King’s Survey: Pitchforks and Bagels

In which we wonder whether strange bedfellows can make a new kind of politics

Kids, I’m hoping you remember a conversation we had the other day when I compared the coming of industrial capitalism to a wind that blew across the national landscape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

—How could we forget such a poetic metaphor, Mr. K.?

—I don’t think it was a metaphor, Em. I think it was an analogy.

—Oh Sadie you’re right.

—Nope. You’re both wrong. It was simile: industrialization is like the weather.

I’m impressed, Ethan.

—We just did this in English last week.

Well, bravo. To repeat: industrial capitalism was like the weather. Everybody felt it, but reacted differently depending on who they were, or where they were. Some regarded this new meteorological front sweeping across the landscape as a gentle breeze; others felt it like a chill. And people responded to the wind in different ways. All those workers who went on strike: they were responding to that weather. Racists who used lynching and Jim Crow laws to keep African Americans in their place—many white Southerners were obsessed by this notion of place—tried to prevent this labor force from blowing away.

And then there were the farmers.

—You know, we haven’t talked much about farmers in this class.

It’s true, and it’s a real defect of this course, reflecting the limits of my vision. Nowadays, farmers are only about two percent of the U.S. population, and as such are invisible to a great many of us. But until 1920, more Americans lived on farms than in cities, which is to say that in a meaningful sense U.S. history is really rural history. In any event, the wind sweeping across the nation is affecting these people just like everybody else. Some, of course, are being pushed off the farm entirely. But the ones who stay behind are being affected in powerful and complex ways. Railroads make it possible to move their crops over long distances, but put them at the mercy of rapacious railroad companies. Fancy new technology raises their yields, but such equipment is expensive and the farmers end up borrowing money that’s hard to pay back, especially when prices are dropping (in part because a surge in supply is making food less valuable).

Your recent homework has been talking about the ways farmers have started to organize in the last decades of the nineteenth century: the Grange, a series of cultural and social centers that spring up around the South and West; the Southern Alliance, which helps forms cooperatives—

—I didn’t quite get how those work.

Sort of like massive Sam’s Clubs or Costcos for farmers, Jonah. They allowed them to buy in bulk and store surplus crops cheaply.

—Cool.

In 1892, these various efforts coalesce in into the formation of the Populist Party. The Populists have lots of ideas about how to fix what’s wrong with the country: a graduated income tax (by which I mean the more you earn the more you pay); the direct election of Senators (chosen in elections rather than the state legislators, which is how the Constitution said it had to be done); more railroad regulation; free rural post office delivery. Many of these ideas would eventually become law, with the notable exception of one proposal we’ll get to later: the idea of pegging the dollar to silver. But at the time, these ideas are considered downright kooky.

So now I want to pose a question to you. One of the great hopes of the Populists is that they’ll be able to forge an alliance with the industrial workers of the cities and break the power of the big banks and big business. How realistic do you think that is?

No one?

—It’s really hard to say. We don’t know enough.

I understand. But Chris: you’ve got a thoughtful expression on your face. Whaddya say? Farmers and factory workers: a good fit?

—Nope.

Would you care to elaborate?

—“I would prefer not to.”

That wouldn’t happen to be a Melvillian “prefer not to,” would it?

—We’re reading “Bartleby the Scrivener” in Ms. Anthony’s class.

Got it. How about you, Paolo?

—Makes sense to me. They’re both getting screwed.

Do they have anything else in common?

—I dunno. Do they need anything else in common?

Great question. What do the rest of you think?

—It’s not clear to me that farmers and factory workers are a good fit. You said that one problem the farmers had was falling prices, right?

Yes, Adam, I did.

—That’s good for workers, right? They get cheaper food.

That’s true.

—More than that, though. It’s different cultures. People who live on farms and people who work in factories lead very different lives.

—I’d never want to live on farm. Pace is too slow.

—You’re a snob, Em.

—Why thank you, Adam!

I can tell you one thing you don’t often (sometimes, but not often) find on a farm that you find in cities all the time. Can you guess what I’m taking about?

Bagel

—A good bagel?

Any bagel?

Actually, you’re getting close. Who eats bagels in the late nineteenth century?

