HomeNovelInvisible Hand – Chapter Twenty-Two: Adjustments

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In which we see how various people have adjusted to the change.

—————- January 18, 2013 —————

“Damn potholes! They’re all over the place. What did they make these streets out of anyway, Graham Crackers? They crumble the first time a bus or truck runs over them. People are giving me fits complaining about them. But what can I do. I can’t order anyone to fix them. I have to wait for them to be fixed before I can pay.”

“Sure, you aren’t in charge. But have you made suggestions to anyone? Who’s in charge of the streets? Who’s responsible for seeing to their maintenance?”

“The Department of Transportation, I guess. But they’re off in the State capital. They don’t come down here to our town and drive down Main Street.”

“Who’s paying them? Maybe you could contact… no they’d be paid by a group wouldn’t they? If they’re that high up in State government, it would take a committee to decide their pay and there’s no telling who’s going to be on that committee until it’s chosen each month. Have you been reporting the streets as being inadequate and dangerous?”

“Sure, but it’s like yelling in a thunderstorm. Nobody seems to hear me. At any rate the streets aren’t getting fixed.”

“Are there any local companies that build roads or sell road materials? Maybe they could come out and fix the potholes.”

“Wouldn’t they need the permission of the DOT to close a part of the road and so on?”

“If we pay for improving the streets and don’t pay for police preventing their repair, who’s going to enforce the laws about street repair?”

“Good point. Let’s look in the Yellow Pages and see what we’ve got in the area.”

“Nothing under ‘Streets. Try ‘Roads.’ Nope. Maybe ‘Asphalt’. Wait, it says ‘Paving’, let’s try that… Bingo, quite a few of them. All right, now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s call some of them and see what they can do.”

“Hello, this is Angus Lander. I’m a payer responsible for infrastructure in this area. Can I talk to someone who can get some paving done?… ‘Infrastructure,’ that’s things like roads, bridges, sewers, you know, the things we need to keep the town going… He’ll do just fine, thanks… Mr. Marcopolos, Angus Lander here. I’m a payer for the streets around here among other things. Could you tell me why there’s so many potholes not getting fixed?… I know they can’t pay you but that shouldn’t stop them from asking you to fix the streets, should it?… Well it would be silly to ask you to bid on a job when you get paid for how much net benefit the work produces. I mean whoever does the job first is the one who gets paid, right?… Sure I’ll pay for whatever improvements you make. If the amount gets over $100 I’ll have to bring in some other Payers, you know, the more money the more Payers have to judge the benefit… I’d say do the most important streets first because that ought to produce the most benefits, wouldn’t you?… Okay, I think that’s a good place to start, I’ll meet you there. What time?… Three days from now. What takes so long?… Oh. Right. I understand. Okay, Friday it is.”

“Well, that’s one. Let’s call a couple of others and see how that goes.”

“Hi, I’m Angus Lander. Are you Mr. Marcopolos?” Angus reached out to shake the hand of a slender man wearing a hard hat who had just stepped down from a truck that looked like it would be appropriate for street repair.

“Yes, sir, just like the shirt says. Could you show me some identification? Anybody could be dressed up like that.”

“Sure, here’s my computer. Tell him who I am, computer.”

The sophisticated, cultured voice of the actor portraying the computer intoned that this was one Angus Lander whose assignment was infrastructure.

“I’ll be damned. Have you guys all got one of those things?”

“Yes, it’s how we keep in touch with the central accounting computer system. I can use this for paying small amounts of money. I can also use it to identify the people I’m dealing with. Computer, who is this gentleman?” Angus said and pointed the camera lens at the face under the hard hat.

“This gentleman is Alvin Wesley Marcopolos,” the computer responded.

“Okay, I guess you’re a payer. How much are you going to pay me for having my crew fix this pothole?”

“That depends on how long the patch is used and how much traffic uses this street and so on. I can’t tell about the pay until after we find out how much good it does. If it’s a good patch and this street isn’t replaced and it has lots of traffic you could be getting paid for this patch every month for 15 or 20 years.”

“You mean I won’t get paid anything for a month?”

“Well, yes. We pay for these things once a month so you’d get paid within a month. I think your first pay would be at the end of this month. That’s only about a week away.”

“About how much would I get paid then?”

“You understand that lots of people would be getting paid if you fix this patch; the folks who provided the asphalt, the folks who provided the truck, the rest of the crew here, of course, the secretary in your office, and so forth. Everybody who helped to get it fixed would be paid something.”

“How the hell are you going to do that?”

