Tuesday, June 24, 2014

                     Hunger Games



        A recent movie, Hunger Games, portrays an imaginary country in the future where one lives luxuriously in the country’s capital while the farmers and miners in the remote provinces are literally starving to support the high style of the central city.

        This unequal system is maintained by public spectacles, the so-called Hunger Games included. In these annual games young persons selected by lot from every part of the country are let loose in dark forests with plenty of weapons but little else. The victor is the person who emerges alive after killing all the competitors.

        A recent story about seating on airplanes echoes the future society of the Hunger Games. Many airplanes have seating in the cabin, in business class, and in first-class. First-class passengers are likely to pay 10 times the price of passengers in the cabin class. There the airlines keep shrinking the space allotted to each passenger. In first-class, on the contrary, seats will now convert to flat beds for a comfortable night's sleep. Passengers are fed by renowned chefs and tranquilized with expensive champagnes.

        I have no problem with people who pay 10 times what I paid for my flight being pampered in ways barely imaginable to me. But then I start thinking where the money comes from to pay for these luxurious seats. A large portion of these fancy Dan seats are paid for by businesses. It is not only the 1% that pays for such excessive luxury but the treasuries of large corporations who pamper their CEOs and other chief employees.

        How can the corporations afford this? Are they not supposed to be "lean and mean"? What happens in the airplane, happens at work. This CEO gets a seat that costs 10 times what the employee in cabin class pays. The CEO flies in luxury; the employee sits in a cramped seat. At work the employee gets paid as little as possible. Their benefits continue to be reduced. Their job security continues to be diminished. The CEOs paycheck gets fatter.

        As a consequence, the Corporation makes money hand over fist and can pay for luxury seating on the airplane for the CEO. It's Hunger Games all over. The luxury in the capital is made possible by starvation in the countryside. Here the luxury in first-class is made possible by the real discomfort in cabin class and the Corporation can pay for excessively expensive seats for the CEO by continuing to squeeze their workers. (Those squeezed the most travel by bus; they do not even get on the  airplane.)

        Hunger Games is not about the future. It is about our world today.
What keeps us going are not fights unto death on television but the increasingly bitter struggle for any work at all, let alone for decent work. A significant number of college graduates are doing minimum-wage work. The unemployment rate is going down because more and more people stopped looking for work. Business interests are putting up a major fight against raising the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour. A living wage is not even under consideration.
As in the world of the Hunger Games the majority in ours is made to lead starkly difficult lives for the sake of luxury for the few.