Friday, May 25, 2012

EUROPE AT A CROSSROADS - Austerity? and "THE YELLOW TEE SHIRT" from the Short Story Archive

Europe at a Crossroads

Right now, it looks like Europeans are saying “no” to austerity, and hopefully looking toward increased government pump-priming it improve their economies.  Their doing so seems to indicate that they are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary for their countries’ economies to survive.  They seem to be ready to permit their governments to default on their countries’ debts.  This is the case in Greece where a left wing government is likely to take power at the next election.  If Greece defaults on its debt, which is in euros, it will end up withdrawing from, or being thrown out of, the bloc of nations using the euro as their currency because of its refusal to follow their rules.  It will replace the euro with the drachma.  The drachma will not have a strong economic base and its introduction will probably result in inflation, as paper is printed with which to pay the nation’s obligations and to “prime” the economic pump. Other European countries may follow this scenario. Some of these countries do not have enough tax revenues to support the expense of running their governments whose costs include generous social benefits.         
Without “optional” austerity, borrowing to do this will no longer be an alternative. No one will lend them money without their first tightening their belts, which they do not want to do.   As a result, a scarcity of “real” money and printing of “faux” money will cause inflation to occur.  As everything becomes more expensive, spending will be reduced, and like it or not, austerity will then become automatic and not just a choice, as it is today. 

Digging out of such an economic morass will be more much difficult using a nation’s own weak currency than with the Euro, which at least is anchored in Germany’s solid economy.  For that reason, I believe Greece (and Italy, Spain, Portugal and possibly even France) will eventually bite the bullet, tighten their belts and work to strengthen their economies within the framework of the euro rather than with independent weak currencies.  
The alternative to this is the politically dangerous move to some form of redistribution of wealth through the mechanism of higher taxes.  European history is filled with lessons learned from attempts to satisfy the populace with some such form of wealth redistribution.  The results have been grim.

                                 Lenin                                           Hitler                                              French Revolution

It should not be ignored that in Greece, there exists a shadow economy, where tax evasion is a way of life, where business transactions are hidden and reportable banking and credit connections avoided.  It is estimated that these practices are the rule, rather than the exception, in a quarter of the Greek economy!  If this is stopped in Greece and elsewhere on the continent where it exists, it will be a large step forward toward economic recovery.

Jack Lippman


The Yellow Tee Shirt   (from my short story archives)

He unlocked the door and let himself in and tiptoed through the house.  It really wasn’t necessary since Sadie was not yet asleep.

“Ben,” she called out.  “You’re home early tonight.  It’s only eleven.  Thank God, too. I got something I wanna talk to you about.”

“What is it, Hon,” he asked as she came down the hall from their bedroom where she had been reading.  “And why the hell are you wearing that bright yellow tee shirt at this hour of the night.  Never saw you in it before.”

“I’ll tell you about it in a minute, but meanwhile, how was it tonight at the fruit packing plant?”

Bored sick with life at Coconut Commons, South Florida’s self-proclaimed foremost retirement community, Ben had gotten a job two weeks earlier.  Unable to find anything for which his background as a nuclear molecular biochemist had prepared him, he had settled for an evening job at the Palm Beach Fresh Fruit Company’s Lake Worth warehouse.  That firm distributed apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, oranges, plums and almost anything else that grows on trees to vegetable stores and supermarkets throughout Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin Counties.  His job was to put the little sticker on each piece of fruit leaving the warehouse the next day so that the scanner at the cash register in the supermarket where it would eventually be sold could identify whether it was a $1.89 a pound Fuji apple or a $1.59 a pound Delicious from Washington State.
“Oh, tonight was real fun.  I labeled about 2,000 Granny Smiths and then they put me on Santa Rosa plums, for the rest of the night.”

“I figured they did something like that, Ben.  I can see your shirt is all purplely from the juice.”

“Yeah, those plums squash easily if press too hard when you put the sticker on.  That’s why they put me on plums, tonight.  They know I’m good.  Some of those kids from Haiti squash every other plum they touch.”


Sadie smiled, taking his hand.  “They sure recognized talent when they hired you, dear.  But let me tell you what happened here tonight, and let you know about this damn yellow shirt.”

They sat down at the kitchen table and Sadie took out some of the cake leftover from Saturday night and poured them each a caffeine-free diet Coke over crushed ice.

“Ben, remember when we were on that two month cruise around the world last summer, and the Board passed a lot of stuff we didn’t even look at.”

“Yeah, Sadie. I remember,” Ben replied.  You know I gave up on the Board after that crew of jerks was elected last year.  Not one of them could put a label, even on a grapefruit, where I work.   A real bunch of dummies.  Anyhow, what did they do now?”

Sadie’s smile had disappeared.  “Ben,” she said.  “They passed a lot of crazy stuff.  You know, all the ones who were elected were Snowbirds, not like us who live here year round.  And I guess they want to look after their own kind first.”

“What d’ya mean, Sadie,” asked Ben, becoming more interested.

“Well, the block captain dropped by at about six, right after you went to work.  He left a couple of yellow tee shirts, one for you and one for me.  Like the one I am wearing.  He said we gotta wear them whenever we go outside.  All the people who live here year round got them.”

“And what about the snowbirds?”

“I guess they don’t have to wear anything special.”


“And what if I don’t want to wear a tee shirt, what then?” Ben, getting a little more agitated, asked.