“Oh, the computer will take care of it. You’ve had a payer at the office, I’ll bet, and there are Payers who will know about all your suppliers. All that gets put into a complicated equation which shares out the money for the benefits that I observe. Of course, that’s minus any negatives I observe. Like your truck here is blocking traffic so I’ll have to take off a little for that inconvenience to the people who are trying to use this street this morning. And the asphalt could be used other places so that’s a cost as well. It’s like when you had to pay your suppliers and your crew and secretary and so forth back before the transition, only we Payers take care of all that for you so you don’t have to bother with it.”

“So how much are you going to pay me for this at the end of the month?”

“Oh, maybe twenty-five cents.”

“Twenty-five cents? Are you out of your mind? I wouldn’t spit on the ground for twenty-five cents.”

“Now wait a minute, Alvin. First off you aren’t having to pay anything for your house or your food or medical treatment. You aren’t paying anything for your kids’ education. So all this money you get for fixing this pothole you can spend on luxuries.”

“Luxuries! How much luxury can you buy for twenty-five cents?”

“Stay with me here, now. It’ll take you, what, about an hour to fix this pothole really well and get to the next pothole down the street there, right? So you should be able to do, say, six potholes a day. That’s a buck fifty for the day’s work. But it’s a buck fifty every week and six dollars a month and seventy-two dollars a year for years for this one day’s work. You won’t have to lift a finger again to get that six dollars a month. Now let’s assume that you work at fixing potholes all year long. That’s an additional six dollars for tomorrow and the day after and by the end of the year you have, let’s see two-hundred-fifty work days a year at six dollars a day that’s fifteen-hundred dollars a month or $18,000 a year for as long as those patches last. And you’ve already done the work.”

“$18,000 isn’t much for a year’s work.”

“But that’s money that doesn’t have to go for rent or food or insurance or any of the necessities. You can spend it all on vacations and golf and so on. And if you do a second year of work, you have $36,000 coming in each year. Why after five years, you’d be making $90,000 a year to spend on luxuries. Of course, that’s assuming that the patches you make last that long. If this patch lasts only a month or two, then you’d only get a dollar or two for your work, here. The longer the patch lasts the more you get paid.”

“Hey, guys, we’re going to do things a little different from now on. Come here. Let me explain it to you.”

———- Saturday, February 25, 2013 —————

“Ted! Long time no see. How’re you doing? You’re looking great.”

“If it isn’t John! Good to see you buddy. I’m feeling great, too. What are you up to these days?”

“The painting thing fell through. I discovered that as a hobby painting is fun, but all day – every day… it gets old in a hurry. I hooked up with a construction firm doing road work. I’ve adapted some of our old accounting software to keep track of materials and equipment. With my software we can tell who has what equipment and what materials and what they’re going to need. It’s working like clockwork. We get the best materials and get deliveries right away because they know we’ll have money rolling into their accounts within a few days or a couple of weeks at the most. What are you involved in? I've heard you are getting to be a real mover and shaker.”

“I have to admit that things have gone rather well for me. You remember how I left the office back on New Years Eve, thinking it was the end of the world? Well a few days later Sally called me. Oh, by the way, Sally is still my secretary and we still work out of the same office. Of course, we have several floors in the old bank building but I haven’t seen any real need to move to a different office. Anyway, one of the contractors to whom I used to loan money called to ask about who he could trust in setting up new deals. I had always paid attention to whether people were honest in making loans because I figured that if they would cheat the public they would try to cheat the bank, too. I was able to put him in touch with some people I trusted. Then several of them called to ask similar questions and I mentioned a couple of opportunities I thought they might take advantage of and before you know it I was spending all my time in the office finding things for other people to do. And I was getting paid for it. I have three times the effective income now than I did before and almost none of the expenses. It turns out that I had more than enough money to buy my home, and with no taxes and no bills for Edith’s tuition or room and board at college we saved a lot of money. Even my wife started doing some different work at the hospital and her income is up as well.”

“I guess you never know whether a change will be for the better or worse. Look, I’ve got to run now but keep us in mind if you need some roadwork done in any of those deals of yours.”

“See you, John.”

———— Monday, March 18, 2013 ————–

“Frank, do you remember all that material on the organized crime bosses that we collected last fall?”

“Sure. We had them cold and then we couldn’t do anything with the evidence because they were getting oil for us on the black market.”

“Well, what would you say to bringing it out of cold storage and using it now?”

“I’d love it. But wouldn’t that get us in trouble with the Washington guys?”

