May 28, 2004
Joe was happy bicycling home. At 16, he had just been given his very first paycheck. . He had spent late afternoons and evenings the last week working after school bagging groceries at a supermarket. He had been hired at $7 per hour, and had clocked 20 hours.
He constantly heard his parents talking
about "middle-class American" values like working for a living, being self-reliant,
and saving money. He felt proud that he could now say that he was
like them. He enjoyed telling his friends that he now had a job.
In his room, he tore open the envelope, expecting to count out $140. He
couldn't wait to help contribute to his family's expense. He even
began to think about paying his parents for the share of food that he consumed.
He decided that he would save a certain percentage of all the paychecks
that he would ever make. But as he looked at the numbers,
something seemed amiss....
An old, fat, white man was suddenly beside him. The man looked a lot like what Joe thought Santa Claus looked like, back when Joe was gullible child.
"Hi, I'm Sam, and you'll find somewhat less than one hundred forty dollars in there."
"How did you know how much money I earned?"
"Your employer Mr. Sullivan told me."
"Because I forced him to."
"What else did you do?"
"I forced him to give me some of the money that he was going to put in that envelope for you."
Joe felt a menacing chill. He didn't feel physically threatened by the stranger, but his joy had vanished. "What are you going to do with the money?"
"Lots of good things. None of those things will help you, though, just my friends. I will give you an IOU today, and give you back the money in the future."
"Oh, in about fifty years or so."
"Can you at least let me know what you're spending my money on this week?"
"Well, my biggest problem is all those IOUs that I've been giving out to people over the last fifty years. I've got to pay for those."
"You mean that you do this to all working people?"
"And you've been doing this for a long time?"
"For many years."
"My parents keep saying that I should save money on my own, or invest it."
Sam began to laugh. "That sounds wonderful, but really you're just a middle class family. You don't get to keep or save money. I do. That's why I'm here. And I'll be here every paycheck you will ever make."
"This isn't right. You just agreed that my family is middle class. Why don't you visit the Parkers? They're rich. You can get more from them, and they won't even notice it."
Sam laughed again. "I know them well. How do you think they stay rich? They don't actually work. Of course they manage to increase their wealth in other ways, but they don't get wages each week or month. They invest and move money around. I need them on my side. They’re the ones that help run my whole system. No, I only collect from people who actually earn a paycheck every week or month."
"Hey, Doctor Teller works! He's a nice man, and he makes a lot of money."
"Yes, I do collect from him. But since he makes enough to be considered upper-middle class, more than a certain base amount, I take a smaller percentage of his paycheck than I am from you."
"What percentage is that?"
"I tell people that it's just over six percent, but I really make Mister Sullivan give me double that."
"Wow, that's a lot. If I took over twelve percent of everything I earned for the next few years, then I could save plenty of money, and buy my own house, and not need to worry about money fifty years from now."
Sam seemed to get angry. "Quit your figuring! Stop thinking and just hear me out. In order for me to come up with the money to pay out the IOUs that came due this week, I need to get that money from you. To make it easier on you, I'll also give you these juicy pork chops that I brought."
"Why don't you just not take money, and then not buy and give out pork chops?"
Sam snarled. "You don't get it, do you? If you don't become dependent on me then I don't have economic power over you." He smiled dreamily. "And I LOVE economic power. I can do anything I want."
"Look Joe, just keep repeating the following: 'I don't mind paying my fair share.' And hey, that percentage that I take will probably change any day now."
"So it could go lower?"
Joe could tell immediately that that would never happen. "When you pay me back, how much will I get?"
"I haven't decided. My rule
of thumb is ... just enough each month to keep people wanting another check
the following month. That way, they don’t get upset at me. Remember,
there are millions of IOUs out there. If I gave too much to anyone,
I'd have to take more from YOU. And all those people are now on MY side.
They will fight to keep what they think of as their money coming in. They
will keep telling you, Joe, and all your friends, ‘I've paid Sam, so now
I'm entitled to the money in my
"Why don't you just pay each of them back with the money in their accounts?"
Sam howled with laughter at that one. "You know, Joe, that is the biggest myth in the world. There are no accounts; there are only IOUs. Millions of people just THINK that they have some kind of account set up somewhere with their names on them. That is the biggest joke. YOU, Joe, are their supplier of money. The money that I collected from them I spent long ago to buy other workers pork chops.”
"So this is what mom was talking about when she said that she was ' working under the table.' It's to avoid paying you, isn't it?"
"You mean at the restaurant where does she works? Aha, I knew it! She's underreporting her tips. Do you know how to use a tape recorder?"
Joe avoided that question. He realized that he was seeing the face of evil in this man.
"Sam, I think I'll save my own money. Please give me back the money that I earned that Mister Sullivan gave you, and please don't come back. I'm going to call the authorities."
Sam's face grew deadly serious. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a pistol, and pointed it at Joe. "Joe, you naive kid, I AM the authorities." He showed a badge that read:
"You don't have a choice. You work for me."
"This isn't a free country.
By the way, accompanying me are my little brother, Carey, our crazy cousin
Inco, and his little brother Stinco. They all took part of your paycheck,
too. Welcome to Middle-Class America."
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