Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Class War: A Perspective on Wealth

weaalth distribution in U.S.A.

Source: Bing Images

©2016 By Bob Litton

WEALTH
1a. An abundance of valuable material possessions or resources, riches
1b. The state of being rich, affluence
2. Goods and resources having value in terms of exchange or use
3. A great amount, a profusion
The Free Dictionary (online)

* * * * * * * *

As long as I have been aware of societal divisions into classes I have hated the whole idea of a caste system and not strictly because of any income gaps. No, I am repelled by the notion that somebody could believe that he or she is irreversibly superior to me by divine right or other source such as a congressional appointment. I got my first taste of the totem pole culture while in the air force when I learned that I was expected to be always the first to salute and that I must always surrender place when even the spouse of an officer picks up mail at the postal window. That very much offended me and I still bridle a little when memories of those incidents come to mind.

Nor do I have any appreciation for the terms “upper class”, “middle class” and “working class”. I guess we are supposed to be thankful that the words “peasant” and “slave” are no longer generally descriptive of people in the United States and most other countries, but that is not enough: the whole class system must be erased entirely. (Sadly enough, slavery— or “involuntary servitude”— is still irritatingly present, although illegally, in my fatherland.) In the United States, class distinctions are not generally based on bloodlines as they have been in Europe and in Asia but on wealth, although family connections were more noticeably determinate up through, perhaps, mid-20th century.

During the last couple of decades the topic of “income inequality” has often appeared in newspaper and magazine articles and columns. Repeatedly the image of a very small portion of the U.S. population—the so-called “one-percenters”, those whom Thorstein Veblen called “the leisure class”— has accumulated more than a third of the nation’s wealth, and the next 19 percent possess more than 50 percent, leaving the remaining 80 percent of our citizens with only 15 percent of our national treasure. How did that happen?

Now the conservatives like to argue that the super-affluent obtained their riches through hard work, thrift, and prudent investments. To a limited degree that is true for some of the rich but not, I believe, for all of them. With the exception of “prudent investments”, those attributes cannot logically account for the vast wealth gained by the one-percenters. A person would have to enjoy an extremely high hourly wage to get wealthy through “hard work” (a phrase I handily contemn). Of course, most of us are aware of the ridiculously high “salaries” and bonuses lavished on corporate executives, even when their companies are losing money and are letting the CEOs go with “golden parachutes”.

In an April 24, 2014, column Harvard economist and regular The New York Times contributor Paul Krugman wrote that the primary route to riches for most of the one-percenters is not by way of “hard work”. Krugman applauded a recently published economics book by French economist Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century, in which the author asserts that the affluent don’t get rich from enterprise but from assets gained mostly through inheritance. Piketty calls for “progressive taxation as a way to limit the concentration of wealth”, wrote Krugman. Conservative critics have responded with ad hominem attacks, calling Piketty a “communist”, Krugman noted, because they cannot come up with any substantively valid arguments to refute him.

Some roads to riches, however, do involve initiative and energetic endeavor—along with considerable native intelligence. Two of the richest men in the U.S., for instance, started their eventual capitalistic enterprises while still in school, with assistance from classmates. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wrote his first computer program at age 13 while in prep school and went on to refine his geek skills, with college classmates, to a point where he could start-up Microsoft. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook working with four college classmates in their dorm rooms. More about those two later.

Many young people of our time, though, seek to win fame along with fortune in either entertainment or sports. The most worrisome thing about this trend, for me, is that only a very small number attain the stature and earnings they had hoped for. And the “earnings” of those who do seem as ridiculously out of proportion as those of the corporate executives.

Harrison Ford, for example, reportedly received from $10 million to $25 million (different sources cite different amounts) upfront for his final appearance as Han Solo in The Force Awakens (2015), along with .5 percent of the film’s gross earnings. Contrast that with the $500,000 his contracted base pay was for Return of the Jedi (1983), the $100,000 for The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and the $10,000 for Star Wars (1977). The .5 percent on gross sales of course significantly augments those figures.

Another major Hollywood figure, Carole Lombard, was the highest paid cinema star of 1937, during the Great Depression. Of course her earnings that year ($485,000) did not come anywhere near Harrison Ford’s, but we must allow for inflation. She did earn $150,000 for each picture, definitely exceeding the amounts Ford initially received for his first two Star Wars films. The main reason I mention Lombard here, though, is the interesting tidbit I picked up from an August 25, 1938, article in The Mercury. She paid four-fifths of her 1937 earnings on taxes; after that amount plus various incidental expenses such as her press agent’s fee, her net income was about $20,000, according to Mercury.  “‘But I have no kicks,’ she [said]. ‘I am pretty happy about the whole thing, and 20,000 dollars a year is plenty.’ She added: she was glad the government was spending the rest on public improvements….’”

Then there is the music industry. I recall viewing the film The Glenn Miller Story in 1954. It starred Jimmy Stewart as Miller and June Allyson as his wife Martha. I now can recall only three scenes from it, and even those only vaguely. The scene related below is the only one pertinent to this essay. (I transcribed the dialogue from the film as I viewed it recently on YouTube):

Miller’s parents come to visit him, Martha and their infant child in their new home — a mansion for the times. While Glenn and Martha lead his parents up the wide stairway, his father inquires about how his son has managed to pay for the house on a musician’s earnings:
Pop: “Paid for, is it?”
Glenn: “O yeah, yeah, all paid for.”
Pop: “Must be doing pretty well.”
Mom: “O yes, he’s doing pretty well. Don’t we hear him on the radio every night?”
Pop: “That’s only 15 minutes. Don’t suppose they pay very much for that.”
Mom: “Well, there’s the records, and he’s playing at the Hotel Pennsylvania.”
Pop: “How much do they pay for playing on one of those records, son?”
Glenn: “We get three cents a record.”
Pop: “Three cents, huh? Have to sell a heap of records to make it worthwhile, don’t you?
Mom: “But they do, dear.”
Pop: “How many copies of a record do they sell, son?”
Glenn: “O, of ‘Moonlight Serenade’ we sold about 800,000.”
Pop: “Did you say 800,000?”
Glenn: “That’s right.”
Pop: “O! Heh, heh, heh.”
Now, if you suppose that Glenn Miller’s orchestra spent a full 8-hour day producing “Moonlight Serenade”, then they grossed $24,000 on that one record. Of course not all of that went to Glenn, there were the members of his band and presumably a studio rental and sound technicians to cover, not to mention some income tax. Still, that was just for one record; when you consider similar days for a whole work week, Glenn still came out pretty well.

