Collaborative Fiction

PILOT COLLABORATION

Please read the beginning of the “Killer Jobs” story below.  Write from 3 to 5 single spaced pages that tells us what happens next.  Put it in an email to gailc@socialsciencefiction.org.  We want to finish this story in 10 installments.  We will accept submissions until our quota for the day is filled.  If your submission is selected for review by our readers, it will be placed on the site and readers will be asked to decide which possible continuation is the best.  The submission getting the most votes will be added to the story and we will then ask for submissions to continue the story.  The 10th round will supply the story’s resolution.

 

Killer Jobs

“Having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country,” he said. It would certainly make us more competitive globally, . . . , “it’s the United States against other places,” where the taxes and wages are lower.

I was taking the wine glasses out of their newspaper wrappings. My grandmother gave them to me three years ago when I got my first apartment. The papers are full of stories about bringing our jobs back. The movement worked. The jobs that left are back in some states, and the good news is that I just moved out of one of those states. The problem for me now has to do with the reason I left. I am in witness protection. I will never be able to see or even talk to any of my relatives again. I stopped a murder and the folks that wanted the killing have decided to try again, now going for a two for one — and I am the other one.   I do not feel safe even here: the killers were highly connected international thugs. They are wired into both the highest and the lowest levels of government and businesses everywhere. If anyone has a record of where I went, they will find it.

The murder was supposed to eliminate Elisa Miller, a journalist who was pointing out the problems with the job return program. The thing is, we really did not want those jobs back: what we wanted was the life that steady, reasonably paid work would allow us to have. Bringing back the jobs that left meant bringing back jobs that were being done by workers overseas for pennies per hour. Many of those workers were only able to survive because they are given some services US workers have to pay for. They are given rudimentary health care, cheap and efficient public transportation,  basic literacy skills, and even subsidies for community activities are part in several places where the jobs had relocated. In other job relocation sites, the workers didn’t survive. Those places had lots of people and a whole stratified system that supported having people stay “where they belonged” even if that meant that a good proportion of them died very young.

Bringing back jobs here meant extending the safety net just far enough to make people loath to lose the little they were given. Having some kind of healthcare and basic childcare made accepting a hopelessly inadequate salary possible and even preferable to leaving the state. Behavioral economists, schooled in “loss aversion” measurements, were actually called in to help states determine the minimum bundle of general benefits that would keep the workers in a state even when there were better opportunities elsewhere.

Just as a precaution, though, the companies provided subsistence housing complete with impossibly high-priced necessities sold in company stores that encouraged people to spend way above their means. People could get a TV at six times the price it might have been sold elsewhere on usurious credit. The tax rate for Amazon-like services in those states was set so high that the TV would cost them six times as much to purchase legally, and with their salaries, no one else would offer credit of any kind. It was the company store all over again.

Bringing back those jobs at conscripted servant wages made the owners of the factories here much better off (transportation and communications costs are much lower and the price of greasing the palms of corrupt officials was greatly diminished)— but the workers in those states where jobs returned now have lives that those who made this stuff overseas before would pity. The workers here are completely out of reach of the hope that the belief in equality of opportunity had allowed people to have. Neither the workers nor their children could even pretend to hope to improve their lot through anything other than winning the lottery. The situation would have been ripe for revolution if those states had not basically untied the hands of their police forces and where the police couldn’t manage, there were always well-connected thugs.

I am not particularly proud of my role in this, but I was a kind of hedge fund manager. The factory owners knew the workers would not be able to pay their debts, but that really did not mean much since they were raking in obscene profits with the markups— way over the pittance they had to spend to provide the housing.   They paid off the real cost of the items within the first several months of the purchase, and then the problem was to get rid of the paper liability on the company books. Enter a bundled fund. I was able to bury the debt effectively and sell it. When a worker defaulted, it was such a small portion of what was bundled that it really did not matter. In fact it was great for the company. They were up front about employee debt being part of the bundle, and they guaranteed to those buying the funds that they would help defray the costs of default should that happen in any debt belonging to their employees. In addition, the company would tell the worker that they would help them take care of the debt by increasing their salary, but then they would take the increase to pay off their debt. Of course since the basic cost was already covered, all they had to do was pay those holding the debt a few pennies on the dollar — and they raked in good will.  Even the workers saw them as saviors (a real racket).

I now live in South Carolina. It was one of the states smart enough to know that they did not want the jobs back. They had extended the safety net too, but for other reasons.  They wanted the safety new to enable people to have choices.  To make that happen, they did way more than that. They wanted workers to be able to grow and change. Their policies made that happen. It was more than a little ironic for me, born and bred in a liberal state, that South Carolina was one of the places that actually got it right.

It was hot and the air conditioner was dribbling out chilled air that became hot again about a foot from the machine. I was soaked through with sweat and it was getting in my eyes, so I could no longer read the newspaper stories as I unwrapped the glasses. I got up, taking one of the glasses with me, to get some cold water from the fridge. I heard footsteps on the front porch and there was a knock on the door. I don’t know anyone here. No one should be knocking at my door.