“So what do we care what they think? They don’t pay us or our staff and they certainly don’t pay the judges. I have to think that putting these guys away for their crimes might get us paid quite a lot, wouldn’t you say?”

“Let’s ask Rodney. He’s a payer. He should have some idea.”

————- Monday, April 1, 2013 ————–

“I don’t know why we still come to work here. There isn’t enough left of the bureau to do diddly. We might as well just search for good-looking women taking off their clothes. Besides, I don’t know where they’re going to get any money to pay us. They keep saying that we’ll get paid but I don’t see any.”

“They haven’t paid me either but I’m going to keep coming to work as long as they’ll let me. I have an idea.”

“So let me in on it. I’ve been your buddy for years. I’ve covered your ass any number of times. You owe me.”

“Yeah, yeah. I can’t do it alone anyway and I wouldn’t have brought it up if I wasn’t going to let you in on it.”

“So give. What is it?”

“Well, you know these databases we tap into could be really useful to the Payers, couldn’t they? And the police could use them to solve a shit-load of crimes. That ought to make the Payers pretty grateful. And if that isn’t enough, don’t you think people would be pretty grateful if people like us couldn’t snoop on them any more without a court-ordered search warrant?”

“Yeah. So what?”

“So let’s make this whole operation public. Let’s blow the whistle on the agency and go public.”

“How’s that going to help? It’ll just scare everyone.”

“No, look, that’s the beauty of it. No matter how they react, we get a boatload of money. If they see how useful this can be for law enforcement and convicting criminals and use it for that, then we get paid for that. If they want to shut it down right away, then we get paid for warning everyone of what’s happening so it can be stopped. If they want to use it to make paying easier, and I think that’s where the really big money is, then we get paid a fortune every month for the rest of our lives. We’ll live like kings, better than kings.”

“What do you mean, ‘use it to make paying easier’? How would it make paying easier?”

“Don’t you see? This system, with a few extensions, can keep track of what each person is producing. It’ll end the squabbles about who’s done what. It’s able to follow every part and piece of every device and record how it’s used. If Joe makes a widget and gives it to Pete and Pete does something to make money with it, Joe can get a cut because the computer knows that the widget used was made by Joe. In other words, all the payer will have to do is say how much the benefit was and the whole host of people who contributed something to help can be identified by the computer and each paid their share.”

“But it’s not set up to do that. I mean, it collects lots of data about lots of people but there’s lots of work that would need to be done on the database and on the software that accesses it, not to mention all the programs that give it input.”

“That’s OK. That’s OK. It’s the idea that counts. There are thousands of programmers who would be happy to put in those modifications. We just have to sell the idea to the Payers.”

———- Wednesday, April 3, 2013 ————-

“If we don’t do something about this, other hackers or whoever will try to gain control of the money servers.”

“Okay. I think we all agree with that. So how do we prevent hacks of the software on our systems?”

“We already have one feature in place, that is, we insist that all the centers have the same software running. It seems to me that we must keep that and add further procedures.”

“Agreed, but what procedures?”

“I think the open software approach has a lot to offer here. If we publish the code openly to all who want it and let anyone who wants test it and look for bugs and ways to break in, then we’ll be able to prevent most potential hacks. I think we gain more than we lose by having everybody know what the code is.”

“I don’t know. You are making it really easy for some hacker to see just how it all works. They can come up with a technique and test it all sorts of ways.”

“But look at the help we’d have as well. Every person with computer skills would be able to help us find vulnerabilities. Can’t you just imagine all the computer science departments having their students looking for bugs and ways of testing for bugs and ways to detect intrusions? And when we need to change the basic program, we can make the new code available to everyone to be sure that new code does what we think it does before we put it into production.”

“So what you’re proposing is that we make the code we run on the money servers into public domain software. That appeals to me because it makes everyone responsible for the programs we run.”

“You don’t get out of it that easily, Cindy. You’re still responsible for the code you run on your servers. Just because somebody else messes up doesn’t mean that you won’t be blamed for using their buggy code.”

“I know. But this way everybody, at least potentially, can influence how the money is implemented. This keeps everyone involved and makes more people feel responsible for how things work.”

“Well I don’t think open source will be a magic bullet but I do admit that it would have a lot of advantages.”

“But will they let us do it? Do any of us have the source code for the money programs?”

“Well, I see that none of us has a copy. Perhaps someone in the payer organization does. Judy, Mark, Chan, do any of you know whether the source code for the money programs is available?”

