The incremental Social Security crackup

If Social Security dies without foul play, it will be by a thousand cuts. Some junta of privatization mountebanks may yet be able to concern-troll the “trust fund” (actually a misnamed current account fund), the beneficiaries, or both and succeed in getting the system dissolved in the grand 1933 tradition of the Reichstag, but for political reasons this remains unlikely in the United States. There are still just too many politically engaged middle-class voters, i.e., prospective beneficiaries, who will throw a gigantic fit whenever some FIRE sector robber barron proposes scrapping the public gravy train. The mountebanks succeeded in getting the Mexican social security system privatized in 1997, but that was in a country with worse endemic public corruption, bureaucratic incompetence, and civic apathy. It’s a lot harder to trash a pension system that works in a country with a robust tradition of Bougie flipping his shit at the first proposal to cut transfer payments to the middle class.

It’s the thousand cuts that should worry us. Over the past half year, the oil industry payroll has sustained a Strawberry Mansion-style cut-that-bitch slashing:

All rigs employ men. All rigs contract with suppliers, transportation crews, machinists, etc. to work the rig. Those firms have vendors that supply them with equipment and services. An example you may have never considered is simple fire and safety consulting. Those guys train and can be contracted to fight fires on the rigs if need be, for a high price as it is dangerous. Mud logging is not a sex act but a recording of oil drilling data. It is a super safe job, it pays well and it employs men without college degrees. Shanking the oil price hurts marginal production, which hurts American shale production. This will hurt our employment numbers and the quality of employment in the American, Frankenstein economy. This will make SS numbers look much worse….

With many oil industry jobs reaching that 100K level, these men (and few women) are topping out SS tax payments into the system. You cut these jobs, and you have cut huge payers into the system when no other industry is hiring.

You think health care is going to fill the gap? Sorry, but many large health care systems have shed jobs and others have cut people back to under 30 hours per week to escape Obamacare. Three LPNs at 29 hours is like two at full 40 hours but no benefits! Large systems like Aultman Health spent the 2010 to present years spending money on capital equipment that they could then lay off employees, shedding payroll. They also have been buying clinics, laying off redundant staff while keeping critical skilled employees. This is happening all over America. Sorry to burst your bubble, but banking, education and government are all tapped, too. I work with a wide variety of sectors of our economy, and when I ask who is hiring, it is no one except the oil industry. There is no replacement for those great paying oil jobs.

In the nineties, the great official sleight of hand was to tout the creation of new “service sector” jobs, without saying a word about how poorly they paid and while studiously ignoring the chainsaw massacres that management was perpetrating on one unionzed factory after another. The thinking behind this tactic was that the public was too stupid to notice that the wages lost with the elimination of a $20/hour skilled machinist’s job couldn’t be replaced by an $8.50/hour job wiping the asses of the senile elderly or a $2.24-plus-tips waitressing gig at Denny’s. This propaganda managed to avoid totally blowing up in the propagandists’ faces because much of the American economy was converted into a gigantic pump-and-dump scam that created a bunch of borderline-bogus jobs for the nominally educated middle and upper-middle classes, with the tacit assumption that striving Mexicans would do all the real work.

The pump lasted until 2007 or 2008, when the seal started breaking and it couldn’t go on any longer. Ever since then, we’ve been in the dump phase, and the dump is being taken on us. Now we’re in a “Great Recession,” because calling it a Second Great Depression would be too honest and would provoke too much meaningful reform, and we’re getting our official economic news from mandarins who are able and willing to talk about a “jobless recovery” with a straight face, implying that the typical laid-off worker has enough real estate and stock holdings to make ends meet without a paycheck. The same well-paid useless eaters talk earnestly of a “sharing economy” that amounts to taking in boarders and turning one’s car into an illegal jitney cab with a goddamn pink mustache on the grille. If Americans were peddling apples out of sidewalk carts to make ends meet, at least they wouldn’t be giving a cut of the proceeds to a bunch of smug hipster marketeering asswipes in SoMa and contributing to the dot-com industry’s public corruption slush fund. Old-timey police protection rackets were more honest than this, and the cops didn’t go to work wearing fucking American Apparel.

The oil industry has plenty of destructive and unscrupulous business practices, but rather little of its bad behavior is directed at labor. On the whole, the industry treats its employees pretty well. BP has terrible workplace safety practices, as do the bottomfeeding fly-by-night wildcatting operations and oil patch contractors, but these are exceptions. They’re notorious among industry veterans who have overwhelmingly positive things to say about, say, Chevron and ConocoPhillips. Quite little of the industry is in the hands of people who are looking to screw the help. Given the inherent unpleasantness and danger of the work, oil industry operations in the US and Canada are generally run pretty ethically and pretty well, and even the less scrupulous companies tend to pay their employees well.

Labor relations in the oil industry have not gone at all in the direction of the meatpacking industry, which scours the world (not just Mexico any longer) for workers desperate and poor enough to risk life and limb doing grueling hard labor in a miasma of blood, manure, and toxic disinfectants. More subtly, oil companies aren’t known to do the sorts of seedy wage chiseling and quid pro quo extortion that are common in other industries. They don’t engage in the outright wage theft that is common in fast food and agriculture, or in the extortion of beer and sexual favors that unscrupulous agricultural labor contractors are known to commit against field hands in California. They aren’t known for the higher-end sexual quid pro quo that is rampant in Hollywood studios, or for the illegal use of unpaid interns in profitable capacities under the false guise of professional training. They don’t solicit unpaid “helpers” or “harvest buddies” because organic farming is groovy shit, man. They don’t get caught hiring illegal immigrants under the table as day laborers.

Even if they engage in such unscrupulous practices abroad, they keep their labor practices pretty damn aboveboard in the United States. It’s telling that their trade lobby isn’t involved in the campaign to flood the United States with cheap, compliant, intimidated foreign labor through “immigration reform.” Oil industry executives don’t publicly clamor for a higher H-1B visa quota, the way their counterparts in high tech do. Basically, they’re willing to hire Americans at market wages and not make a big fuss about how doing so is hurtful to their industry.

Somehow, the oil industry hasn’t gotten infested by managerial-class vultures. It has remained culturally Middle American, middle-class, and gentile, avoiding both shanda-fur-die-goyim Shylock infestations and planter-class “fix me another mint julep, Jemima, I’d hate to be dry for the whipping of that runaway” infestations. Part of this is a matter of luck, but this is also an industry that inevitably requires a high level of attention, initiative, and intelligence from its employees. A workforce that is by turn intimidated and recalcitrant just won’t do.

If other major industries weren’t so shitty to their employees, the oil patch payroll bloodbath wouldn’t be such a serious economic threat. As things stand, however, scrupulous farmers who do right by their employees do not have a voice in the agricultural lobby, and large parts of American government are in the pocket of wholesale thieves. The US oil industry is not one that we’re wise to clobber.

There’s allegedly a geopolitical purpose to the strangling of the world’s marginal oil producers, one having to do with the proxy strangulation of Vladimir Putin and all the Russias for which he stands. Good Lord is our government fucking stupid. We’re basically governed by people who jump in front of their mentally stable adversaries, put guns to their own heads, and shout, “Freeze or I’ll shoot!”

God only knows how we’re going to fix this. My main request is that, when Canada and Mexico are forced to divide and occupy the United States, Canada assume operational and policy control of the Social Security Administration. Maybe Russell Williams can take charge of it. He was quite a competent administrator, and at this point, I doubt that the colonel’s secret recipe could be any worse than what we already enjoy.

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