“They gave us these buttons to pin on whatever we were wearing instead of the tee-shirt,” she explained, showing her husband two bright yellow plastic buttons, each about five inches in diameter with the word “Year-Rounder” printed on them. If we get caught within the community without wearing our tee shirts or buttons, they can fine us $50 for each occurrence and put a lien on our house if we don’t pay.  The shirts and buttons, the block captain told me, were to make sure the Snowbirds get preferred treatment.  He said they pay club dues and maintenance for twelve months a year but are only here for five or six months at most.  So they feel there ought to be some way for them to get their money’s worth during the time they are here.”

“And what does that mean, Sadie?”

“He said they this will make it possible for Snowbirds always to get seats in front for all of the shows, always go to the front of the line in the Coconut Commons Coffee Shoppe, get right on the exercise equipment in the gym no matter how many year round residents were waiting to use it, and always have chaises and umbrellas at poolside, even if it means asking a year round resident to get up. Same kind of thing goes for the tennis courts and the golf course too.  And oh, yes, the best places in the parking lots will be reserved for their cars, too.  We have to put these yellow stickers on our cars, and if we park them in a ‘Snowbird Only’ spot, we get towed and fined.”

By this time, Ben was visibly angry.  “They can’t get away with this shit.  It sounds like Nazi Germany,” he screamed.

“Don’t get your blood pressure up.  Let’s go to bed and maybe in the morning we’ll think of something,” Sadie said as she wiped the crumbs from the table.

But the next morning, Ben got up very early and left the house before Sadie was awake.  He knew what he had to do.  It wasn’t Ben of the crisp khaki shorts and golf shirt, his usual daytime attire, nor Ben, the fruit labeler wearing his faded blue jeans and old shirt stained with plum juice or some other residue of the fruit warehouse.  This was Ben of the grey slacks, blue button down collar shirt, regimental rep tie, lightweight blue blazer and polished cordovan loafers who strode into the Boca Raton regional headquarters of Monarch Industries, parent of the Palm Beach Fresh Fruit Company, carrying nothing other than the battered briefcase which, thankfully, he had brought with him to Florida.. 

“I have an appointment with Mr. Campanellis,” he said, addressing the receptionist.  “I am Dr. Benjamin Obolensky, and I represent the Sunbelt Foundation.”

“I have no record of that appointment,” the young woman replied, but impressed by the name of the nation’s leading think tank devoted to agri-business, she picked up the phone.  Within a few minutes, Ben was seated across the desk from the man who controlled the fresh fruit business in an area roughly equivalent to the old Confederacy, and whose corporate tentacles reached out to practically every fruit distributor in the country.

Ben explained how the entire fruit labeling process, which had been an expensive pain in the ass for the entire fruit industry ever since the supermarkets had insisted upon it, could be eliminated at Palm Beach Fresh Fruit and the 132 other similar warehouses which Monarch controlled, nationwide.  The answer was in the development of slight mutations in the fruit they were presently handling, through a relatively simple DNA altering procedure. This was closely related to the field in which Ben had received his Ph.D years earlier.  In fact, back in his days at the University, and later at the Sunbelt Foundation where he had been senior research director, he had all but finalized a similar procedure which, if adapted to the fresh fruit business, would enable the laser beam scanner at the checkout counter to look at a piece of fruit, and the proper price would be registered, without a label of any kind having been affixed to the fruit.  The Granny Smith apple would tell the scanner, “I am a Granny Smith apple and my code number is 2089.”  Of course, only an apple from a tree exposed to Dr. Obolensky’s DNA altering procedure would produce such an apple.

Ben knew that Palm Beach Fresh Fruit and Monarch Industries were spending a lot of money developing a machine to affix the labels to the fruit, without having to be touched by human hands.  This would enable the company to eliminate jobs like the one Ben had been working at in the evening.  Capable of putting a sticker on everything from a cherry to a watermelon in a microsecond, each installation would cost the firm about a million dollars.  And with over a hundred warehouses where the machines, if they could be perfected, would be needed, this meant big bucks.  Ben also knew his DNA altering process, including all research and development, government approval, as well as the cost of getting growers throughout the world to use his procedures, would cost far, far, less.


Well, to make a long story short, within a week, Monarch signed a contract with the Sunbelt Foundation, at which Ben was given the title of senior consultant-emeritus, and he ended up with a $5,000,000 fee for giving up his rights to his DNA altering process in addition to a guaranteed income of $1,000,000 a year, for overseeing the project.  The hitch was that he would be required to be in their San Francisco corporate headquarters about eighteen hours a week, but only during the height of the growing season, from May until October.  This made him very happy. 


Ben and Sadie bought a condominium on Knob Hill, from which they could see the Golden Gate Bridge, and enjoy San Francisco’s cultural attractions enormously.  When it gets a little chilly in the “City by the Bay,” however, they fly down to Coconut Commons to take advantage of Florida’s milder climate.  Ben, however, feels a pang of guilt every time he sees a resident wearing a yellow tee shirt or a yellow button.  But, the pain doesn’t last very long, as he and Sadie are pushed past half a dozen yellow-shirted year round residents, to the front of the line at the Coconut Commons Coffee Shoppe.                                        



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1 comment: said...

Being of only average intelligence and sometimes easily convinced of value in a new approach or line of reasoning, I have been fooled into initially accepting viewpoints that I have later determined to be wrong. Tom Baugh's was one of these. I feel certain it won't be the last, but I learn, adjust, and go on, trying my best to do what is best. Trying to understand and reason clearly. Always trying to adhere to honesty and truth, although my understanding of what is true may be flawed at times, until I know better.
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