (a "serious
problem") cost $25 billions of output.

When the staggering television network, CBS, its audience slipping
away, was gobbled up by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in
1995, the Chairman of the whole shebang, M.H. Jordan, proclaimed
that its three new main policies would be
"ratings, ratings, and ratings."

Next year, this century-old electric and energy systems firm
was trying to sell these sluggish elements and go farther
into media operations. Here was one more of hundreds of instances
in which the old mega-capitalist concept of building horizontal or vertical
combinations in the same kind of industry - steel, vehicles, and so forth -
was being replaced by the fully financial concept of selling out
any and all older operations in order to transfer one's capital
to new stock market favorites. Understandably pride and morale
in the old operations, still vital to the nation, degenerated.

Functionally as well as geographically, money and capital
were becoming absolutely free and instantaneous phenomena.

Advertisers, worse than bottom line money maniacs,
became the sellers of all values, competing and outdistancing
often the school systems, the entertainment and sports world,
the family, the ministers, certainly the politicians, leaving
then only the peer groups, themselves minions of the hucksters.

The advertisers sold through every conceivable outlet; like water
they could find any crack or seam and get through it: fabricators of
myths, games, emblems, habits, foods, books, ideas, philosophies -
total infestators of the environment.

Their collective, well-organized network of power could intimidate the
greatest media: the New York Times published, like any Iowa weekly,
ads that devoured full pages to sell messages it would never print as
news; glaring for even the blind to see, money could buy space and
headlines, a confession, every day of the year, that the newspaper was
unfit to survive in the economy of which it was proud, unless it gave
itself over to moneyed interests.
Magazines could confidently guarantee advertisers a circulation of,
say, 400,000, knowing that its own ad agency could,
adding whatever campaigning was required,
raise a slumping demand back to the guaranteed level.

Mother's Day, Father's Day, age groups finely sliced by scientific
marketeers, manufacturers of generations - who was young,
middle-aged, senior - assassins of honest, purposeful character,
breakers of culture into bite-sized pieces, tens of thousands living high
off the hog, with a contributing membership to the Museum of Modern
Art to license their cultural leadership: lo, the advertisers!
Generally mute advertising models have replaced the
glamorous stars and entertainers as the role models of choice of
under-educated girls.

American advertising could count on a disposition of Americans, from
the earliest days, to waste. They had earned a bad reputation around
the world for the trait. The trait is so abnormal that one seeks its
origins. The Indians were not savers, though
the pot-latch mentioned in Chapter Three was unique.
They did not collect in order to waste, which was the
pathological condition many Americans arrived at.
"Never mind, there's plenty more where that came from."

Moreover, it was scarcely blameable on the rich, who had always
more than their share of stinginess, string-saving and nice care of
property. Perhaps the lust to consume owed its virulence
to the fear that one lacks other values: health, respect,
knowledge, power, and even wealth.
An inferiority complex.

The great majority of people who set foot on these shores
were forced into great anxiety over death at sea,
disease, accident, violence, lack of medical attention.
No easier a target, even then, for quack and fakir.
So, too, one had always been "keeping up with the Jones" (respect),
showing awareness of the latest styles
and gadgets (knowledge and culture), making politicians,
corporations, shopkeepers, and delivery boys kow-tow (power).
Then, to convince oneself one was rich, one had to
spend and spend.

So the lack of a sure identity, present from the beginning in nearly
all Americans, drove people to purchase, thus then to be
known by one's possessions. An ever-changing (really
unchanging) character could surround itself with all the
possibilities lent by an ever-expanding market that was
advertised by an ever more sophisticated selling system
to change into a somewhat slightly or greatly different ego,
thus obtaining higher rank in respect to all
human values - "clothes make the man."

Values which boosted the consumption of goods, such as family,
health, entertainment, physical exercise, beauty, social status,
happiness, were heavily promoted, those which did not foster
consumption tended to become unexpressed or even obsolete.

Disappointment, disgust, and simple pragmatic observation of the lack
of satisfying consequences of all of this consumption behavior led
Americans to waste and more waste. Many were the calculations of
the huge masses of everything - from thousands of giant military
airplanes and ships to yesterday's bread (shameful to serve) - that
Americans threw away.

