Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Forbes 40,000,000
The Forbes 40,000,000
Tony Hendra

The good news: for the fifth consecutive year the poor got poorer! In this - the 24th edition of the Forbes 40,000,000 - the collective net worth of America’s poorest - after being offset against liabilities – plunged from $425 to $113. Weirdly, this happens to be exactly one ten-billionth of the combined net worth - $1.13 trillion - of the Forbes 400.

Surging real estate and oil prices drove down the pathetic individual assets of the Forbes 40,000,000 and added 3 million newbies to the legendary list. Meet a couple of the exploitable nobodies who form the lowest and largest segment of America’s Great Opportunity Pyramid or GOP:

#23,085,889 Garth Hambone, 51. Net worth: $-4,637.02. Education: High-school valedictorian Hambone entered lucrative IBM Selectric division in 70s, was laid off as IBM moved into personal computers in 80s, ended up doing a 7-year jail term in Huntsville Tex. for passing a bum $31 check. Chronically unemployable he makes his home in his 1992 Hyundai, ‘somewhere’ in Sugarland Tex. and owes his negative net worth to outstanding tickets for various traffic violations. Felon Hambone can’t vote but if he could would send his Congressman Tom Delay back to Washington in November because ‘Republicans stand up for America, freedom and white folks’.

#17,996,111. Gloria Estrada 48. Net worth (as of 5:30pm PT 3/13/06), $0.05. Like most of the Forbes 40,000,000, single mom of four Gloria is desperate enough to work 2 and 3 jobs at below-subsistence wages. Gloria last had a full night’s sleep in 1995. She is currently repurposing used duct-tape for her local Wal-Mart, helping boost the stock-price of Walton heirs Alice, Helen, Jim, John and Robson (#4-#8 on Forbes 400; combined net worth $94.0 billion). When she can afford the 5-buck tab Gloria feasts on a pizza and hot bread sticks at her local Little Caesar’s pizza joints. Little Caesar’s products are typical of the food-like cereal combos on which most of the Forbes 40,000,000 subsist; their only nutritional content being the skimpy cheese toppings supplied by newly minted billionaire James Leprino (#258 Forbes 400. Net worth 1.3 billion).

With no unions, no job projection, no contracts, America’s poorest can be fired with impunity and without notice, making them willing to do just about anything to hang on to their pathetic salaries. It doesn’t hurt that for every person with a job, five other members the Forbes 40,000,000 are waiting outside the job-site to grab their jobs if they’re fired, fall sick, are injured or killed. The effects on productivity are stellar; the ever-expanding bottom-lines of the Forbes 400 are being pushed to unprecedented heights by an ever-expanding work-force of meek, cooperative, docile, pliable, low-cost neo-slaves.

Speaking of slavery, some CEOs have been quietly talking about schemes to avoid paying the poorest anything at all for their work. One possibility: finding a way to arrest and incarcerate far greater numbers of the poor than are currently in correctional facilities and then tap the prison population as unpaid workers. One niggling objection: with so many CEOs in the slammer or headed there, they could end up working for un-incarcerated CEOs. Bigger question: would hard-pressed states be willing to underwrite a massive expansion of their prisons? This in turn underlines the wider problem of paying workers nothing. Like slave-owners of old, modern owners would be forced to feed, clothe, house, even provide rudimentary healthcare for their workers if they didn’t want them dying like flies. Studies show that however skimpy these services, they’d cost substantially more than prevailing rock-bottom wages, especially when it’s factored in, that the Forbes 40,000,000’s pathetic incomes are immediately repossessed by various sectors of the Forbes 400, in food and gas bills, rent, clothing, gambling debt, futile sports and entertainment costs and usurious interest rates.

With wages for the lowest headed still lower, patriotic CEOs are also toying with the possibility that jobs exported by such companies as Nike (founder Philip Knight #22 Forbes 400 Net worth $7.4 billion) to rock-bottom Asian and Latin American economies where humans will work for 2 bucks a day, can finally be brought back home again.

The bad news that goes along with all this good news?

There isn’t any.