Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Trickle Up" Economics?

Sometimes, it takes me a while to let something settle into place.  I realize it's been a few days, then, since President Obama addressed a crowd, telling them that "'trickle down didn't work, and now we're going to let the wealth 'trickle up'," or words to that effect. I repeat, it's been a few days.  I'm sure if you want the direct quote, you can find it through the magic of search engines. I'm feeling unmotivated in that direction, tonight.

At any rate, I heard the speech, and it got the gears slowly grinding away in my personal, portable, organic, antiquated difference engine. "Trickle up..." I asked myself, "isn't that the system the Romans used?  Except that they called it 'patronage'." It really worked for them, too, didn't it? If you needed the plumbing in your building repaired, you paid your local patronus, your alderman, to make sure it was done, and you paid him very well if you wanted it done right.  You had to make sure there was enough to cover both the plumber's costs, and then the fee for the patronus having sent for him and granting approval.  Not enough money, and you ended up with the patronus sending his half-brother's moronic stepson to bollix things up "for the experience". Of course, over time, the patroni often fell to deeper corruption, demanding higher fees for less and less, assigning profitable work to their cronies (capable or not), and, in general, creating hell on earth for those clientelae who lived beneath them.

Of course, this doesn't happen today – unless, of course, you want to include systems like the infamous Chicago Machine.  Trust me, that still exists. In Chicago, the honest politician is the exception. Having lived in the Windy City twice in my life, I can attest to the daily news, in which one petty bureaucrat or another has been indicted for fraud, accepting bribes, or extortion.  Legend has it, when Da Mare, Richard J. Daley, was in charge of the Machine, the city benefitted greatly.  He took little or nothing from the till, himself, and made sure that, if somebody received a bribe, the payer received fair service for it. When he passed away, though, the machine continued to run itself without conscience, without limits, without a Machiavellian Prince to put the city before everything else, and the city saw failure.  Taxes, fees, graft were paid as usual, but streets were unplowed through the winter, buses and trains started failing to meet schedules, decay and crime rates rose.

The failure of Chicago to thrive as a city has its roots in many problems, but it doesn't help that you have what has been labeled one of the most corrupt city governments in the country, run by oft-indicted  or oft-named co-conspirators, drawing "modest" salaries for... uh... I'm sure they actually do something, sometimes.  Add to it, the highest sales tax of any major US city, place it in the top 20 most-taxed US cities, and then ask yourself one question: is it worth it to pay all that, for the pleasure of hearing an alderman and a mayor announce that they don't believe a business should be allowed to open in their town if it doesn't toe their current political line?  And, what happens when the political winds shift, and some other mindset or group is labeled "undesirable" – one you have close ties to?

Personally, I'm not overly fond of the idea of having "trickle up" trickle out to me, after I worked so hard to get away from it.  What about you: Do you really want to replace the American way with the Chicago way?

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