The above scene brings to the fore an important question. We may be amazed and even disgusted at the huge amounts recording artists make from their records and live performances; but when we look at it a little more objectively, three cents is a really paltry amount on a single record. It is only when we multiply it by the 800,000 purchasers that the earnings jump significantly. And the world’s consumer market has increased tremendously since the 1930s, when Miller was just starting out. How can we begrudge some musician three cents on a single record?

As far as record sales go, the gain hasn’t increased all that much since Miller’s time. From what I have been able to gather online, the most popular musicians of today—the “rock stars”—receive only 75 cents to a dollar on an album. No, most of their wealth comes from live performances and T-shirts. An average box office “take” for a live performance was noted as between $150,000 and $200,000; but the fee for venue rental can be as high as $50,000, and there are the truck drivers and “roadies” wages to pay. Still, one source claims that each member of the rock band Metallica has had from $5 million to $10 million in the bank from their start-up to the present.

The earnings of major sports have become similarly ludicrous. In December 2015, basketball star LeBron James signed a lifetime contract with Nike to act as their brand-enhancer. The exact amount was not revealed, but ESPN reporter Darren Rovell estimated it could be worth $1 billion. In 2014, James joined the Cleveland Cavaliers for $22 million a year. And, Rovell wrote, James “ranks as sixth on Forbes 2015 list of highest paid athletes.” James’ total wealth—from endorsements and business ventures as well as from playing basketball—has been estimated at $64.8 million.

During the same month (December 2015) that James contracted with Nike, pitcher David Price finalized a $217 million, 7-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. According to Jimmy Golden of the Associated Press, the terms of the contract are that Price be paid $30 million a year for 2016-2018, $31 million in 2019 and $32 million in each of the final three years.

Professional sports teams that used to be filled by white men only are now predominately black. I don’t know what happened to the white guys: Are they physically unable to compete anymore or are they too racist to engage in the try-outs? As for the blacks, professional sports teams have become the equivalent of the 1840s gold mines; they apparently dream from childhood on of becoming sports heroes; sports has become their pathway to success and financial security. And the team owners are playing this longing to the hilt: I read an article not long ago that related how scouts have been venturing to a certain country in Africa (which one I don’t recall) to recruit youngsters to come to the USA and show their stuff; unfortunately, a large percentage of youths who venture westward cannot make the grade, not because they aren’t talented enough but because there aren’t that many positions open.

Another source of over-the-top income is gambling, either in the stock market or in the lotteries.

Oprah Winfrey, for instance, bought 6.4 million shares of Weight Watchers stock in October 2015 for $43 million. Almost as soon as this newsy item was out, Weight Watchers stock skyrocketed by 90 percent, according to ABC News. Winfrey said she invested so heavily in the company—which was “struggling with declining sales and a looming debt of $144 million” (ABC)—because Weight Watchers had helped her and millions of others with their weight issues. (The prestige derived from her joining the board of directors very likely helped them, too.) In February 2016, however, Weight Watchers stock declined 29 percent, according to USA Today (Feb. 26, 2016), and as of that date Oprah had lost about $29 million on her investment.

Then there is the much less admirable mode of gambling in which a hell of a lot of poor people engage: the lotteries. As far as I am concerned, this is a national sin. Yet the fact that lottery winnings are so absurdly astronomical testifies to the willingness of many of my compatriots to be gulls. I recall a news story from 1987 about a New York City janitor who won $5 million in a lottery, went to work the next day and, as he was about to climb a ladder to screw in a light bulb, another bulb lit up (in his head). “What am I doing this for?” he wondered, “I’m a millionaire.” Fifteen months later, according to a 1992 New York Times story by Alessandra Stanley, the lottery winner died in an automobile accident; and, since he left no will, his family had to spend a lot of time and money on lawyers and accountants plus income and estate taxes before they could extricate themselves with an estimated $400,000. Many other lottery winners’ stories have reportedly ended in similar Dickensian tragedies, according to what I have seen on the Internet.

But the most ridiculous money-grubbing story I ever read about concerns that silly little ditty known as “The Birthday Song”. If you live in the English-speaking regions, you probably know the words to the song. (I won’t dignify them by calling them “lyrics”, as some people do.) And if you don’t know the words, they are absolutely simple to learn; no memorizing necessary. It goes like this: “Happy birthday to you/Happy birthday to you/Happy birthday dear Nancy (or whoever)/Happy birthday to you.” It is usually sung at birthday parties; Marilyn Monroe sang it to John F. Kennedy at a celebration for him, but it is a universal tradition for anybody’s birthday in my country.

The ditty, you will note, contains only four words with an additional two stuck in as the addressee. And when it was supposedly composed by two sisters in Kentucky in 1893 no thought was taken as to copyright. The two ladies, Patty and Mildred J. Hill, used the ditty simply as a tool for teaching young children to sing. It reportedly first appeared in print in 1912, still without credits or copyright notices. Then, in 1935, the Summy Company registered a copyright. That company was bought by Warner/Chappell Music in 1988, when “Happy Birthday” had an estimated value of $5 million. Groups larger than small gatherings of relatives and friends had to pay royalties to the company for the opportunity to chirp the nonsense. For one such opportunity, in February 2010, the royalties reportedly amounted to $700. According to the Wikipedia article where I read up on this farce, “the song is the highest-earning single song in history, with estimated earnings since its creation of $50 million.” In addition, legal battles over the copyright issue went on for decades until February 8, 2016, when Warner/Chappell accepted a final judgment declaring the ditty to be in the public domain. For an entertaining summary of the lurid history of “Happy Birthday” I refer you to the Wikipedia article.

So, what can we do to “level the playing field” in economic, not sports, terms? Not a whole lot, I’m afraid, for greed and thievery will always be part of the human makeup. There are some proposals and movements, though, that seem promising to a small extent.

One is that old one FDR applied during the Great Depression and to which I referred when discussing Carole Lombard’s patriotic attitude: raising tax rates on the rich. Such is not going to happen, however, as long as the Republicans dominate Congress. Anyway, to me it seems a Sisyphean solution, attacks the symptom, so to speak, rather than the problem, and would certainly aggravate the tensions between rich and poor. But it might stabilize the income gap until a more satisfactory solution can be instituted.

