“In This Economy”

“Excuse me, waiter, but I ordered my hamburger medium rare and this is well-done and I’m pretty sure this is regular Pepsi and not diet.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but what do you expect in this economy?”

No no no no no.

The Curmudgeon has grown weary of the phrase “in this economy.”  While at times it’s relevant, it’s being used more and more as an excuse for some people either to treat other people badly or to rationalize how badly they’re being treated – and even to rationalize things that have nothing to do with the economy.

Having trouble finding a job, or a new job?  “In this economy” is appropriate, as in “I’m having a tough time finding a job in this economy.”

Have an underwater mortgage?  “In this economy” is never appropriate.  You took out the mortgage, so presumably, the economy didn’t stop you from buying the house and you could afford what you paid.  You overpaid?  This economy isn’t responsible for that, either.  Man up and pay what you owe.    If, on the other hand, you can’t pay your mortgage because you’re unemployed, or because you were unemployed at one time but had to take a job paying much less money just to keep the lights on and the kids in Fruit Loops, then yes, “in this economy” is reasonable.

Unhappy about the price of gasoline?  That has nothing to do with “in this economy,” so put a sock in it.

Lousy programming on NBC?  It was lousy before the economy went south, it’s lousy now, and it’ll be lousy five years from now, in this or any other economy.

Employer making you pay more for your health insurance or telling you there won’t be raises this year because business is bad?  It depends.  Take a look at your company:  how’s it doing?  If it’s not doing well, “in this economy” may be appropriate.  If, on the other hand, your company is doing well – and many, many companies have continued to do well throughout the recession – then your employer is taking advantage of the times to make more money at your expense and “in this economy” is not a valid explanation.  “Getting screwed by the boss” is the valid explanation.

The most insidious use of “in this economy” comes from companies that tell their employees they shouldn’t ask for raises, shouldn’t ask for benefits, and shouldn’t complain when they’re asked to take on a lot more work, or the work of two people, because they should just be grateful they have jobs at all “in this economy.”  Attention, those of you who put in your time and more, do great work, and show continued loyalty to an employer who returns your loyalty by giving you more work and asking you to work more hours without more money and hear this from your employer:  you work for a creep.  No one – no one – has any business trying to make you feel that you should be grateful that you have a job at all.  If anything, they should be grateful to have you on their team.

While many companies – some of them legitimately – insist they are going through hard times, corporate profits in some sectors are at record highs; some businesses have never made more money than they have in the past few years.  Despite this, they continue to lay off employees, reduce benefits, withhold raises and bonuses, pay generous dividends to shareholders, and demand more work for no more money.  These are the same kind of parasites who quadruple the price of plywood and bottled water twenty-four hours before a hurricane is expected to strike; the same kind of people who put nicotine in cigarettes to get you hooked; the same kind of people who brag about how their nutritious new cookies have plenty of fiber and vitamins but never mention that they’re also incredibly high in calories, sugar, and fat and are made with palm kernel oil and hydrogenated cottonseed and coconut oil.  Come to think of it, they’re just like the Wall Street people whose greedy and irresponsible behavior led to the need to coin a term like “in this economy.”

In its March/April edition, one of The Curmudgeon’s leftist magazines, Mother Jones, has an interesting article about how one company is taking advantage of “this economy” to work its employees to the bone.  Many of your internet purchases are shipped by a company called Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide, and a Mother Jones reporter went semi-undercover to work there.  When she gets the job, someone she meets warns her that “They have to break you down so they can turn you into what they want you to be” and admonishes her never, if told she’s not meeting her productivity goal, to say she’s doing her best.  Why?  “Because if you say ‘This is the best I can do,’ they’ll let you go.  They hire and fire constantly, every day.  You’ll see people dropping around you.”

The author’s experience on the job matches the warnings.  On the first day of work, new employees are told to show up at five a.m. but are warned that they don’t go on the clock until six.  Most are hired as temps and never lose that status – some can be temps for years – saving the company money on benefits.  “Management” at Amalgamated (by the way – doesn’t the company’s name sound like something they chose because Wile E. Coyote made “Acme” unfeasible?) consists of constantly telling workers they’re doing a bad job; setting next-to-impossible productivity goals and then raising them if an employee manages to achieve them (one worker notes that those who consistently exceed their quotas are occasionally entered into drawings for a gift card – worth $15 or $20); and making overtime mandatory.  The company acts this way – like its workers are as disposable as paper towels – because it knows there are so many people looking for work.  Some people are willing to be treated like garbage, its philosophy seems to be, so if you’re not one of them, it’ll happily and without conscience toss you aside and look for someone a little more desperate and a little more amenable to a daily dose of humiliation.  (It’s a really eye-opening article; read it here.)

“In this economy” is real, it’s unfortunate, and it’s hurt a lot of people, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all explanation for everything bad that’s happened over the past four years.  It doesn’t explain why the Phillies haven’t won another World Series; it doesn’t explain why “The Artist” won all those Oscars; and it doesn’t explain why the people who hire “The Millionaire Matchmaker” don’t smack that piece of trash in the mouth because of how she talks to them.  It should be used guardedly and realistically, and not overused to the point where it loses all meaning.

It’s just the kind of adjustment we all need to make in this economy.

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