“No. We’ll have to get back to you on that. Give us a few minutes.”

“While we’re waiting folks, as long as we’re going to use open source for the accounting programs we run, what about the programs that gather the input data for those programs? What about the database software that keeps track of all the products and so on? Shouldn’t that be open source as well if we’re going in that direction?”

“Damn right! All the software the payer organization uses should be open source. Let us all know what they’re doing with the information they collect on us.”

“Hold on, there. I don’t want everybody able to look at all my personal data.”

“He’s not talking about your personal data. He’s talking about the programs that gather it, store it, and make it available to those authorized to have it.

I agree with him. I want everybody to be able to see the code that makes sure the wrong people don’t get access to our personal information.”

“Guys, as long as you’re asking about the accounting source, ask about the rest of that source code, too.”

“You know, I’ll bet the government has access to all the data the retail stores and credit card companies have collected on us over the years. They probably even have medical records and such. I’ve even heard rumors that they’re using an elaborate spy system here in the U.S.”

“Several of us have heard those rumors, Cindy. It seems to me the more of those programs we get as open source the better we’ll know what they’ve been doing to us. Oh, it looks like our Payers have something for us.”

“It’s going to take some doing but the folks in the home office say that it sounds like a good idea to them. They’re going to ask for a vote on the matter with a full-sized sample. They want you to explain as well as you can what you want to do by making the source available and how that will help. They also say there’s lots of other software that they would like to do the same thing with if you think it is a good idea.”

“Wow! Jackpot!”

“From what they say, they’ve recently gained access to some software, hardware, and databases that the federal government is or was using. They’d like you to recommend some people, computer experts, who could examine the code and determine what it does and how it might be adapted to be used by the payer organization.”

“Good Lord. 1984. We’re in 1984.”

“What do you mean?”

“The government was Big Brother and now the Payers want to become Big Brother. We were lucky to escape from the government and now the Payers are trying to put us right back in the same fix.”

“Wait a minute. Be cool now. I read 1984 when I was a kid. I don’t see how it’s the same thing at all.”

“Sure it is. They can watch everything and they can make us do whatever they want.”

“How can they make us do anything? All they can do is pay.”

“All they can do? Isn’t that more than enough? The government was paying and they had all the big companies under their thumb. They got legislation passed that they wanted and everything. Now the Payers are paying. Don’t you think they can pay for the same oppression and control of everybody that the government was paying for?”

“Actually, no, I don’t. They have to live among us, don’t they? If they give me a hard time, I’ll give them a hard time. It’s not like they were anonymous or able to hide behind the walls of an estate.”

“But they can pay the police to hold their guns on you and make you do whatever they want. They can have the police make Congress their puppet. They can have everything their own way and crush anyone who opposes them.”

“How many Payers are there?”

“I don’t know, several million I guess. What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Just go along with me here now and I’ll show you. Let’s say there are three million Payers now. How many Payers would have to be in on this plot to make it work?”

“I don’t know. Jeeze, where do you come up with these questions?”

“Let’s say they need a million of them, then. Couldn’t the other two million pay to prevent the police from forcing people to work? Couldn’t they pay to defend Congress? Wouldn’t they try to protect everybody from a totalitarian State?”

“What if there were two million in on the plot?”

“Then it’s too many, even a hundred thousand is too many.”

“Wait a minute. You just said that a million wasn’t enough. Now you’re saying that a hundred thousand is too many? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Yes it does. If they tried such a thing they’d have to hide themselves away from the public, wouldn’t they? They’d have to be able to defend themselves from the righteous anger of the public. That’s far too many people for the police to defend. Unless, of course, they all got together in a group like a small city and isolated themselves. But then all we’d have to do is turn off the computers for a while and they’d be powerless.”

“Fellahs,” one of the Payers put in, “there’s a much better reason why the Payers would never try something like that. We’re self-selected for wanting other people’s approval. You don’t get that unless you’re nice to others.”

“If you believe that I have some land in Florida I’d like to sell you.”

“Okay, so maybe they are trying to take over like the Feds did. It’s up to us to stop them by making sure the software won’t let them do it. I doubt they’ll all be computer gurus.”

“We’ll see.”

—————————————————————————-

“I have bad news and good news for you, sir.”

“Let me have the bad news, the good news can wait.”

“Yes, sir. The imports of oil have dropped 30% from before the transition. We no longer have the under-the-table help of various organized crime figures. When there were those arrests of scores of prominent figures in organized crime last month, we lost any leverage we might have had with the crime families.”