A sort of obverse to that approach is what has been termed a universal basic income (U.B.I.), which New Yorker staff writer James Surowiecki wrote about in his June 20, 2016, column. The tactic here is to pay every U.S. adult a stipend of, say, $10,000 a year (children would receive a smaller amount). An experiment on this idea was tried in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada, in the mid-nineteen-seventies, and, although a conservative government buried it quietly in 1979, later research indicated that while the guaranteed basic income was in force hospitalization rates had fallen, more teenagers had stayed in school, and work rates had only barely dropped.

New experiments on U.B.I. are currently underway or planned in Finland and in Oakland, California, Surowiecki reports. He writes: “In the U.S., the new interest in the U.B.I. is driven in part by how automation will affect workers. Bhaskar Sunkara, the publisher of the socialist magazine Jacobin, told me, ‘People are fearful of becoming redundant, and there’s this sense that the economy can’t be built to provide jobs for everyone.’”

I’m all in favor of a U.B.I., but even it might leave a certain discontent in people’s minds—the yearning to be useful and creative. I am too cynical to believe that every adult in the U.S. has enough imagination and energy to discover and develop a creative purpose or function or vocation on his/her own just to preserve his mental health. I can only hope I am wrong.

As long as we have businesses and industries that still employ people and that hope to retain their work force for a long period, another approach might fit: Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). Actually, ESOPs have been around for years now, becoming popular in the mid-nineteen-seventies. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, by 2014, seven thousand companies had ESOPs covering 13.5 million workers. I will let NCEO describe the system themselves, for they can do it more clearly than I:

“Similar to Profit-sharing plans, the ESOP is a trust fund into which the company contributes new shares of its own stock or cash to buy existing shares….Shares in the trust are allocated to individual employee accounts. Although there are some exceptions, generally all full-time employees over 21 participate in the plan. Allocations are made either on the basis of relative pay or some more equal formula. As employees accumulate seniority in the company, they acquire an increasing right to the shares in their account, a process known as vesting. Employees must be 100% vested within three to six years, depending on whether vesting is all at once (cliff vesting) or gradual.

“When employees leave the company, they receive their stock, which the company must buy back from them at its fair market value (unless there is a public market for the shares). Private companies must have an outside valuation to determine the price of their shares. In private companies, employees must be able to vote their allocated shares on major issues, such as closing or relocating, but the company can choose to pass through voting rights (such as for the board of directors) on other issues. In public companies, employees must be able to vote on all issues.”

There is more and important information in the NCEO statement that might interest you, but I will have to refer you to NCEO’s website (www.nceo.org) to read it, for my essay is already too long and I have a bit more to write.

All the media coverage over the huge disparity between the incomes of the super-rich and the rest of society apparently has had some impact: The Giving Pledge. According to its Wikipedia article, the Giving Pledge’s goal “is to inspire the wealthy people of the world to contribute the majority of their net worth to philanthropic causes, either during their lifetime or upon their death. The Pledge is a moral commitment, not a legal contract.” In June 2010, billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett formally announced “the Giving Pledge campaign” and began recruiting members. By August, forty people had pledged $125 billion. As of March 2016, one hundred forty-two individuals or couples had pledged an aggregate total of $731,860,000,000.

A year or two ago, before I had even heard of The Giving Pledge, I read a comment by Melinda Gates (Bill’s wife) in some news article to the effect that she didn’t need a billion dollars to live on and was planning to give some of her wealth away. I have long been suspicious of Bill because of his viciously aggressive business tactics, but I was also pleased by his reported charitableness: he reportedly has donated many, many computers to children in Africa. I realize that could be a subtle business tactic, too, since it might lead to future purchases of his Microsoft products in the future, but why “look a gift horse in the mouth”? (Come to think of it, the Trojans might have done well to have done just that!)

As for Warren Buffett, he has been one of my favorite people for several years now—ever since he urged Congress to make his tax rate higher than his secretary’s. If he approves of Bill Gates enough to associate with him in this Giving Pledge organization, then I guess I’ll have to accept Gates as okay, too.

The top five donors on The Giving Pledge roster are Bill and Melinda Gates ($77.3B), Warren Buffett ($66.7B), Larry Ellison ($49.3B), Michael Bloomberg ($37.2B), and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan ($35.7B).

According to the Wikipedia article, “The pledge does not involve pooling money or supporting a particular set of causes or organizations. The pledge asks only that the individual give the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes or charitable organizations either during their lifetime or in their will….The pledge encourages signatories to find their own unique ways to give that inspire them personally and benefit society.”

I don’t know whether my curiosity derives from good old-fashioned journalistic instinct or from dirty old cynicism, but I wonder what these people’s motives are. Could they be reacting to the threat of a possible new revolution of the French sort? (You might recall that one year later the “Occupy Wall Street” movement began in New York City.) Could they be honestly sensitive to the inequity of the wealth disparity? Could they have concluded that a hyper-tax is looming ahead and want to determine for themselves where and how their contributions are to be spent? I can’t answer those questions, and I don’t think it is necessary that I do so. Although the Giving Pledge is not likely to benefit me individually or directly, if it reduces the number of solicitations for contributions that show up in my mail box each December, then I will be pleased.

Finis

 

 

Goodbye, Tooth Fairy!

Tooth Fairy

©2004, 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: The article below was written back in 2004.  At that time, I submitted it to one of our local weeklies. The publisher/editor never printed it. I did not ask him why, but I supposed, with substantial grounds, that his reason was that it was “soft news”; i.e. material that had no immediate relevance for the populace but was a rather small matter that yet could in fact disturb them— they might avoid their local barbers and dentists. Also, while he puts out the best chronicle in the three-county area in the sense that his reporters cover ”hard news” (governmental, political and social events) more fully and accurately, he doesn’t have much appreciation for feature articles or what used to be called “familiar essays” (a common element in the “Talk of the Town” section of New Yorker magazine), which are my forte. So, this article has been stuck in my files all those years, yet I believe it still makes engrossing matter for the intellectually curious reader.

     I have altered the names somewhat, reducing them to initials, because I did not have permission from the subjects to include their full names, although they knew I would publish the article sometime, somewhere. Also, the barber retired half a dozen years ago.

    Enjoy!
—BL

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

There’s new news and there’s old news—but they are not always so simply distinguishable.

Take for example a recent trip to the barbershop for my monthly trim. I went to K. N.’s barbershop. Usually, one of the other barbers cuts my hair, but on this day I had the honor of K. N. himself shearing my mane. After he had done the basic work, he pressed out a palmful of lather and smeared it on my neck. It had been I don’t know how many years since anyone had done that.

