The ‘Jenga’ Analogy

purelyspeculationEarlier this week, I found myself playing a friendly game of Jenga. Well, not entirely friendly perhaps—it was naturally filled with all the taunting and tension so common to the game.

With each log I drew from the base with tremulous fingers, I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched the tower teeter and totter back and forth. But when it finally found its balance once more, the work was only halfway done.

After a brief period of respite marred only by a victorious sneer at my young opponent, it was time for me to finish my task. With the newly liberated block held delicately between my fingers, I raised it up and let it hover a moment above the top of the now lopsided and treacherous monstrosity we’d created.

Finally, I took a deep breath in and held it. The careful extraction was not my victory, for now I had to place the block on top—hoping against hope that the imbalance I had done to the tower’s base would not prove fatal.

Sadly, my hopes were dashed, and the tower came crumbling down. Wooden blocks scattered across the tabletop, and a squeal of unrestrained joy was loosed from the grandstanding lips of my tactless opponent.

‘If only I hadn’t had to put it on top’, I lamented. But that’s just the point here. It’s easy to cause imbalance. It’s far more difficult to deal with the consequences. When I’d slid the block out, I had created tension—specifically between the increasingly poor engineering of the tower, and the immutable force of gravity.

If it hadn’t been expressly forbidden by the sacrosanct rules of Jenga, I could have tossed the block lackadaisically over my shoulder and passed the buck onto the unaware child before me—forcing them to deal with the repercussions of my block choice.

“Again!” he cried, encouraged by his victory and likely reeling with a distinct sense of invulnerability.

But my mind was elsewhere, and time was not on my side. As I gathered up the blocks and began to replace them in the box, I turned to the clock on the wall to gauge my schedule. 11:00am—just enough time to get one last visit in before lunch.

Oh lunch: the vaunted reprieve from workday responsibilities. With a half-hour of stress-free liberty, my only significant choice would be where to eat. And if that’s the only conflict to resolve, things are pretty good in my books.

But as the last of the Jenga blocks was returned to its rightful place, my hunger-laden mind recalled suddenly the ongoing string of strikes and demonstrations against fast food operations around the world (Link).

Workers had taken to the streets, demanding delivery from the poverty level wages they had been faced with for far too long. The demonstrations were primarily peaceful shows of unity and hope—asking only a fair wage for a fair days work. But as is the leitmotif of any political discourse these days, the demand was mired in controversy and misgivings.

Among the myriad complaints aimed at the workers was the age-old notion of fiscal strain. The argument goes that if restaurants (and it should be noted here that the vast majority of those affected are multinational Corporations) were ‘forced’ to increase their minimum wage, the resultant loss of capital would have to come from somewhere else.

It’s a logical notion to be sure—money is finite after all, and if moved to one place, it must have come from another. The natural remedies, in the Corporate mind at least, are to lay off workers, increase prices, or decrease quality.

Of course, these options lead to long line-ups, inflated meal prices, and dangerously cheap ingredients. As images of soggy lettuce, smeared condiments, and dry, grey ‘all-beef patties’ danced before my eyes, my lunch options seemed somehow less appealing.

There is a problem with this key assumption however, and as so many problems are these days, it is tied to the fundamental structure of the Corporation. Guided by the anti-social leaning philosophies laid out in the ‘Friedman Doctrine’ (Link), a Corporation is structured with only one true responsibility—the shareholder. This means that with every decision a Corporation makes, it is obligated to ensure that the bottom line of share value is being increased.

In essence: no matter what the problem or potential solutions, the goal should be greater profit for the Corporation. Of course, this has historically led to a litany of grave injustices (Link), but just at this moment, it was my impending meal I was most concerned about.

And herein lies the problem. While it’s difficult to argue that workers aren’t entitled to a living wage—particularly in a world where an ever growing number of jobs are being pushed into the minimum wage bracket by increased automation and other factors—I still want a good meal.

But these desires are incompatible in the Corporate mind. You can’t have fair pay, good food, AND reasonable prices…at least not if stock prices are to continue rising.

And so it goes: as each year passes, Corporations continue to take money away from the bottom, while ensuring it also stays at the top. Increase the wages—lay off employees. Respect environmental regulations—decrease the quality of the product. Comply with fair tax regulations—jack up the prices.

You take a block from the bottom, and you put it on top.

The easy answer of course, is that Corporations should, and must, accept that as society changes and technology grows, sometimes they may see a decrease in overall profits. But this should be felt at the top—the shareholders and the CEO’s who are in dire need of learning that just as they claim that ‘a person doing a minimum-skill job deserves only a minimum salary’, so too must the directors of a decreasingly relevant franchise ultimately see a stall in their (still exorbitant) profit margins.

Of course, this isn’t what happens. While many of these fast-food franchises likely started out as very solid businesses offering a decent meal at a competitive price, they have long since grown unwieldy. As the towers of their Corporate offices rose higher into the skyline, their bases grew increasingly unsteady. And we’ve all seen the end result many times before. Eventually, the whole operation comes crumbling down. After all, no one wants to pay $14 for a shitty burger just so the CEO can afford to take a private jet to his island resort.

And this, better than anything else, illustrates the fundamental failing which has occurred in our conception of capitalism. Namely, the transfer of implicit company responsibility away from its customers—who rely on a strong and reliable base—to its shareholders—who care only for how high it can reach before they sell their shares and watch it all crumble from the vantage point of the next opportunity they make ready to despoil.

It’s a depressing thought to say the least. And so, as I slid the Jenga box into my bag and made off to my next visit, I made a decision. Today, maybe I could pass on lunch. I was hungry no doubt, but as I thought about the implications behind which barely-edible meal I’d buy, I found that my appetite was gone.

Fuck it, I’d just go hungry. After all, if the Corporations had it their way, that would be the fate of the lot of us.

-Brad OH Inc.


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