—Who doesn’t?

No, seriously.

—I am serious.

—Bagels are Jewish food.

Yes. And where are Jews from?

—Israel?

There is no Israel at this point. Where are all the Jews?

—Russia?

Yes.

—Poland?

Yes.

—France?

Some. But you get the idea. Jews are immigrants. There are lots and lots of immigrants in America. Most of them are in cities. Again: that’s not absolutely true. You’ve got Swedes in Minnesota, for example. Czechs in Nebraska. Germans and Mexicans in rural Texas (they’re making beautiful tejano music that integrates the two cultures). But there’s a general sense that the cities, particularly the eastern cities, are very mixed, while the countryside is very white.

—Aren’t Germans white?

Sort of. Whiter than the Irish, anyway. And both are whiter than the Italians. Particularly the Sicilians. They’re basically negroes.

—Like I said. There’s that cultural barrier. They’re like not even speaking the same language.

—No “like” about it. They’re literally not speaking the same language.

—It sounds like the Populists are racists.

—Why would you say that? Mr. K. just explained they’re reaching out. They want an alliance.

Well, Sadie does have a point, Adam. Yes, they do want an alliance. But they tend to think of it on their terms.

—Are there black populists?

A typically excellent question from Yin. The answer is yes. Populism was in many ways a decentralized movement, and so there were variations in the degree of interracial cooperation. Sadly, the cooperation that did exist tended to break down. One of the most famous Populists, Ben Tillman—known as “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman—ended up as a vicious racist. There was also, I’m sorry to say, an anti-semitic strain in Populists, despite (or maybe because) many Populists had never actually met a Jewish person. Some were convinced that Jewish bankers were taking over the world.

—God, this is thoroughly depressing. Thanks for all this happy information, Mr. K.

Well, don’t despair yet, Sadie. This story isn’t quite over. I have more to tell you.

—Hey, Sadie. Don’t feel bad. Now everybody eats bagels.

—Yeah, but I had a bagel once in Denver. It was awful.

—I had one in Florida that sucked too.

—Yes, but America is a work in progress. First we got bagels for everybody. Now we need to work on making better bagels.

—A good bagel is like a refreshing breeze. Now there’s a simile.

—As good as a bagel in Denver.

 

 

 

King’s Survey: Playing Monopoly

Standard_Oil
Standard Oil refinery, Cleveland Ohio, 1889.

In which we see that free markets can be a complicated business

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the president of the Jonquil Railroad Company.

—Hey, nice job, Jonquil!

—Hey Jonquil, can I get me some free tickets to L.A.?

—Thank you. Thank you all. Jonah, that would be no.

—Awww. Really?

—Well, we’ll see.

You can be sure that Jonquil didn’t get to where she is by giving things away, Jonah. She’s a tough businesswoman. Actually, much of her clientele is oil companies. More specifically, her clients include Chris, Yin, Brianna, Kylie and myself. We all own companies that ship our product along a key stretch of her line that stretches from Chicago, Illinois, to Cleveland, Ohio—essentially across the bottom half of Michigan. Rail is a much more efficient means of transportation than the alternative, which involves shipping by barge around the Great Lakes. That’s what we used to do before Jonquil came along.

John-D-Rockefeller-sen
John D. Rockefeller, 1875

Oh: I almost forgot to tell you. My name is John D. Rockefeller. I own a company called Standard Oil.

—Hmmm. That sounds vaguely familiar.

Well, I’m not very well known. I’ve really only been in business for a few years, since the War Between the States.

—Well, something tells me that you have a future, young man.

Why thank you, ma’am. As you may know, oil is a difficult trade. It’s really only been a business for a few years. Actually, the oil business itself only dates back to, 1859, when it was discovered that the thick, viscous sludge that accumulated in ponds around the Pennsylvania and the Midwest actually burns clean for fuel, and does so more cheaply than alternatives like whale oil or kerosene. Nowadays, we drill wells underground and tap the oil as it surges to the surface. But it still has to be refined, much in the way that iron has to be processed into steel.

Here’s another, bigger problem: oil is basically a commodity.

—What does that mean?

