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Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?



We hear a lot these days about the 1% vs. the 99%. Wall Street is demonized. Arguments of the populist movement are widespread. CEO and administrative pay scales are out of whack with those of their workers. Many hard-working folks are often forced to work more than one job in order to make ends meet. Unemployment is (as always) a problem. It's a presidential election year, so most of these things are mentioned even more frequently than they would be. You get the idea. Times are hard, and money is tight.

But why is this?

It's the method du jour to point fingers of blame toward corporate fat cats. And, yes, their hands are none too clean in our current economic climate. But I think many of us need to look elsewhere for the source of the problems we face. As with many situations in life, a look in the mirror will often reveal the true culprits behind our economic downturn.

Take me for example. I recently switched smartphone devices, going from an iPhone to an unlocked Android phone. While browsing some online Android forums, a common tune began to appear, and that was of Android users extolling the bargain of shopping for apps in the Google Play store, as opposed to Apple's app store. You see, there are far more free apps for Android than there are for iPhone.

Mirror check # 1: How do you think those apps got on your phone? Someone had to create them. How are they supposed to make a living at it if they're free? This is why some apps are exclusive to the iPhone: it's the only way for the app developers to make money, even though Apple only has about a 40% share of the smartphone market. In order for app developers to be in business, they need to... you know... make money. Giving away apps on the Google Play store isn't a good business model.

How often will you hear of folks shopping at Wal-Mart, or online at Amazon.com because it's cheaper to do so than somewhere else, like a local grocery store or co-op, or electronics, music, or book stores? People can even get rather prideful of their thriftiness, going on about the good deals and every day low prices to be had. If only the local stores would drop their prices, etc., then maybe they'd consider giving them some business.

Mirror check # 2: How do you think places like Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, etc. are able to offer goods at such incredibly low prices? I know that none of you reading this are stupid. You have to have thought of this before. You're no doubt aware of the answers, yet choose to pretend as though you aren't. Heck, I do it, too, sometimes. People are paid extremely low wages so that we can enjoy our box of cereal or book at 25%-50% less than the place down the street. Only in March of this year did Amazon's founder and CEO agree that it was time to install air conditioning in their warehouses, so their employees who make sure we get our packages to the delivery folks expeditiously can... you know... work comfortably. Air conditioning?! It's 2012, for pete's sake!

Remember Steve Jobs? He's the man who helmed Apple through its recent years of dominance and innovation, so some of us can use shiny cool tech toys like iPhones, iPads and iMacs. Most of like such things, right? No harm in that, right?

Mirror check # 3: Part of the reason we can afford to enjoy such neat gadgets like the iPhone is that Jobs & Co. have their products assembled at the Foxconn plant in China. Why China? Because, as bad as the working environment can get in the United States, there are still enough regulations that make it less...um... productive... than it would be compared with, oh... China. Hence, supremely long working hours at Foxconn, along with very, very low pay, and it's no wonder that there have been suicides at the production plant. Word is that things are getting better. No word, however, on if that means we have to fork over a bit more money because of it.

What of our consumption of music? I will admit to jumping onto the iTunes bandwagon, but still purchasing CDs for some of my favorite selections. Although it's helped contribute to the death of the album experience, as well the brick & mortar music store, who can argue with the convenience of hopping on one's computer, purchasing the songs you want to purchase (at a really decent price), syncing them to your phone or music player, and having music on-the-go, at your fingertips?

Mirror check # 4: Music doesn't create itself. People write the songs that mean so much to us. They would like to have careers out of it. This means some sort of good income. 99 cents a song (or, even worse, free illegal downloading) doesn't help our favorite artists accomplish this. In fact, it's rather insulting. One need look no further than the remarks from country singer Vince Gill, made earlier this year, to have the issue made very clear:
"Income streams are dwindling. Record sales aren't what they used to be. The devaluation of music and what it's now deemed to be worth is laughable to me. My single costs 99 cents. That's what a (single) cost in 1960. On my phone, I can get an app for 99 cents that makes fart noises -- the same price as the thing I create and speak to the world with. Some would say the fart app is more important. It's an awkward time. Creative brains are being sorely mistreated."
It's not just "creative brains" being sorely mistreated. All of us are mistreating one another. We can attempt to lay the blame at our corporate and administrative overlords, and for sure they are perhaps getting more than their fair share. But there is more than corporate greed driving our economic despair. Our thirst for products at low prices is also to blame. In order for prices to be low, often times the pay, benefits and working conditions for employees suffers. As employees are members of society who need to buy things in order to live, they in-turn demand things cost less in order to afford them. It's a vicious cycle.

We're a cheap society. The least we could do is own up to it.

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