For *All **Nails*, pt. 11
(Since, I'm running ahead of the other posters chronologically, I am
deliberately staying away from larger international political events
as long as I can.)
The dinner wasn't really that important. Typical Chamber of
Manufacturers thing. But Bob Contreras planned on running for
president of the Chamber in a few months, so when they asked to him to
be the after-dinner speaker he really couldn't say no. Anyway, it
gave him an opportunity to publicly air some ideas he'd been thinking
about, ideas that he thought would help him cinch the Chamber
election. Even if they didn't, they needed to be said. The dólar had
just been devalued again, to 12 per CNA pound. The black market rate
was even worse: around 16 per pound. Times were hard and getting
harder, and something needed to be done.
So there were the requisite jokes, the expected fun poked at himself
and his friends around the table. After a few minutes, he got the
meat of his speech. He'd given it before, but never to quite so many
people at once.
"My company makes capital goods. We make the goods that let other
companies make the goods that the folks out there want to buy. In
other words, I can't explain to my son what it is we make, and he's
got a Ph.D." Laughter. "Alright, that's not true. We make metal
tubes. Not particularly sexy, but lots of companies buy metal tubes.
Don't ask me why." More chuckles. This was an easy crowd, and they
liked Bob. He could probably stand here and just say "Hippopotamus"
and get the same reaction.
"Now y'*all* know that business isn't good, especially in the capital
goods industry. Nobody's investing, but we keep producing. Costs
keep rising faster than prices, and we're *all* getting squeezed." He
looked around at the table. Nods *all* around.
"The problem, as I see it, is oversupply. But not by us! No such
thing as oversupply at my company. We can't make money making
something, we stop making it." He paused. "Un-fortunately, most of
the capital goods industry's production, at least in oil-related
equipment, comes from several large government-owned companies. These
companies are losing money hand over fist, but they stay in business.
Why? Because nobody owns them. Sure, we say that the federal
government 'owns' them, but that's not really true. The federal
gov-ernment is not --- ¡gracias a Díos! --- concerned with turning a
profit. No, our government is concerned about the welfare and defense
of the Mexican people, not the saldo on a bal-ance sheet."
Contreras could tell that he had the audience's attention. Many of
the men in the room were nodding. *All* of them had faced competition
from state-owned behemoths for *all* their prof-ressional lives. Most
of them knew that the behemoths lost money hand-over-fist. In fact,
many of the men in the audience had arranged to have their companies
(or, more typically, just their older outdated factories) nationalized
precisely BECAUSE they were losing money hand over fist. The
businessmen got out of the industry at a higher profit than they could
otherwise, Vincent Mercator got free patronage to parcel out and a
propaganda victory, and the workers got to keep their jobs. While the
economy was expanding, it was a win-win *all* around. Now that it wasn
shrinking, it was lose-lose, except for the government's bureau-crats.
Not Contreras's friends in the government, oh no, but the other
He couldn't say that, of course, in the Brave New Mexico. He could
say, though, "But is operating these factories the best way for the
government to help the Mexican people? The plants are losing money.
More efficient producers are being driven out of business. Even the
real wages of workers are failing to keep pace with inflation." He
took a sip of water.
"Might it not be better to sell the factories to owners who will need
to make a profit in order to survive? In a level market, only the
best firms will survive. But won't some factories close, you ask?
Might some workers be thrown on the streets? The first part is true.
Some factories will close. But the second is not. Yes, some workers
will lose their jobs, but no one need live on the streets. The
money the federal government will save from not reward-ing failure
will come to far more than the wage bill of any workers who may be
displaced." He paused again, and looked over the table.
"Not that the government should have to cover the bill, not when us
fat cats are getting the benefits. That would be un-Mexican. So I
propose that the Chamber of Manufacturers es-tablish a fund to provide
for the families of any and *all* displaced workers until they get new
jobs at their old wages. Everyone wins. The government saves money.
The workers get the chance to exercise their talents where it would do
the most good. The economy is strength-ened. And we, least
importantly, will stop losing money hand over fist. Everyone wins,
and that's the Mexican way!"
There was a two-second pause, and then the room erupted with applause.
There was noth-ing particularly new in Contreras's ideas. But the
only ones to say them had been a few wild-eyed radicals, who'd tied
them to irresponsible critiques of the Mercator government before
fleeing the country … or worse. But this was one of Mexico's
most respected businessmen. And the ideas were tied to no larger
agenda. And they made sense, and fit in with the Pro-gressive idea.
"Robert for President!" shouted one of the guests, a Durango
canned-food magnate. "You tell 'em, Bob!" said another one, some guy
from México del Norte. The only one to be reserved was Fred Buchanan,
one of Bob's oldest friends. Bob noticed that, but dismissed it.
_He's probably just annoyed that he didn't say it first_, he thought.
_Nah, more likely he's bugged by the cost of the sinking fund.
That's the kinda guy Fred is. No pedo there._
Now that the speech was over, Bob could get back the important part of
the evening: get-ting as drunk as possible with old friends, while
trying not to miss his wife, who was shop-ping in Switzerland. She
did that a lot nowadays. With only a twinge of guilt, he briefly
thought about Susanna Ek … who was most definitely _not_ in
Switzerland. Should he call her?
That decision could wait. He had more mingling to do here. Business
might be going down the tubes, but when you thought about it, life
wasn't so bad.