Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Quest: Partners of convenience

Bicklebaugh considered himself to be a “Big Picture” man.

Lately he had been haunted by the sense that the moment was slipping away from him. It was nothing he could put his finger on. It was more a reflection of the gestalt of emotions in the slices of people he monitored.

Some of Bicklebaugh's blindness was inherent in his method of gauging public sentiment.

He frequented a half dozen coffee-houses and taverns that he thought fairly represented "the generally stupid public". He mimicked everybody's favorite tweedy, slightly daffy, bohemian uncle. He made a show of counting his change twice before tipping...and then left a tip 50% greater than the norm.

People, being generally lazy, were more than happy to slot Bicklebaugh into a pre-programmed, cardboard-cutout NPC role. Bicklebaugh listened to the chatter that flowed around him. He considered this to be high-level research.

The problem was that all of the places he "gathered data" were less than a half mile from Catherine Street. Additionally, there was nothing "double-blind" about his information gathering. The food inexplicably increased in quality and dropped in price at the eateries he frequented. The service improved. Patrons considered themselves fortunate to be allowed to patronize those establishments.

By Bicklebaugh's measures, the Empire was doing swimmingly. And yet the data did not support Bicklebaugh's rosy data.

Had Bicklebaugh deigned to dive more deeply into the details, the reasons would have been clearer.

He had enlisted the aid of the hard-left by pretending to embrace Socialism. Their top-down approach suited his agenda. Frankly, as long as he got what he wanted, he didn’t care what his minions wanted to call themselves.

The fatal flaws were three-fold.

People are less productive when not motivated by self-interest. The reasons are many. One was loss of personal initiative. When the tool you use must be replaced out of your own pocket, you don’t just drop the tool into the tall weeds when the boss says it is quitting time. Tools increase productivity because they are force multipliers. Much time is wasted when tools are broken or they cannot be found at the beginning of the shift.

Another fatal flaw was the gross under-estimation of the number of people who would be in supervisory roles. If Bicklebaugh had thought about it, he would have assumed most enterprises would thrive on a worker:supervisor ratio between 10:1 and 30:1. Experience showed that a ratio between 2:1 and 3:1 was required if the workers were to stay on-task and not destroy or steal.

So instead of 20 workers and one non-productive supervisor, there were twelve workers, six supervisors and three middle-managers. And of course, the supervisors and managers had to have more pay and perks than the workers.

Even at that ratio of workers-to-supervisors, the level of theft was staggering. It was not as if simply promoting somebody to "supervisor" made them less tempted to steal. It merely increased their authority to do so.

One of the early experiments involved an orchard close to Ann Arbor. Bicklebaugh sent a contingent of thugs to convince the owner to “donate” the orchard to Ann Arbor.

Blinded by ideology, the socialists told the population of Ann Arbor the orchard was theirs, that they could go help themselves.

The crowds engaged in pitched battles as they looted the equipment and solar panels. They walked off with everything that was not nailed down and much of what had been.

Lacking the equipment to pick the upper branches, they shook the branches and emptied the entire tree for the few apples they could carry. Or, they simply cut down the tree. The Government was infinitely powerful. The Government would replace the tree. It was not their problem.

The third fatal flaw was that talent is not a commodity and it is perishable. The free-market wasn’t perfect, but the decentralized mode of operation allowed people to percolate through the economy and find the water-table where their talents met some need.

The idea that talent was like a chunk of firewood that could be stacked on a pile and then used when needed proved false. For one thing, talent had legs and there weren’t enough cops in all of Washtenaw County to keep the wood on the woodpile.

One of the complications that arose was the top-down structure demanded that politically reliable people be placed in charge of all manner of technical people. For example, the political apparatchiks were blind to the differences between a “power electrician” and “electronics communication technician”. To them, labor (talent) was a commodity. An hour of labor was identically inter-changable with any other hour of labor.

The technical people tried to education the apparatchiks but the political-officers universally responded to the worker's attempts to be helpful as challenges to their authority. In their universe, all facts ordered themselves to support ideology.

Some of the failures were spectacular. You haven’t lived until you have seen and heard the lugs on a 24,000V transformer vaporized because the tech who normally worked with 5 volts was told to “wire it up”.


Grant cleared his throat signifying that he had something important to share with his wife, Hanna.

"Yes, dear?" Hanna responded.

Many folks had given Grant and Hanna's marriage poor odds of enduring. Grant and Hanna surprised all of them.

All of the little things they had bickered about disappeared when confronted with Ebola. Some couple collapse beneath a challenge. Other grow beneath it. Grant and Hanna grew.

"You know how you have been asking to have your mama move in with us?" Grant started out.

"Yes..." Hanna responded. Mama lived a half-mile away from Grant and Hanna, closer to the center of Capiche.

"I have been giving that a lot of thought" Grant admitted.

Hanna was stunned.

"But I think it would be better if we moved in with her" Grand continued.

If Hanna had been stunned before, now she was speechless. Mama was far from being Grant's largest fan.

After collecting her breath, Hanna said "Why, honey? She should move here. We have a LOT more room. Heck, there aren't enough bedrooms at Mama's for the kids."

"They are kids. A one and a three-year-old can sleep in the same bedroom, even if they aren't the same sex" Grant said.

Still, Hanna was flabbergasted. "What brought about this change of heart?"

"The war department is buying firewood. Paying damned good prices, too" Grant said. "The price of firewood has doubled in the last couple of weeks."

"You were telling me prices were going up" he continued. "We have plenty of firewood to make it through the rest of the winter and spring...but if we move in with your mama, then I can sell that firewood."

"Your mama could move in with us but she doesn't have nearly as much wood to sell" Grant continued. Grant was intimately familiar with exactly how much wood was in "Mama's" woodshed because he had cut, split and carried every stick of it.

"If she moved in with us she would sell her firewood but she would keep the money and not share it" Grant said.

As painful as Grant's observation was, it was also true. Her mama would consider the money from the sale of "her" firewood to be hers and she would undoubtedly give it to her lay-about, youngest sister.

"But would it be worth it?" Hanna asked.

"They are paying a premium for wholesale lots because it saves shipping costs. They are paying a premium for dried wood" Grant said. "From what I see, we can come out ahead on the price increases if we move in with your mama."

"And besides, it isn't like I would have to spend much time talking with her. I can be out in the swamp cutting more firewood."


  1. The problem comes when mama wants to dictate because it's her house and the layabout son isn't getting his fair share.

  2. Grant must have more in mind than making a buck. That interpersonal situation sounds untenable, no matter how much silver Grant brings in.

  3. Yep, something 'deeper' is going on here.