“Since when did you start shaving the neck?” I asked. “I thought shaving was out ever since the AIDS scare happened.”

“Oh, we’ve got these stainless steel razors now,” he said. “I used to use Solingen steel blades from Germany. Other barbers used Sheffield steel from England. But they both had pores in them that retained blood. Now I use stainless steel. And I use it only one time.” The stainless steel blades, we discovered after looking at a box, are made in the U.S.

The State of Texas Barber Board, K.N. told me, sent out new regulations about ten years ago ordering barbers to quit using the porous razor blades. They also had to get rid of their strops and hones.

K.N. said he doesn’t offer shaves, even though they would be allowable with the stainless steel blade. He quit shaving years ago, he said, “because people have skin blemishes—like moles. And when you lather a customer up you can’t see the moles.”

About ten years ago was also when the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, sent out regulations telling dentists to modify their practices in the interest of reducing the potential for transmission of HIV, according to local dentist J.F.

The regulations were a response to the case of a dentist in Florida who a decade ago allegedly infected five patients with the AIDS virus, J.F. told me. However, he said, all five cases involved different strains of the virus.

My conversation with the doctor about AIDS developed when I went to see him about tender gums. As I sat in the chair I noticed that the ordinary chairside spittoon was missing.

“Where’s the spittoon?” I asked the dentist’s hygienist as she was sticking a tube in my mouth.

“Oh, we can’t use those anymore,” she said, “because of AIDS.”

What she had stuck in my mouth, J.F. later told me, is called a high-speed suction tube. It removes all that saliva and blood we used to spit into the spittoon. Also, J.F. said he has a line separator in his alley so that there is no possibility of backflow.

The doctor told me the amount of regulations controlling dental practice these days is voluminous. And some of them are ridiculous, he added.  “The virus lives only minutes—some people say less than a minute—out of its moist environment,” he said. “But the regulations are so stringent; we can’t even give a kid his tooth to leave for the Tooth Fairy*. That tooth has to be treated as ‘medical waste’.”

While I was still there, J.F. called up the CDC to get a more definite fix on how long the HIV can live outside its fluid environment. However, they refused to give him a specific time period and said only that when the virus dries out it dies. They added that the hepatitis A virus could live several weeks in the open air before dying. (They obviously didn’t want to give the Tooth Fairy any wiggle room.)

So you see how a news story that began back in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president, continues to ripple into the 21st century. And how our daily lives are continually and probably forever changed in the minutest of ways by the event that created the story.


*Fairy: I don’t know how widely the folklore of the “Tooth Fairy” extends, so perhaps I should relate it briefly here. Children’s “baby teeth” begin to drop out at about age six. Generous, loving parents sometimes tell their child to put a dropped tooth under their pillow so that the Tooth Fairy can remove it and replace it with a small coin, such as a dime.

                                                                            Finis

The Dismal Science: Part II

©2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved. 

NOTE TO READERS: I am continuing my meandering journey through accumulated thoughts on business owners and their employees.
Before I go any further, I want to apologize for the “political incorrectness” scattered throughout these writings; I refer particularly to the use of masculine pronouns to represent any person of either gender. I do not intend to slight or annoy feminine readers; it is just that the “he/she” routine is awfully cumbersome and seems wasteful time-wise. I have lived most of my life during a period when the use of the masculine pronoun was acceptable as representing anyone, male or female.
Also, I have yet more to say on the general topic of economics; but I think that, after this installment, it will be good to take a break by writing about something more fun…or funny.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

The Entrepreneurs and the Investors…

My first inclination was to use “The Capitalists” for the subhead above, but that term is too exclusive while at the same time too smeared with political connotation; it has acquired an aura of bloated grandiosity. The truth is that our inherited economic system does not consist entirely of plutocrats; there are many more small-time players in the game, from the mom-and-pop grocery (which actually is pretty rare these days) to the owner of a small factory that employs, say, fifteen people. Each of them has invested significantly in their relatively minor enterprises with money from their earnings in a previous job, their savings, or with money borrowed from friends or some seed-money organization.

For years now, I have heard and read that any individual beginning a new business should have an initial financial surplus above their estimated operating expenses for two years: that surplus is what they are to live on during the start-up period. I sadly noticed that many new business people do not adopt that “rule-of-thumb” and they fail.

Another mistake many small business aspirers make—which I observe rather than read about—is that they, naturally enough, start a business related to their personal hobbies, abilities or interests, without checking around to see how many such places already exist in their area. Frequent choices of the sort are a boutique store, a flower shop, or an ethnic restaurant. A bizarre example of this mind-set is the bar-fly with a comfortable bank account who suddenly decides that, since he enjoys the company of his fellow bar-flies so much and he is tired of paying someone else to supply his beer habit for a couple of hours every day, he should open his own bar; he does this without thinking he is going to have to spend most of every day and night, seven days a week, tending to the place. Those people have done little to nothing in marketing research or deep personal evaluation before risking perhaps their life savings in a launch toward the American free enterprise dream. But I admire them for trying.

I have written before about how one of my brothers teamed up with a carpet-layer in opening their own carpet store, specializing in dropped patterns, slightly irregulars, and used carpet. The two men made up a good combination in some ways: my brother had had several years’ experience in selling used cars and possessed a knack for getting along with people and haggling, while his partner was the son of a carpet dealer/installer and was himself possibly the fastest carpet-layer in the city. They were successful for nearly twenty years, increasing their stores to three before my brother’s partner sold his half to my brother and moved to Montana.

But another reason I mention the carpet store here is to introduce what I call the “copy-cat” aspect of business: if you have a good thing going, someone will quickly imitate your process or product. During the first years, a man opened a furniture store right next door to my brother’s store. Not many months later, he, too, started selling carpet, although on a much smaller scale. One day he used red paint to draw out on the sidewalk some hooked arrows, pointing toward his door, and the words “Carpet in here”.  He was capitalizing on a premium ad placement my brother and his partner had in the weekly TV guides published by the two daily newspapers.

The same game is perceivable in the larger spheres of business. I noticed long ago how some soda pop brands, new to the market, copied the colors and even to a slight degree the labeling design of an established brand. And some lawyers make a pretty good living contesting copyright and trademark infringements, in the courts.

Despite the risks, drawbacks and villainies described above, I much respect the folks who venture their all to start up a small business. Such people — the smart, successful ones, at any rate, — are the economic backbone of our nation, of any nation. Reportedly, in spite of their small size, combined, they employ more people than any other entities in the country. The politicians claim to highly regard them, too; although, when I hear a politician call up the image of “small business” to buttress his assertions about whatever, I become annoyed by what I perceive to be the lowest kind of platitude.