“I haven’t heard about any surge in deaths due to hypothermia. How are people heating these days?”

“That’s the good news, sir. It seems that we’ve developed quite a high level of conservation since the transition. People are giving other people rides. Service stations are giving gas mostly to trucks and people they know are using it for work. It’s like every service station owner is rationing the gas they have. Also, we’ve had some businesses that were high energy consumers shut down since they were using more resources than their products were worth. The power companies are also rationing energy to homes. Even the rich can’t buy more electricity since the utilities won’t sell it to them.”

“So how are we doing overall?”

“Well we’re doing pretty good. We have lots more production of oil from waste products. The thermal conversion process plants are being built right and left. There’s been a shift in production toward 'things we need' rather than 'things people will buy'. I mean, we had rationing right up to the transition and we were rationing more things than they did back in the last century during World War II, but even without our being able to enforce rationing any more, the people who own the goods we would ration are doing it without being told. So we’re gaining on both fronts. We’re reducing consumption and increasing production of oil and other products. I think a few more months of this and we’ll be over the hump.”

“So what do you recommend we do?”

“Sir, I don’t think there is anything we need to do and I don’t think there is anything we could do that won’t happen anyway. So far as I’m concerned, the only thing my whole department is needed for is keeping track of what’s happening. I don’t think most of my staff, what there is left of it, will be paid for much of anything that’s in their job descriptions. There are a lot of them who seem to be making good money by providing information on how to conserve and where resources are located and such. Actually the information is mostly in the computer system and any good hacker could get it without us.”

“So that’s more bad news.”

“Sir, I hate to say it but it’s really good news that I’m almost out of a job. It means that the problems that I’ve been battling the last six years aren’t problems any more. I don’t feel like retiring so I’ll look for something else to do; maybe something to do with International Trade. Maybe we can trade some of our goods for oil on the barter system. Anyway, I’ve typed up my resignation and I have it here.”

“You typed it up yourself?”

“I had to. My whole office staff seems to have found other things to do besides take care of me,” he chuckled.

“I’ll be sorry to see you go. You’ve been with me for almost six years now.”

“You may not have seen the last of me, sir. I may drop in to ask for your cooperation on some international trade deals.”

“Best of luck to you and your wife.”

——————————————————————————–

“Sal, I only came down here for old time’s sake. Don’t talk to me like you owned me.”

“Sorry, Barry, but I’m in a tough spot here.”

“You certainly are. From what I hear they have voice and video recordings of you ordering the deaths of several people. They also have the testimony of some of the guys who pulled the trigger since they got them on video, too. Looks like you have a tough case to beat.”

“That ain’t the only thing. I’ve bought half the judges in this State at one time or another and now I can’t get even a nibble. What the hell’s going on?”

“It’s this money thing, Sal. The judges you want to buy would have to get enough from you to go abroad and be rich for the rest of their lives just from that one bribe. But most of them don’t want to leave the country and their families for the rest of their lives. You see they don’t have much use for the currency you can give them without leaving the country.”

“But that’s perfectly good money, Barry. I ought to know, I laundered most of it myself. It can’t be traced. I can even have it put into a Swiss bank account for them. Why won’t they take it?”

“Because any sudden wealth is very noticeable, Sal. And if they can’t use the money for years what good is it to them? It just isn’t worth the risk.”

“So why won’t you represent me. Are you too good for me now?”

“Sal, first off you are guilty as hell and they got you dead to rights. Second, I got to think of my reputation.”

“Your reputation as what? A shyster lawyer who’d take any case if it paid enough?”

“No Sal, my reputation as a lawyer who wins cases. I want those cases where some promising, young go-getter is accused of a crime and there’s reasonable doubt. I want those cases where the D.A. is going over the line and trying to help his case along by underhanded tactics. That’s where the big money is now, Sal.”

“What do you mean? Isn’t there big money in defending somebody accused of murder?”

“Not particularly. Not when the case is organized crime. We get paid for seeing that justice is done. We get paid for preventing an innocent person from being convicted. Somebody will get paid for representing you in court. They’ll even get paid pretty well if they can find some holes in the prosecution’s case. But they won’t get paid the big money that keeping a young person productive who would otherwise rot in jail will bring. They don’t get the money that you get for showing a prosecutor cheated to try to get a conviction of an innocent person. And as if that weren’t enough, you have a reputation, Sal. If I continue to represent you, then your reputation begins to rub off on me. Other defendants will be afraid that I’ll be seen as representing guilty scumbags, no offense meant. They’ll want to be associated with lawyers who represent falsely accused innocents, instead. You know, like the way Perry Mason only represented the innocent. What jury would convict a person defended by Perry?”