Domestic waste was, of course, paralleled by extravagant office and
industrial waste. It is conceivable that 40% of everything consumed
on the American continent has been wasted - either a waste of non-
utility to begin with, a waste in process of use, or a waste in non-use
and disposal. This is a large proportion of the GDP, which is the
most-used indicator of a nation's wealth and well-being.

Thousands of bureaucrats were gathered to work upon an ever-
elaborating agenda. In 1962, President Kennedy could announce
proudly a Consumer Bill of Rights. But all the world was a consumer,
so all were "helped." There were issues of scarcity, like the "best buys"
for the poor; of abundance, like informing the
consumer of the relative benefits of panoramic product lines; of
processes whereby consumers could obtain justice and redress, and
of research of many kinds into the hard-sell, hype,
profligate packaging, etc.

The majority of women worked at least sixty hours per week
at offices and factories and at home. Their decisions of the week
numbered scores; they had to please irascible young and old
clientele, so unquestionably they needed help. But the Fuller Brush
Man was largely dispossessed by the supermarket mall,
giant all-purpose stores, housewife-cars driven over fast roadways,
and working wives. The Home Department general store of
Paramus, New Jersey, in 1995
took up the size of two football fields,
inventoried 35,000 products, sold $40 million worth of them in a year,
was open 15 hours a day, and employed 300 workers
. Governments became more and more the giant image of
the Fuller Brush Man as counselor,
with less emotive charge, alas.

To compare personal spending with government spending, in the last
decade of the twentieth century, the Federal government spent about
$1.5 trillions annually and collected about $1.25 trillions, borrowing
the deficit and applying it to the national debt of some $6 trillions.

There had been little change of significance since the beginning of
the Cold War, a generation earlier. Money was spent roughly in the
same proportions, with the total in real dollars expanding by a small
fraction each year on the average. Most years showed a deficit.

The largest sums went for military affairs (national defense), a
considerable sum for veterans' benefits.

The total all together of
spending on labor and welfare functions, natural resources,
commerce, housing, and running the presidency and Congress,
roughly equaled the over 10% that went into
interest payments on the national debt.

Social security and other pensions, and Medicare
spent sums nearly equaling military spending, thus making this
category the second largest of the different kinds of spending.

Social welfare programs were a poor third.

Spending for highways,
flood control, harbor works - infrastructure generally - was
considerable; whether paid out by federal departments or through
grants to states, they had always been the pork of the "pork barrel."

Conservation, scientific research, space programs, health research, and
education received regular support. Agriculture and business
subventions were many; the arts and humanities received little; drug
control was expensive, law enforcement and general government a
mere two cents on the dollar spent.

The federal government got its money from personal income taxes (a
third); social security, Medicare, unemployment and other retirement
taxes (another third); excise, estate, etc. taxes (under
10%); corporate income taxes (under 10%); and borrowing (20%).

I have said that sooner or later an inflation must be unleashed against
debt, public and personal. Yet it would be not because of
normal inflation which, remarkably, held to low levels for various
reasons, like discount shopping, cheap imports, and increased
efficiency in production and distribution.

The crisis would occur because the outside world would have to
cease or refuse credits to Americans, realizing that no end to deficits
was politically possible; this action would be contagious, and would
lower prices and drive business into a depression.

With less buying and widespread debt, governments would be
forced to cheapen (deflate) its currency to pay for its own debt,
and to enable the mass of consumers to pay their
debts and buy things.

The remarkable effect to be feared is that even inflation would not
inevitably bring a renewed brisk economy, based upon a restored
equilibrium. One of the first acts of President Roosevelt's New Deal
was to deflate the dollar's value in terms of gold. The expected
result did not occur. Prices did not escalate; money did not circulate
in vaster quantities. We sense, therefore, that when the critical
moment comes, when heavy inflation is in order, fiscal policy alone
should be shunned, and basic social and political
reforms should be engendered.

Tax laws and regulations became fearfully complicated within the
mnemonic lifetime. Thousands of pages, hundreds of thousands of
trained bookkeepers, accountants and lawyers interacted with
devastating effect upon the ordinary pleasures and profit of existence
for the upper and middle classes, the lower order being more
terrorized than damaged by the might and apparition of the taxocracy.
Rather over 120 billion dollars was estimated to be the cost to business
of complying with federal tax requirements alone.