At least one thing the small-business employer has in common with the industrialist: He or his managers have to deal with government record-keeping. The amount of such paperwork has purportedly increased incrementally since the early days of unionism, or rather successful unionism in my country. The business owner with employees has been appointed tax collector, safety inspector, and health insurance provider for those people working for him. Even though, being all my life a member of the proletariat, I am sympathetic to the working class (as it is so condescendingly described), I believe that perhaps too much such responsibility has been placed on the employer’s shoulders. On the other hand, a large part of the employee’s life-span as well as his individual skills are being expended on behalf of the employer’s business; his labor is his capital. The first contribution obviously is being consumed irretrievably, and the latter is vulnerable to injury and obsolescence; while the employer’s business will hopefully grow, and his investment in buildings and equipment can be depreciated on his tax return.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

…and now the Employees

This is going to get awfully personal, but there is no help for it. For, you see, I have never owned a business in my life, unless you insist on considering that year or so in my youth when I had a paper route or the decade I reported on a contract basis for our local radio station as self-employment or “businesses”. No, I have always seen myself as a member of the “working class”. And during my lifetime of working, I have always compared myself —my speed, productivity, effectiveness and collegiality—to my fellow workers. Such observing and measuring has naturally informed my view of the workers in general.

I discovered in my teens that I was slower, physically, than most people; it was a handicap that I never overcame, although I could to a small degree compensate for it by being diligent and detail-conscious. On a few occasions in various work places, the individual who was showing me how to do a task has been surprised, when I noticed a fault in something like a file or when a shipment had been overlooked, and said, “I didn’t notice that!” On some other jobs, such as being news editor at a country weekly, speed was not usually a priority, as long as I filled the news hole each week. But I was let go from several other jobs, such as house-painting, because of my turtle’s pace.

Sometimes, though, when I noticed some co-worker’s slap-dash efforts that often resulted in slight damage to a product or an ill-lined stroke of paint, I thought to myself, What is the point of rushing through some task if you’re probably going to have to do it all over again or it is going to look crappy to the customer?

Some of the people I have worked with, however, have been graceful and dedicated workers. But the best comment on such talent cannot come from me: it came rather from a carpet installer/salesman who described another installer as “an artist…his every move seems to flow so naturally that the carpet seems to lay itself.”

That brings up another aspect of my immature attitude toward compensated work: I thought the job was there primarily for my benefit. My satisfaction and comfortableness with it were my main concern. Only well into adulthood did it dawn on me that my job was to help my employer be successful, to make money for him. I remember my first job beyond the paper route , when I was fifteen. I worked for a few weeks for an air-conditioning contractor, my brother’s father-in-law. He paid for my lunch the first day, and I deduced from that, that employers ordinarily bought their employees’ lunch. I know, that sounds crazy, but you have to realize that I had had no prior training from my parents in work ethic or etiquette. I guess they thought that just came naturally.

Still, the benefits for workers have in fact multiplied since the unions began to win their extended battles in the 1930s. Paid holidays and health coverage eventually became virtually universal in the major industries and some smaller ones. Now the fight is on for paid maternity leave, even paternity leave. How different is that from my supposing that employers conventionally buy their workers’ lunch? Of course, mossbacks like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan dealt some heavy blows to the union movements as such; but those blows seem to have merely fractured the union organizations, the forces of labor now apparently have moved into the populace as a whole. I cannot say this with authority, but I believe that the current forces for change are the result of the rapidity of modern mass communication; it is like an ocean tidal wave awakened by a crack in the Earth’s crust. Not just the workers are joining in the push, but some of the billionaires themselves, like Warren Buffett. They recognize the force of change cannot be stopped, that they have more money than they can spend, that the needs of the workers must be recognized and tended to.

But there are other, contrary attitudes in play, too: the reactionaries.

Soon, I believe, the era of the worker will conclude. The inventors are designing robots and other types of mechanization for virtually every occupation from store greeters to accountants…even journalists now. The Associated Press is already mechanizing its facts-gathering and article-composing processes. Boy, am I glad I’m not going to be around much longer! Not many decades hence, the plutocratic industrialists will no longer see any use for other humans except as consumers; but how will people be able to consume if they have no jobs to pay for the things they consume. It will be a world of loafers and artists living on garbage out of dumpsters.

Or everything will be free, but, in such a world, there will be no joy in ownership, for such joy derives mostly from having worked to make the money to pay for something much desired. If there is no work other than punching a few keys or turning a couple of dials, then where will the sense of pride in one’s efforts reside?

Finis

The Dismal Science: A.K.A Economics .001, Part I

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All rights reserved.

Dear readers, I originally had intended to make this essay a single exposition. However, as I got into it the ideas, emotions and resultant words multiplied like the sorcerer’s apprentice’s mops, so I decided I had better break it into at least two, and possibly more, essays. I wanted to get the rocks out of my gut. As I write this preamble, I am nearly through with Part I. The composing procedure I have adopted is thus far slightly rambling; as you know, I have a tendency to write “off the top of my head”. But rest assured the substance is not fluff: I have been observing and pondering the economic scene in my homeland for many years now. O God, please help her!

I wrote in one of my newspaper columns decades ago that I have an aversion to economics, which has been dubbed “the dismal science”. But, like nearly everyone else on this globe, I cannot escape its various impacts on my life. I was thinking of excluding among the victims the Inuit in the Arctic and the forest dwellers in the Amazon jungle, but we have read recently of how climate change is melting away the tundra ice and thereby eliminating the surface on which some Inuit have their homes, and how some greedy gold, oil and farmland seekers are invading the Amazonians’ habitat; so, even those reclusive tribes are not excludable from the modern economic seine.

Over the past few years I have tried to organize in my mind the little I know (or think I know) about our capitalist economic system. I tried back in my early manhood to read a textbook designed for Economics 101 courses. I don’t think I got past the first chapter; any academic field that employs graphs and mathematical symbols is over my head. I just checked and saw that Wikisource has produced an apparently accessible English translation of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, which I will probably at least scan while working on this blog post, but I don’t want such reading to interfere much with my lifetime’s impressions.

That connotation-rich appositive above, “the dismal science”, evokes in my mind two images: (1) the candle-lit laboratory of the mad scientist or wizard, and (2) an above-ground intellectual field so dense and counter-intuitive as to be depressively hindering to the mathematically challenged person (me). I really believe that both meanings are appropriate, even though most people would say that the second is the one intended.