“So how much money would it take to change your mind and represent me?”

“Sal, I don’t want to leave the country for good. My daughter’s a senior at Swarthmore next year. I want to attend her graduation ceremony. My son’s on his high school wrestling team. I want to see his matches. My parents are moving into a retirement home in Florida. I want to be able to visit them. I don’t think you have the kind of money that it would take to get me to give up all that. I don’t know if there’s enough money in the world for that.”

“I could see to it that you don’t get to enjoy those things, you know Barry.”

“Really. How are you going to pay for that? What chance would your thugs have to get away with such a crime? Your Euros or Yen or whatever seem to have less and less value to Americans these days. I think a couple of months ago you might have pulled it off. Now I don’t think you’ll have much chance. In a couple more months, I think you’ll be laughed at. The police seem to have cameras and bugs everywhere these days. The only reason I can speak freely to you now about these things is that ours is a privileged communication and the police are becoming very careful about people’s rights these days for some reason.”

“So what should I do?”

“Hope that the lawyer you get is brilliant or that the judge has a soft heart because you don’t really have much hope otherwise. You see, Sal, something vaguely approximating justice is coming into the world. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t want it. But it’s here now and, as always, I go with whatever’s best for me.”

———————–

“Good morning, Your Honor. Glad to have you back. What will it be today?”

“Just my usual haircut… No, I think I want the works today Harrison, give me a shave and hot towel in addition. I could use some soothing, today.”

“Yes sir. If you’ll just give me your glasses?”

The aged barber whisked the chair needlessly one last time and took the judge’s glasses, placing them carefully on the counter in front of the wall-to-wall mirror behind the elevated chair. The judge seated himself comfortably in the familiar leather chair and was reclined, then a hot towel tenderly placed over the lower part of his face. The barber busied himself with smoothing the blade of his straight razor on the leather strop while humming quietly to himself.

“Isn’t it a bright and glorious day, Your Honor?” he asked as he removed the towel which had done its work of softening the beard and soothing the nerves.

“Some might say so, Deacon, but though the day is cloudless, it is surely not a bright day for all of us.”

“Why Your Honor, I can’t believe a man as important as yourself, a superior court judge, would not see this as a bright day.”

“It’s this new economy, Deacon. It used to be that I could make my rulings without concern for my pay but only for the law. Now as I make a ruling or pass a judgment or issue a writ, I have to be concerned with whether it will cost me money.”

“I don’t understand, sir. How could your making a ruling cost you money?” the barber asked as he whipped up lather with a brush in a cup and gently and smoothly warmed the judge’s cheeks, chin, and neck with it.

“Just to take one small example, a judge over in Carter County ruled that the police had to tell a man where his wife was. About a week later he found and killed her. He beat her to death while their pre-school aged children watched. The Payers considered that ruling was instrumental in her death and it will probably be years before that judge stops being paid less as a result. Then there are all these cases in which lawyers are asking to have their clients released from prison because they say the crimes for which they were convicted are no longer possible, you know, like writing bad checks. If the judge releases them and they commit other crimes, the judge loses pay. If the judge keeps them in prison and they turn out to be model citizens there, then the judge loses pay. I tell you, Deacon, it’s getting so every decision I make can cost me if I don’t get it right.”

By now the barber was quickly and effortlessly drawing the straight razor along the judge’s cheeks, keeping the skin flat and taut with the fingers of his other hand.

“I know what you mean. When I was a young man I made some foolish decisions and they sure did cost me. Of course, when I was in prison I did learn to cut hair. It was easier than working in the laundry. I was sentenced to five years hard time for having that little ten dollar bag in my car. After I got out, having done my full time, I was an angry man, a very angry man. I decided to get a job in a barber shop where that judge might come in and get a shave.”

At this point the razor was sweeping smoothly down the judge’s throat in practiced strokes.

“I figured I could let the razor slip, just a little mind you, and before anyone could do anything that old judge would be dead right there in my chair.”

The last stroke made, the barber wiped the remaining lather from the judge’s face and neck with a warm damp towel followed by a gentle drying on another warm towel.

“But by the time I had gotten a chair and had a good enough reputation as a barber to get a judge to sit in my chair, not only had the old judge died of natural causes, in his own bed mind you, but I had a family to support and children that needed me. So I never did even so much as nick a legal neck.”