Well, even though it has to be manipulated to be usable, it’s widely regarded as a raw material, like coal, or lumber or milk or butter. Manufactured goods, especially ones that have patents, tend to be much more valuable. To be honest with you, there really isn’t much difference between the oil that I sell, or that which Brianna, Chris, Yin, or you do, Kylie. And we all have the same fixed costs. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it costs $1 to extract one barrel oil from the ground. And that it costs another dollar to refine it. And a third to ship it on Jonquil’s rail line between Chicago and Cleveland on her Sandusky line. The only thing we can really compete on is price.

—So what do you do then?

Why don’t you ask them?

—Yeah, Adam, why don’t you ask us?

—Fine, Chris. How much do you charge for your oil?

—Six dollars a barrel. Three bucks to make the oil, three bucks in profit.

—Well I only charge five dollars.

—Well aren’t you special, Kylie. I charge four.

You can see where this is headed, Adam. All of us undercutting each other. Brianna is charging $4. As a result, Yin is likely to charge $3.50. The profit margin will keep shrinking. And here’s the thing: stuff happens. Maybe one of Brianna’s boilers will break down and have to be replaced. Now she has a big repair bill. Maybe there will be a strike at Kylie’s plant, and the workers will want more money. There’s a danger that they’ll be selling the oil for less than it costs them to make it. These price wars will be ruinous. Maybe everybody but Yin will go broke, and then she’ll be the only person producing oil. What do you think will happen next?

—Oil for ten dollars a barrel.

Right. A huge surge in prices. And when Emily and Sadie see how obscenely wealthy Yin is becoming, they’ll enter the market and charge nine dollars, then eight, and pretty soon, the whole process will repeat itself. And poor Ethan and Jonah, who are just trying to heat their house or fuel their tractor, will be on a never-ending roller coaster ride. Crazy, isn’t it?

—Something tells me you have a solution, Mr. Rockefeller.

Well, as a matter of fact I do. I happen to have a little extra money on my hands. And I’ll tell you how I’ve used it. I’ve built new state-of-the-art storage facilities. I’ve also built links between my plant and Jonquil’s depot to make it extra easy for her to collect my oil for shipping. As Jonquil knows, I’m absolutely fanatical about making sure she gets paid in a timely way. What I’m saying, in short, is that I strive mightily to be a dream customer. Is that so, Jonquil?

—Oh yes. A dreamboat.

Excellent. I am so glad to hear that.

—Uh oh, Jonquil. Something’s coming.

You see, I’m a much better customer than Yin, whose facilities are really a bit of a pain for Jonquil to reach. And Kylie has had some financial problems, so she doesn’t always her bills on time. And I’m told that Brianna has been actively looking for alternatives to shipping with Jonquil, whether in terms of encouraging other rail companies to start competing in the region or negotiating a better price for shipping by barge. It’s slower, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cost-effective. But, I, as Jonquil just said, am a regular dreamboat.

—Here it comes.

Jonquil, I’m hoping we can revise our arrangement a little.

—Uh, OK. What do you have in mind?

Well, here’s what I’m thinking. In this market of great uncertainty, I think we should really commit to each other. I’m willing to contractually promise a steady stream of business with you, which will no doubt help with your own financial planning. And I’ll continue to maintain state-of-the-art facilities to make your job easier. In return, I’d like a little discount on the shipping, a kind of most-favored-customer deal.

—How much of a discount?

Doesn’t have to be much. Maybe something like ten cents, so you’ll charge me 90 cents but everyone else a dollar. But here’s the thing—a thing that matters a lot to me, but shouldn’t really matter to you. I want this to be our secret. In fact, I want you to be able to say, accurately, that you charge everybody the same price of a dollar. We’ll have that ten-cent discount come in the form of a rebate that you give me later. One more reason to take the deal. Will you?

—Don’t do it, Jonquil!

—Rockefeller is the devil!

I’m an honest businessman, Jonquil. And I’m not competing with you. Actually, I think of us as partners. Ask your friend Adam here what he thinks. I bet he’ll give you good advice.

—Honestly, Jonquil, I don’t think you have much to lose. Actually, I think Brianna, Kylie, Yin and Chris have more to worry about. I could be wrong.

—What happens if I say no, Mr. Rockefeller?