The usual wizard of folklore favors “black magic” that is intended to harm others, and he often is secretive, hiding either in some secret cave or in a vacant castle, in its dungeon or in its tower. According to a PBS program I saw decades ago, Leonardo da Vinci, probably the historical human being who epitomizes such a scientist, reportedly built, in secret, a very large telescope in a tower. Of course, he did not build it to harm anyone; he built it to satisfy his insatiable curiosity about one of his many interests: the stars and planets. The Church, however, did not see it that way; they preferred to view the whole enterprise (when they found out about it) as diabolical. Curiosity has for centuries been a bugbear. (The fact that Leonardo was left-handed did not help either.) A much more homely wizard, the king of Id’s magician, quite often makes mistakes that temporarily harm or at least embarrass him. And the ancient Chinese sorcerers experimented with many plants in their search for the elixir that would spark an eternal — or at least an extended — lifespan; their experiments yielded some poisons, for which some paid with their lives, but they also contributed a good deal to modern pharmacology. So, I see all that as indicating there is no way to avoid the bad in any science, no matter how good the intention and the final result might be. (Examine all the side effects on your medicine labels.)

And now some few words on the second image. There are many out-spoken economists these days, some of whom regularly contribute op-ed articles or columns to our magazines and newspapers. Years ago, I used to enjoy watching John Kenneth Galbraith argue with William F. Buckley Jr. on the latter’s PBS show, “Firing Line”, although I did not completely follow what either said. The two economists I follow now, whenever I happen to notice their columns, are James Surowiecki in The New Yorker and Paul Krugman in The New York Times. Both are, I believe, liberals: Krugman acknowledged as much. Although I do not grasp the thought processes that lead them to their conclusions, I agree with both men most of the time (I cannot recall any instance when I balked at one of their conclusions, although there might have been such an occasion.) They are pretty good at speaking to my level of comprehension. Some of that stuff is bound to have sunken in.

Still, there are some economic facts which I have never understood and have been disinclined, until now, to research. The oldest such matter concerns the old, hot debate regarding the “gold or silver standard” of the 1890s. From my easy chair vantage point, I could not fathom what difference it made which standard was adopted; and, since it had been settled long before I was born, I did not really give a damn. Yet, a related question continued to nag at me: Why do we marry our currency to some pretty but basically lifeless metal anyway? A barter system — what Marx called the “exchange value” of products and services — although complicated to institute, would be much more natural and true to life.

Now I would like to present my overall view of how economics rules our lives.

The world is divided into two classes of people: capitalists and workers. The former invest their money in some enterprise, either a start-up company or an existing company. Usually, the money is bet on an existing company that has already proven it can float; however, venture capital placed in an experimental or innovative effort is not unheard of; and, since the investors are “getting in on the ground floor”, when the cost of “shares” is lowest, has the best chance of “earning” a large “return” on their investments.

Just as with the wizard’s experiments, any number of hazards can cause problems for the capitalists: the company might be part of a Ponzi scheme, a CEO’s errors in judgment can diminish or even destroy the company, the company could be swallowed in a “hostile takeover”, faulty or inferior products might cause the company to lose out on desired governmental contracts or have to recall products, an extended employee strike could squeeze productivity and thus profits, and so on. Some capitalists these days, e.g. Donald Trump, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, have gained small fortunes in a single day’s stock market activity and can afford to lose the same amount without missing a step. But for many other investors — the much smaller ones — a comparable loss can eliminate their life savings. Those are the people who define themselves as “the creators of jobs”.

So, who assumes the jobs? Who actually gets the work done? That’s the workers. What I hate most about this separation into “capitalists” and “workers” is that it has been extended from the situation at the factory to that in social spaces: homes, restaurants, theaters and even churches. Of course, social class distinctions in the latter places have been moderated somewhat during the past century, but they still exist in hardly less apparent ways, what with the current movement toward “gentrification” of neighborhoods, the robotization of an increasing number of occupations, and the constant media attention on celebrities — the vast majority of whom are wealthy entertainers, athletes, foreign royalty, and entrepreneurial billionaires. Now we are debating the fairness of income inequity and slicing up social classes into one-percenters, (vanishing) middle class, and working class. Yet the working class and those even lower on the social ladder are reluctant to revolt against this pernicious system because they view the elites as models of what they might become, if only they can get that football or basketball “scholarship” or get an agent to notice them on “open mic nite” at the local bistro or if one of the lottery tickets they are buying today with half their paltry paycheck will just vault them over the rung where hangs that middle-class person. They don’t want to destroy those privileged positions, because they want to attain them.

Finis

NEXT (I hope): A more detailed look at the two major classes.

Innovation Lust

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Back in the 1970s, I began to wonder just how much longer we humans could continue to produce things without the world becoming saturated with those things. I am not speaking here of pollution—which presents its own problems—but of the possible end of ingenuity. At first I thought I was probably alone in my concern because I had never heard or read of such a potential issue. However, in 1977, while waiting in a company’s break room for a job interview, I saw in a magazine an article concerning product saturation. Unfortunately, the interview began after I had read only a couple of paragraphs, and the magazine was not my own so I could not take it with me. I have occasionally wondered what the author’s thesis and conclusion were.

Since that time, I have been observant of any new products and trends in product changes, curious what they imply for my country’s economic future. What I have seen has been a fascinating historical arc. But before I get involved here in modern innovations, I want to share part of a brief history I recently read about a much older start-up: the Pony Express. I see in that story a very evocative pattern for what has happened since the Pony Express was inaugurated in April 1861.

According to the Pony Express Museum’s website, the mail service was started by three men—William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors—as one response to the threat of the Civil War; the purpose obviously was to speed up communication between the East and the West. The acceleration of mail delivery would not be very impressive by today’s standards: the first westbound ride, from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, took 9 days and 23 hours, while the eastbound journey clocked 11 days and 12 hours, almost a day and a half difference. The service lasted only 19 months, until Oct. 24, 1861, when completion of the Pacific Telegraph line ended the need for it. Despite its usefulness in providing Californians with relatively contemporaneous news of the war’s progress, the Pony Express was not a financial success, and its founders ended up filing for bankruptcy. On a positive note, however, only one mail delivery was lost.