The chair was moved to its upright position and the judge, a little pale despite the warmth of the shave on his cheeks, said,” That’s quite a story. How much of it’s true?”

“Not a whole lot, Your Honor, but then I didn’t really take an oath to tell the truth when I agreed to be a barber. Heh heh. You want the usual trim?”

“Yes Deacon… Did anyone ever tell you that you preach sermons in the strangest ways?”

“Oh, sir, I been told lots of things. Barbers cut the hair of almost everybody and if they talk, I listen. Sometimes I even learn a thing or two.”

“Well Deacon, I think I learned a thing or two today in a barber shop. One thing I learned was that it’s a bright and glorious day.”

————————-

“What do you think of the class so far?”

“It’s neat, Ricardo. I had no idea there were so many kinds of liquor.”

“I bet you didn’t know there were that many kinds of drinks either did you?”

“I knew there were a lot of drinks. I figured there’d be maybe a couple hundred.”

“Well there are thousands.”

“They’d better be in the book ‘cause I’ll never remember them all.”

“They are. But I still think you’ll fail as a bartender.”

“What do you mean? I make a great martini, dry as a desert.”

“Yeah but you don’t have good sense. You’d give drinks to a drunk until he passed out.”

“It’s his money. If he wants drinks why shouldn’t he be able to buy them?”

“Jeff, what does a bartender get paid for?”

“For serving drinks and keeping up the bar.”

“Is that all?”

“Well, there’s being a good listener.”

“Jeff, please remember that it isn’t like the old days.”

“You’re darn right, Ricardo. It costs a lot more for a beer these days.”

“Jeff, listen to me. It used to be that you were paid for how many drinks you sold and nothing else. Well, maybe a few tips for friendly service. But now you’re being paid for the consequences of what you do.”

“Yeah? So how does that change anything? If I don’t sell any drinks, I don’t get paid. I bet that’s still true.”

“Yes, I guess you’re right about that. If nobody uses your services as a bartender I guess you wouldn’t get paid.”

“Hah. See?”

“But Jeff, what if you gave some guy his fifth or sixth drink and he fell leaving the bar and broke his wrist?”

“I’d rush out and help him, of course.”

“No, no, I mean, what would happen to your pay?”

“What should happen to my pay? I served the guy. I sold the drinks. He got a good feeling for his money. Why should anything happen to my pay?”

“If the drunk fell down because he was drunk then you are partly responsible for his injury. If he can’t work for a while, you get less pay for a while. If the guy needs medical treatment, then you’ll be paid less to compensate for that. The mere fact that the guy is feeling significant pain will show up as less pay for you.”

“Hey, that’s not fair. I didn’t push him. Just because he does something stupid doesn’t mean I should suffer for it. He’s a grown man. If he can’t hold his liquor he shouldn’t drink so much.”

“But Jeff, he was drunk on liquor you gave him. If you hadn’t given him the booze he would have been sober enough to avoid falling.”

“It’s still his own fault for falling. Nobody made him drink.”

“You allowed him to drink your liquor. You stood there behind the bar and every time he asked for more you gave it to him, even when you knew he was becoming drunk.”

“It’s his money. If he wants to spend it to get drunk what business if it of mine.”

“Part of why you’re getting paid is for taking care of your customers. If you help them do something dumb, you aren’t taking care of them at all. I mean, you know that alcohol makes you stupid if you drink too much. So you know that if you give a guy too much to drink he’ll be too stupid to take care of himself. You’ll need to do that for him. So are you going to take care of that guy until he sobers up and gets smart again? Are you going to stay with him every minute and carry him and hold him up when he falls and drive him home and be sure he doesn’t pass out, vomit, and strangle? You going to do all those things? I don’t think so.”

“Jeff you can’t just give people all they want to drink. You know the alcohol makes them do dumb things and they’ll hurt themselves. You have to say, ‘That’s enough for you, wait an hour’ when they’ve had enough. Otherwise, you know that sometimes they’re going to get hurt.”

“You mean I’m their nanny?”

“You’re their nanny if you give them enough booze to get drunk on.”

“You’re telling me that some guy who works hard all week comes into my bar and wants to have a few beers and I’m supposed to tell him I won’t serve him? Doesn’t he have a right to buy liquor whenever he wants with his money?”

“Sure he does, Jeff. He has every right to buy whatever he wants whenever he wants. But that’s your liquor he’s trying to buy. You don’t have any obligation to sell it to anyone unless you want to. Just because some guy has money doesn’t mean that you have to sell to him. It’s your right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason you like, or for no reason at all. You’re nobody’s slave.”