I don’t know, Jonquil. But I’m mighty curious about what Brianna is up to. She’s a smart woman. Maybe those rumors about alternative forms of transportation are true.

—Oh, all right. Whatever. I’ll take the deal.

—Jonquil!

—Sorry, B. I just don’t want to have to think so much!

Excellent, Jonquil. We have a deal. Now let me accelerate the pace of time a little and explain what happens. I price my oil at $2.95 a barrel. That’s a dollar to extract, a dollar to refine, 90 cents to Jonquil and a tiny profit of a nickel per barrel. But I’m not losing ground. The others, by contrast, can’t charge less three bucks and expect to stay in business. Assuming disaster doesn’t strike me—possible, but not likely, because as you know, I am very careful and shrewd—sooner or later they will die. And they know that.

—You’re disgusting, Mr. Rockefeller. You’re going to do that ten-dollar thing you just said was so bad.

No, Emily, I’m not. Actually, the first thing I’m going to do is go to our friend Kylie. Kylie, let’s agree: you’re not the world’s greatest accountant. You’ve had your problems paying your bills even before this happened. But I really respect your skills in prospecting, and I think you have a good future. So I’d like you to come work for me.

—Well, what if I don’t want to?

Hey, it’s a free country. Which is why, if you persist, I will exercise my own freedom and crush you.

—Well, since you put it that way, I guess I’m joining you.

Wonderful! I’ll take over your operations. I’m going to pay you more than you were making. And Jonquil will be thrilled, because she knows I’ll do a better job of paying my debts than you ever were. And now we’ll have twice as much $2.95 oil. Chris, you see where this is heading. You want to join a winning team?

—I guess.

Excellent! Brianna? Yin? What are the two of you talking about over there?

—We agreed to team up to fight you.

Oh, that’s very unfortunate. That’s very unfortunate for me, because it means a temporary loss in profits. And it’s unfortunate for you two as well. I’m going to price my oil at a dollar a barrel. I’m afraid you simply won’t be able to survive that. I will drive you out of business. I’ll price my oil at a penny a barrel if I have to. Hell, I’ll give it away, because I know I can absorb more pain than you can. Would you care to reconsider?

—Are you allowed to do that?

What wouldn’t I be, Sadie?

—Aren’t there rules against this kind of thing?

Rules? Of course not. For one thing, this whole oil business hasn’t really been around long enough for there to be such rules.

—Yeah, but isn’t what you’re doing a monopoly? Isn’t that wrong?

Wrong? Absolutely not. Listen: I’m doing everyone a favor here. I’m bringing order out of chaos.

—Well, what’s going to stop you from charging $100 a barrel?

For one thing, it’s a big country. There are lots of Kylies and Briannas out there who will try to undercut me if I get too greedy. (Actually, trying to outsmart them is what makes this fun. Why I hope to keep doing it.) And I don’t like the roller coaster any more than the Jonahs and Ethans out there. That’s why I’m going to price my oil at $6.50 a barrel—and keep it there as long as I can. Bring some predictability to the market. Stability. That’s what the business community needs. That’s what consumers need. That’s what we all need. Don’t you agree?

Don’t you?

—This reminds me of that conversation we had about Carnegie and his libraries. I mean, it was nice that he built them. But it isn’t really his job. The government should do it.

The government? That bunch of losers? They couldn’t govern their way out of a paper bag! Everybody knows that no one with a half a brain goes into government in this day and age.

—Well, maybe that should change.

You go ahead and dream. In the meantime, I’ve got a business to run.

King’s Survey: Charity Case

800px-Andrew_Carnegie,_three-quarter_length_portrait,_seated,_facing_slightly_left,_1913
Andrew Carnegie, Apostle of the Gospel of Wealth

In which we follow a money trail—and ask whose it is

So, gang, what did you make of that Andrew Carnegie reading on the Gospel of Wealth? Let me read the key paragraph again:

This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth: To set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community-the man of wealth thus becoming the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.

 —Sounds like Carnegie sees himself as the ultimate American Dream boy.

Explain what you mean, Ethan.

—I mean he sees himself as someone who starts with nothing, works hard and becomes rich.

—And screws everyone else in the process.

Everyone else, Brianna?