The main reason I mention the Pony Express, beyond its romantic history, is to provide a fairly simple, clear example of how an innovation develops and how ephemeral it can be. The express was fairly quickly perceived as a solution to an urgent problem; it was started by a small group of men willing to risk their livelihoods on its success; it was reliant on the energies and bodies of men and animals; and it lost out to a mechanical innovation. (The Pony Express was not unique, however. Marco Polo reported that, during his trip to China, he had witnessed a mounted mail service created by Genghis Khan.)

Over the roughly fifty-five years of my adulthood, I have witnessed various innovations come and go.

While employed at my first journalistic job—publications manager for the Texas Electronics Association in Fort Worth—I noticed that home repair of television sets had died out (or was dying out). The people who sold TVs in the past had usually also visited homes to work on roof antennas or replace tubes in the sets. Now all they did was sell TVs; and it was usually more expensive to repair a TV set than to buy a new one. Also, the number of American TV manufacturers had dwindled from about twelve to four; the Japanese were winning the TV set war. Moreover, American electronics retailers were reliant upon a new popular product: the CB radio.

In less than a decade, another innovation was on the market: the “beeper”. Originally and perhaps more descriptively known as the “pager”, a beeper was a little plastic box with its own phone number by which a person could be alerted that he or she was needed to call the number shown by an LED on his pager. The beeper is pretty much passé now, although a group of “entrepreneurs” was reportedly working last summer on a prototype for a more sophisticated version of the beeper.

There seems to be an unbalanced emphasis on electronic innovations, particularly in the field of communications. Every year, Microsoft or Apple or one of the other electronics giants has a show where they display the latest gadget, usually some added feature for the ipad. And within a few months, huge lines develop outside stores where eager customers have waited since the wee morning hours to buy the latest gadget.  We have all noted, too, how many of us consumers seemingly cannot drive down a road or sit through a movie or share a meal out with a friend without one of those cell phones in our hand. This madness has called forth innumerable cartoon satires as well as warnings from health officials.

But the TVs have not been entirely neglected: they have gotten wider, thinner, more inundated with channels, and more definitional. They and streaming FM radio channels have pushed the old juke boxes (which I miss) into the cubicles of flea markets. The saturation of TVs in many bars (I counted five in one of our local hangouts) has caused the description of those venues to be changed to “sports bars”.

Movie houses have become sparser because people can view films, initially on VHS tapes and then on DVDs, through their home-based big screen TVs within six months after their initial showings in the movie houses. For a couple of decades, many cities and towns could boast at least one “video store” where the tapes and DVDs could be rented, but the entrepreneurs who established those stores made the common entrepreneurial mistake of expanding too fast and too far, and then their businesses became threatened by the innovation of online movie rentals.

And this mad race to “build a better mouse trap” and replace the proverbial “buggy whip maker” presents a scene of a very nervous humanity racing not just to “keep up with the Joneses” but to out-pace, even supersede, them. It constitutes a prospect of a not very healthy, integrated community, very different from the cohesive communities of the days when buggy whip makers prospered.

All of these major innovations have occurred within the span of the last fifty years. I witnessed them. A fellow named Alvin Toffler published a book back in 1970 titled Future Shock. In that book, Toffler described “‘future shock’” as “‘too much change in too short a period of time’”. (I confess that, although I was aware of Toffler’s book when it came out, I never read it because I had read a review describing its thesis—with which I agreed—and saw no need to read it. What I have quoted here is derived from the Wikipedia article on Future Shock.)  “He believed the accelerated rate of technological and social change left people disconnected and suffering from ‘shattering stress and disorientation’—future shocked. Toffler stated that the majority of social problems are symptoms of future shock.”

Toffler’s book was published forty-five years ago. I have witnessed much of the changes he wrote about and can attest to his veracity, for I feel “‘disconnected and suffering from ‘shattering stress and disorientation’”.

Finis

A Message to So-called “Followers”

Over the two years since I began “The Vanity Mirror” some 130 folks have checked in as “Followers” to my blog site.

Most of them have been people attracted by their interest in a single subject on which I have dedicated an essay; when they discovered that the rest of my topics were not part of that vein, I believe, they stopped visiting. That’s okay. That’s understandable.

Others have been genuine bloggers, too, but their interests (e.g., fast cars, fashions) are so foreign to my own that I wonder what brought them to me. It could be that they thought “following” my blog would entice me to follow their blog. Some bloggers’ sites indicate that they have thousands of “followers”: how could they possibly read each others’ blog posts? That doesn’t work with me. I figure that if somebody wants to follow my blog, they are benefiting their self—and reasonably so, since that way they won’t have to check out my site every day to see if something new has been posted. But they are not benefiting me.

Others have shared a similar background and/or occupation: philosophy; poetry or literature in general; graphic arts and music; social and political concerns. They, I hope, have stuck with me.

There was a period in 2013 when several bloggers—mostly young folks—were pushing what I considered a get-rich-quick “pyramid scheme”; they disgusted me and I hope they have vanished entirely.

During the past couple of months, I have been “followed” by a few who are pushing a “cash-back” program or programs. I don’t know what these people are hoping to gain from “following” my site, except perhaps it is a quick, cheap way for them to advertise to me individually. All I can say to them is “Go get an honest job and stop wasting genuine bloggers’ time!!!”

Merry Christmas everybody!!!
Bob Litton

Waylan The Water Man

© 1980, 2011, 2014 By Bob Litton

Jack Forga- Ron COleman- Waylan Martin & Richard Sitz

Democrat Ron(ald) Coleman (U.S. Rep. for 16th District of Texas from 1983 to 1997) is greeted at the Monahans airport by Waylan Martin (under hat), chairman of the Ward County Republicans. I confess to tricking the two into the “photo op” because of their contrasting political allegiances, but I also wanted to get the two together to work on the water conservation issue.

NOTE TO READER: For those who have not discerned as much by reading through my blog posts, the ones even tangentially referencing politics, I am a liberal down to the marrow. Therefore, I tend to vote as a Democrat, although there have been times in the past when I voted for one or two Republicans in statewide races because they seemed to be best qualified for whatever posts they were seeking. However, since 1980, and even more so since 2000, I have been so angered by Republican policies and tactics that I have voted a straight Democrat party ticket. I have painted the Republicans with perhaps an overly broad brush, judging the ones in power as oligarchists and their supporters as either of the same ilk or as gullible fools.