“Okay, I don’t have to sell but what if this guy comes into the bar already a little tipsy? Are they going to blame me if I only give him one drink and then he gets hurt?”

“The Payers would blame both you and whoever gave the guy the other drinks but mostly you because he wasn’t as drunk when the other guy served him.”

“Well what if somebody wants to buy a whole bottle of scotch? That’s enough to get anyone drunk. If they buy the bottle I can’t always watch what they do with it.”

“No, you can’t. So you’d better know that person well enough to know how they’re going to use that scotch. If they take only one or two drinks a day, you’re all right. If they drink it all in one afternoon, you’re taking a big chance.”

“Well, damn. Everybody I know really well would take that scotch and get smashed, except maybe my mother.

“Then you’d better not sell bottles of liquor to anybody.”

“You know, Juan, I thought the hard part of this job was going to be remembering how to make the drinks. Now it sounds like it’s a pretty risky business. You’ve got to keep track of how many drinks everybody’s had and everything.”

“Like I said, Jeff, I don’t think you’re cut out for this job.”

“Say, that bit about it’s being my right to refuse service to anyone, what if I won’t serve blacks, or women… or Jews?”

“Yeah? What about it?”

“Isn’t that unfair? Shouldn’t a person be able to buy what they want no matter what their race, creed, or color?”

“Well, I think so, sure. But if you’re forced to sell something of yours to somebody else then you don’t really own that something at all, do you?”

“You’ve got title to it with the computer so it must be yours.”

“But if it’s yours, can somebody take it away from you… even if you don’t want to give it up? I don’t think so.”

“But you do admit it’s unfair that just because you’re black or whatever you can’t buy something that other folks can buy.”

“Nobody said you couldn’t buy it if you were black. It’s just that you can’t necessarily buy some particular luxury item from some particular owner. See, it’s like this. Say some person has a store that sells jewelry. Jewelry’s a luxury, right?”

“Right.”

“So you go into that store and ask to buy a diamond ring and the guy there says, ‘Get out of my store. We don’t serve trash like you.’ Well it’s his store so you’ve got to leave.”

“Hey, that’s even worse. Why can’t I be in the store?”

“Because it’s his store, dummy. Okay, so you’re mad at him, aren’t you?”

“Damn right, I am. I’d like to bust him one in the face.”

“Well, sure. Anybody would. So you tell a payer what a shit that guy in the jewelry store was and how he badly he treated you.”

“Why should I tell him? Is he going to go beat up the guy?”

“No, dummy. But he will see that the guy gets paid less than he would otherwise. Also, the people who gave those rings to the jeweler won’t get paid for a ring you bought from him, they’ll get paid for the ring you bought at the store down the street or off the Internet. So if you make diamond rings, who would you want to have selling your rings?”

“The guy down the street, sure. But what if the guy down the street feels the same way? What if all the jewelry shops refuse to sell things to me?”

“What if the sky falls on you? Come on Jeff, be reasonable. People can earn money selling you jewelry. You think there won’t be lots of folks who want that money? People are greedy. You can depend on that. There’s bound to be lots of greedy jewelry owners. Besides, if they won’t sell to you, there must be lots of other folks like you they won’t sell to, so you should go into the jewelry store business just to sell to those people yourself even if you have to make your own jewelry. You’d make a fortune.”

“What if none of the jewelry makers will give me their jewelry to sell?”

“What if you were making jewelry? Would you turn down a chance to have somebody sell your stuff? What if you were just getting started and trying to establish a reputation for the things you made? Wouldn’t you take a chance on some guy just getting started? Sure you would. I’m telling you, Jeff, human greed will guarantee that before long any bigot who refuses to sell to women, or blacks, or Jews or whatever, will be out of business because it will cost everybody he deals with money for him to refuse sales to them. Being a bigot is a very expensive proposition any more.”

“But you can still refuse service to anyone?”

“Sometimes refusing service is the smartest thing you can do. Sometimes it’s a really dumb thing to do. If you can’t tell when it’s smart and when it’s dumb, then you aren’t going to make much money and nobody’s going to want to work with you. You’ll have to get a keeper to tell you what to do if you want to have a lot of money. I can’t believe you’re that dumb, Jeff.”

“I’m not dumb. I’m just lazy. I don’t want to have to think that hard. I don’t want to have to pay that close attention all the time.”

“Then you have to choose, don’t you? You can choose to be lazy if you like, but it’s going to be expensive.”


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