Accounting and reporting demands grew to be not only
the greatest of nuisances but also a warper of decisions, a sneak-thief of
efficiency, a diverter of attention from the proper business at hand. It
was said more and more of business in America that it could be
managed by any manager, manipulated by any accountant and
financier, no matter what the substance and product involved, these
latter being the concern of a diminished class of people who knew
with what materials and processes they were dealing.

For small companies, the cost of compliance with Federal tax laws
alone amounted to $390 for every $100 paid in to the government
and this sum was eaten up by the state's own collectors and
enforcers; furthermore the same small business had to cope with
state and local tax requirements.

Nothing less than a radical reconstruction of the U.S. tax system
would suffice, and of this there was no whisper in legislative halls, or
at least no voice that could be heard from among the usual banal
groans and motions to amend. With regard to personal income
taxes, a sudden flurry of agitation for a "flat tax" occurred in 1995-96;
the idea was ostensibly to simplify the tax-system and remove
inequities against the "middle classes." Every taxpayer was to pay
the same rate of tax on income, 17% according to one plan. When it
became plain that few besides the upper 10% of the population
would benefit and that the revenues of the government would be
crippled, the excitement diminished.

A total suspension of taxes for corporations of under fifty million
dollars annual gross revenues would be an effective simple
beginning to corporate tax reform. Total abolition of the
corporate tax would be even more efficacious to creativity,
productivity, and substantively rational business policies.

This is not to say, however, that the personal and social value of
corporate product should not be measured and regulated.
Few leaders would touch upon this, the most delicate of subjects:
what was good and bad for people to produce and consume.
However, they would on occasion declaim against the
gargantuan wastage of national resources
and energies happening in the military sector.

Business concerns themselves frequently fell among the exploited
elements of late twentieth century America. The racketeers of the
Roaring Twenties were pikers by comparison with the financial
manipulators of the late century. Corruption and greed suffused
American business from the 1970's into the 1990's, despite the
horrendous mountain of government regulations.

The Simplicity Pattern Co. that for half a century provided patterns
for home-sewing from Niles, Michigan, was beaten about, bought
and sold, stripped of reserves, picked apart, until skeletal and
abandoned by the financiers, lawyers, courts, and managers who had
bustardized it.

These were the racketeers such as preyed upon small and medium
business: respected, prestiged classes of lawyers and judges,
accountants, financiers, adventurers, predatory cronies and
treasonable managers. The Simplicity Pattern case was one of
thousands of instances of system failure - bad genes, one might say.

It was seeming to become easier to snatch control of
companies with useful products, cannibalize them, and retreat with
the loot. Equal time was given in the most respectable financial
press, the Wall Street Journal, for instance, to those who advocated
that somehow this Hunnish behavior must be
good for the economy and people's morals.

Changes were noticeable in the American character
in these last decades of the century,
when consumption patterns were under study.
People were transacting and simultaneously responding to some
change overall. Massive doses of psychological therapy, popular
psychology in the media, and a general disaffection among the young
for at least two biological generations, among other
influences, have appeared to create more Americans who were self-
aware, the first step in character-change on a large scale, an almost
impossible step for everyone to take.

There seemed to be less materialism and more attention to the quality
of life, at least in the growing intelligentsia, but this might be found,
too, among the growing number of people who gave up trying to beat
the system. The wife at home had been largely replaced by the working
wife. The husband had, as a result, become feminized into taking on
abandoned functions; role-sharing in buying, child-tending, and home-
making generally. Home cooking became more cherished;
diet went from "victuals" to "cuisine," changing for the better in the most
educated and hypochondriac sections of the population. Meanwhile,
the number of single adult households was increasing and, in
proportion, there were developing individualized
personal property kits..

If anything, the tendency to spend was gaining over the inclination
to save. Institutions and governments were supposed to take on the
functions of saving for the individual. Yet these were inflating like
blowfish. Without a basic reconstruction of the economic system, most
Americans would be living by the skin of their teeth in another
two generations.