During my turn as editor of the Monahans News, in the early 1980s, though, I met a Republican gentleman who was exactly that: a gentleman, and a good-natured one at that. His name was Waylan Martin. At the time I met him he was a member of the county hospital’s board of directors. It was, of course, one of my duties to attend that board’s meetings and report them in the paper. Waylan and I became good friends—in fact, he probably was my best friend; that position is hard to measure absolutely. We had coffee together most mornings and we occasionally went flying in Waylan’s four-seat plane.

Waylan was also the chair for the Ward County Republicans. I teased him about that a few times, but mostly we did not let politics get in the way of our friendship. In retrospect, I now marvel that politics did not injure our relationship, because I never blushed at raking the Republicans over the coals in my newspaper column.

One issue Waylan and I definitely were in agreement on was the need to protect and enhance our water resources. We especially were in tune to the idea of canals from the Missouri River into Texas, with several reservoirs in between, in order to make the best use of flood waters. (The Ogallala Aquifer extends from South Dakota into the northern border of the Permian Basin, where we lived.) Beginning in 1977 and continuing into the early 1980s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did a cost/benefit study of such a canal system and derived an estimated cost (in 1977 dollars) of $3.6 billion to deliver 1.6 Million acre feet per year to western Kansas and $22.6 billion per year to deliver 6 million acre feet to the northern panhandle of Texas and the panhandle of Oklahoma. Congress never approved the project.

Waylan closed his water lab sometime in the 1990s in order to retire and move to Plano where his daughter resided. He died about a decade ago, I believe. The lab building is still standing—vacant.

Yes, Waylan was my friend, even though he was also a Republican, for that was a time when Republicans and Democrats could still agree on some matters at least.

* * * * * *

“The very existence of our way of life — of life itself — is dependent on water,” says Monahans water analyst Waylan Martin. “Lots of people look at me like they don’t believe me when I tell them that, but it’s true. They say, ‘But what about food?’ and I’ll tell them, ‘You can’t have food without water.’”

Martin, a native of Barstow, has been in the water analysis business for the past 27 years.  To prepare for his career, he studied at Baylor, where he received his bachelor of science degree in 1949, and then went on to the University of Texas at Austin for a master’s in bacteriology, completed in 1951.

At his water lab on West Sealy, Martin and his ten employees perform chemical, biological and physical analysis of various kinds of water for oil companies, farmers and others.  “Ninety percent of my work is with oil companies, including production and drilling,” he says. “Probably the next most significant amount is irrigation wells.”

The last time he counted them, 357 water injection stations for oil and gas wells all over West Texas were being quality checked on a quarterly basis by Martin’s lab.  “There’s always some amount of water coming up with oil and gas during production,” he says. “When they get concerned is when there’s a sudden change in the amount as an increase of ten percent to twenty-five percent or from eighty percent to ninety-five percent.”

According to the water expert, during the completion of a new well, the additional water can derive from any of five sources: acid water, drilling brine, frac water, load water and natural water.  Most of the water sources can be tolerated for a while; it’s the “natural water” which scares oilmen because its supply could be permanent.

“It’s extremely important to them to know which of those waters it is,”  Martin emphasizes. “If there’s little water so the well can continue to produce gas or if there’s enough oil to justify continuing to pump the water, they’ll keep pumping.  But if it’s natural water, they’ll usually abandon it and move on.”

However, the biggest problems in oil wells is not the water that comes out with the oil but the “suspended matter” that remains in the fractures in the rock and can plug up the oil sources there.  “Suspended matter” includes paraffin and asphalt particles, silt, sand, iron sulphide, iron oxide and others.

Martin says these impedimenta would be avoided entirely if the oil producer could continue to use a fresh supply of water, but after two or three years the water is being recycled and is liable to become contaminated with suspended matter.  “They have to recycle it because the Railroad Commission forbids recovered water being left on the surface,” Martin explains. “The reason is to avoid surface and aquifer contamination.”

At present, the main means of ridding water of suspended matter is “flotation”: putting it into tanks and letting the paraffin and asphalt float to the top.  It’s time-consuming and more expensive than using a continual flow of supply water, but it prevents contamination of the surface and aquifer.      

As we said earlier, the next most significant source of Martin’s employment is the agricultural sector.  Farmers and ranchers are concerned mostly about contamination from salt and septic tank seepage.  “Nine out of ten salt-contaminated wells are caused by evaporated  irrigation water,” Martin explains.  “Well water with two hundred to three hundred parts salt is considered excellent irrigation water. After irrigation, however, ninety percent of the water will evaporate, and your soil now contains ten percent of the water left with two thousand to three thousand parts salt.”

Two or three such irrigations, and the salt content in the soil will be considerable.  “Nevertheless,” Martin says, “if you’ve got good water wells, you will use up all your water before you ruin your soil, like what is happening to the Ogallala aquifer.”

The real danger is that the highly concentrated salt water will seep through the soil back into the well and ruin the water supply.  One solution to the problem, cited by Martin, is to build subsurface drainage ditches, such as are common at Barstow, where the irrigation water can seep back into the Pecos River.  “At other places, such as Dell City,” he added, “they use ‘leaching’, where you irrigate heavily enough to wash the salts down to below root level and hold it there.”

Another problem, which not only farmers and ranchers face but any home-owner with well-supplied house water, is the danger of bacterial contamination, usually caused by septic tank seepage.  “The possibility of water being contaminated by a very serious source ― such as salmonella or cholera ― is so remote that you don’t think about it in the case of stock tanks,” Martin says, “but in the case of house water you worry about it even if the chance is remote.”

When Martin determines that some farmer or rancher has house water contaminated with bacteria, he suggests sterilization.  If that doesn’t stop the problem, he suggests plugging the well with cement and digging another one.

Any new well should be dug at least one hundred feet away from the old well.  Martin says he has known of wells being contaminated from as far away as one hundred and eighty feet from the source, however.  “The trouble around here is that some of the sand and gravel is so large  the bacterial contamination can extend further than one hundred feet,” he explains.          

Waylan Martin opines that we will continue to have contamination problems with water as long as we are reliant on wells to supply it.  “What I would like to see is a canal from Montana or even Canada all the way along the slope of the Rocky Mountains into South Texas,” Martin says. “They’ve got more water up there than they know what to do with, and it’s all going into the Mississippi and into the ocean.  As long as that river is a cheap means of travel for barges, there won’t be any such canal built.  They’ve got a powerful lobby.

“But, I believe it will be built one day, when the food shortage reaches a crisis stage.  When Americans get hungry enough it will come about.  I won’t see it, but you will.”

— Monahans News, May 29, 1980

Finis

%d bloggers like this: