Monday, January 26, 2015

Basic Economics II: PCOS, Target, and the Spanish Civil War

Alright, long post.  Beware.

I learn best through allegory, metaphor, so I won't apologize for the weird mental stretch in this post.  It's not really for anyone else, just me working out my own thoughts for myself about the economy. :) I hope I've scared everyone but the die-hards away.

Just us then?  Let's go.

Before I start with the parallels, I need to explain PCOS - my own lovely little syndrome (that was sarcastic).  When you hear Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, you're like ooh cysts on ovaries.  I get it.  But it's so much more than cysts on ovaries - and doesn't even necessarily even include them.  (They're just the symptom that usually triggers a diagnosis, because the other symptoms are often overlooked.)

PCOS is a collection of symptoms that occur together frequently enough for them to be identified as one disorder - disease - condition - but nobody is sure of their cause or why they often occur together.  (Some of the links within the syndrome are causal, but not all.)  I'm not a doctor, so I'll likely muddle this up, but I'm going to explain it the way I understand it.

The PCOS body doesn't know what to do with carbs.  A carbohydrate comes in, my body sets off an alert, and traps them in a fat cell, along with hormones and nutrients, and puts a high security warning on the door.  Nothing is getting out.  Carbs that come with a lot of fibre - like fresh fruit and veggies - get swept away fairly quickly.  But carbs that don't - like bread and sugar - are instead locked inside fat cells along with hormones and vitamin D and all sorts of other helpful (but now inaccessible) elements that my body needs in order to function properly.  All the potential is there - but it's in lockdown.  My fat cells are hyper amazing jailers ... they're just really sucky police officers, and they think everyone is a threat.  As a result, the PCOS body is often tired, malnourished (my doctor was scared of rickets, my D count was so low), chubby, pimply, balding, and infertile. Not really working the way it was designed - not beautiful, healthy, strong, productive. And it craves carbs - the carbs it's actually stuffed with, but needy cells can't access it.

It's an Alanis Morrisette song waiting to be written.

But when I found out all the details of PCOS, I was so furious.  Mad, that I actually had all the resources I need, but due to my hoarding fat cells, was unable to access.  I was particularly mad about fertility, but pretty ticked about weight gain, zits, mood swings, and potential rickets too.  Everything was there! But nothing was going where it needed to go. I can feel my temper kindling as I think about it.

Last week, when the news came out about Target closing and the CEO's severance package being equivalent to the severance of all the other 17000 employees combined, I saw that same kind of temper kindling.  We know that CEOs earn more than shop-floor employees, but that he was getting THAT much more? A collective "Not fair!" echoed around the internet.

And because I learn by analogy, I started thinking about the ways that hoarding resources is bad for the whole of society and I began to think that our economy is a lot like a PCOS body.

Fat cells are good.  They insulate the body and we need them.  But when they start hoarding resources, the rest of the body suffers.

Same with the wealthy.  We need wealthy people in our economy - they can efficiently use their wealth to create jobs, provide a storehouse of financial nutrition that borrowers can draw from to meet new demands or to survive lean times.  But when the wealthy hoard resources simply to lock them away -

people suffer.  People die.

In Spain, after WWI, the small upper class was excessively rich.  So rich that they didn't need to spend their resources to become wealthier.  They had more than more-than-enough.  So instead of employing the peasants to work their land (who might, after all, earn or steal a little more than subsistence demands), they let the land lie idle.  The prices of food increased but the wealthy didn't mind.  The peasants starved.  Land lay empty all around them, they begged for work, begged for land in which to plant some food - but their begging fell on deaf ears.  The rich were like my stupid fat cells, hoarding all the goodness inside while my body breaks down around it.  It wasn't necessarily malice, but apathy - they couldn't be bothered to go to the trouble.

And what the fat cells don't realize is that they support - or ruin - the body in which they dwell.  Personal hoarding makes a cell fatter but does not make the body better.  A well-stocked fat cell is a blessing and a joy, when the fat is able to be burned for energy, when it cushions bone, when it does its job.  (Anyone medical is probably dying with laughter, but you know what I mean!)

One of my favourite stories of fat-cell success starts in a small town in Zimbabwe.  There was a woman whose husband died, and she had four children.  She had always worked the family garden while her husband earned money to buy the things she couldn't grow - school fees, meat, bus fare, that sort of thing.  But with him gone, what was she to do?

She asked a visiting doctor for a loan.

After two years, she paid back half of the loan.  After four years, she repaid the remaining balance, with interest.  In those four years, she had used the loan to keep her children in school, food on the table, and eventually opened a store.  The loan met her need, and enabled her to establish the means to keep her needs being met into the future.

That is the fat cell, working well.

The super-wealthy can be resource banks, or they can be resource vaults - and society suffers when they are resource vaults.

You want to know the amount of the loan that made such a difference in the widow's life?

Forty dollars.

I think of that Target CEO and his former employees and I get so mad - he failed, and he gets THAT kind of money?  The system that funnels the resources his way is broken, the same way that my PCOS body sends all my carbs straight to lockdown.

Until I realize that I can compare myself in the other direction too.  I'm also a fat cell.  Compared to a lot of the world, a hoardy one.

We've all got resources - we can use them, we can hoard them, we can cultivate them, we can let them rot -

But no matter who we are, I think Haley's lesson from Economics 11 stands.

Those who can, should.


PS - They haven't found a cure for PCOS yet - but there are ways of working around it and managing the symptoms.  It's a lot of work - but the effects are beautiful (some of them are sleeping upstairs as I write).

PS2 - That doctor was so inspired, he turned around and inspired a lot of people.  Microloans are a thing - Google it.

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