—OK. Maybe not everyone else. But a lot of people. Look at what he did at his factory at Homestead, locking out those workers. That was cold.

Well yes, there was some unpleasantness there. But let’s not dwell on that now, shall we? We don’t want to end up sounding like that horrid little man Eugene Debs, who has such peculiar ideas about the relationship between capital and labor.

—Yeah: that the workers make the capital.

Again: let’s talk about something more pleasant, shall we? Like charity, Carnegie style.

—You keep saying Car-nay-gee. Is that the right way to pronounce it?

Yes, Kylie. Like Henry David Thorr-Row.”

—Weird.

Maybe so. Anyway, as you know, Carnegie becomes the dominant figure in the new American steel business in the closing decades of the 19th century. Which puts him right smack in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. Because steel is absolutely crucial. A man-made material derived from iron—like oil, it has to be refined before it can be a useable fuel, iron must be manipulated at very high temperatures to become steel. Once you do that, though, it has all kinds of uses. It’s indispensable in the railroad business, for example. Steel is to the Industrial Revolution what fiber optic cable is to the Internet. You don’t always see it behind the walls, but you’re nowhere unless it’s there.

—Isn’t it also used in buildings?

Indeed it is, Kylie. The fact that steel is both incredibly strong and relatively light makes it possible to erect really tall buildings in cities like New York and Chicago. Steel is so important, in fact, that it becomes a measure of a nation’s industrial prowessa nation’s place in the global pecking order was often ranked in terms of its steel production. That was true well into the 20th century, when the leader of China, Mao Tse Tung, starved his own people in a mad quest to boost steel production in an initiative known as the Great Leap Forward. But that’s another story. The point is that Carnegie becomes a very rich man making steel, and becomes richer still when he sells his business to banker J.P. Morgan for something like a billion dollars.

—Pocket change.

Maybe so, Emily. But one thing you can do with that kind of money is charity. And Mr. Carnegie is a charitable man. But he’s not content to simply give the money away. He thinks it’s important to help people to help themselves.

—Give a man a fish, blah blah blah.

Just so. So Carnegie makes an offer to communities around the country. He says that education was the key to his success, and that the key to his education was public libraries. That’s why he offers—and in fact he does—build hundreds of libraries and stocks them with books. But he has a condition: the communities that receive these gifts must promise to maintain these libraries and staff them appropriately. My question is: Does this seem like a good deal?

—Well sure. I mean, why not?

—Jonah’s right. After all, it’s his money.

Hmmm. His money. But is it, Chris?

—Well, yeah. He earned it, didn’t he?

Well, I don’t know, Chris. What do you mean by “earn?”

—Right. He didn’t earn it. He stole it.

—Oh, c’mon, Brianna. It was his company. The whole thing was his idea. I mean, yes, he had people do work for him. But without him, the company would have never happened. He was a talented guy. And a guy who created jobs.

—He was talented at taking advantage of people, Adam. And making himself look good.

—It’s like he’s LeBron James.

Interesting analogy, Ethan. Explain.

He’s a star. He makes a lot of money. And he packs the stadium. People come to see him. Carnegie made a product that everybody wants. Yes, there are other people making steel. But it’s like he has this brand that’s incredibly valuable.

—It depends on what you mean by “valuable.” I mean, sure, steel is important. But so are a lot of other things. And people. Like policemen. I admit there are some bad ones. But there are some good ones, too. But none of them make a million dollars.

A good example, Sadie. Here’s another one: daycare providers. They help people who make money. But there are no superstars there. No play-by-play on ESPN: Did you see how she stopped that baby from crying? Holy cow: check out that stroking technique! It’s all in the wrist. Did you know that she averages a foot-pound of torque per ten strokes? That leads the entire eastern regional daycare system. She’s all pro for the seventh year in a row.

—Not bad, Mr. K. But I suggest you keep your day job.

—I gotta agree with Adam on this one. Carnegie was not a nice guy, though he liked to pretend that he was. But you don’t become as successful as he was by being a nice guy. Still, he was doing a good thing with those libraries. I mean, not everybody did this kind of thing, did they?

No, Em, you’re right. Many did not. Carnegie wasn’t unique. John D. Rockefeller, who was to oil what Carnegie was to steel, also did a lot of philanthropic work. We recognize those names today for the hospitals, research centers, and other institutions they founded. Then there were other people, like James J. Hill or Daniel Drew, who were scoundrels. At least I’m not a hypocrite, they’d say.

—Wait. Is Drew University in New Jersey named for him? I have a cousin who goes there.

Yes, Kylie, you’re right. I stand corrected on that.

—Not a very good school, though. She hates it.

—Well, maybe Adam is right. At some point you have to say a good thing is a good thing.

So gang, even Sadie is aboard now. But Yin, your brow looks furrowed. You want to weigh in here?

—I understand what Adam and the others are saying, but there’s something about this that just doesn’t seem right to me. Something about the way Carnegie gets to decide if and when something happens.

Well, I can’t imagine what your problem is, Yin. I mean, it’s not like this is a democracy or anything.

—Yes! That’s it! Libraries are supposed to be democratic. Why does he get to decide?

—Because he has the money. That’s what rich people do. They get to decide. It doesn’t stop a town from building their own library if they want one.

—But Chris, there are some things in a society that the government really needs to do. It’s not like he can’t get rich. Or even give gifts. But when you start making the government an act of charity it really creates problems.

—What are you going to do? Ban people from building libraries?

—How about you tax rich people and then use that money for the libraries?

—You start taxing people that much they’re not going to bother making money.

—Is money the only reason people do something?

—Not the only reason. But the main reason.

—Is that why you go to school? To make money?

—Damn straight!

—Ugh.

—What gives you the right to look down on me for that?

OK, OK. Let’s step back here. Let’s agree that there are any number of reasons why people work hard, and that includes work hard in school. And that making money is one of them, and a legitimate one. Let’s also agree that people who are a lot smarter than we are argue about tax policy.

—No.

No?

—I don’t agree that there are people who are people who are a lot smarter than we are. I’m the LeBron James of high school students. And I get two foot-pounds of torque every time I push a pencil.

Agreed, Em. Kids, you’re all on my varsity squad.

—Oh, and one other thing, Mr. K?

What’s that?

—I’m the president of the class union. We have a few demands….

King’s Survey: Winds of Capitalism

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Mill District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1940

In which we learn about different responses to climate change

Kids, there’s a strong wind blowing.

—Well, it is winter, after all.

—Winds don’t blow only in winter.

—You know he’s not talking literal winds, right?

—I learned a little about this back when I was in fifth grade. There are different kinds of wind. Westerly winds, trade winds, some others.

Yes, Ethan. But the wind I’m talking about is the wind of industrial capitalism.

—Oh, industrial capitalism! Of course. You know that’s actually my very favorite wind.

—What are some other kinds of wind that you like, Em?

—Oh, you know, the usual ones.

—Like what, Em? I mean, given that you’re the expert.

May I, Em?

—Please do, Mr. K.

I think what Emily is trying to say is that capitalism—an economic system based on private ownership of property and production—has been around for a long time, and existed in different forms. In the colonial era and early republic, we had what is sometimes called mercantile capitalism: a form of capitalism based on largely hand-made goods and commodities. With the coming of the industrial revolution, the essence of which is mass-manufacturing by machines in factories, we entered the age of industrial capitalism, which is the topic at hand. That process began before the Civil War but really intensified after it. In the twentieth century we saw the rise of consumer capitalism, a shift in focus from the production side to the consumption side as the real engine of the economy. Here in the 21st century, people speak of financial capitalism, one in which the role of banks and speculation is central. Mercantile, industrial, consumer, mercantile: you can think of them as the north, south, east and west winds of capitalism.

—Exactly. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Thank you, Emily.

—God, Em, you are shameless.

—Thank you, Sadie.

As I was saying, there’s a strong wind blowing. The thing about the wind is that you can’t see the air itself, even as you see and feel its effects. Those effects are clear, and they’re global. All over the world (though at this point mostly in Europe and the United States), factories are springing up. Cities are growing. People are leaving farms and heading to those cities and factories. Old jobs and ways of life are disappearing; new ones are rising to the fore. The speed and power of this wind is especially apparent in the United States, particularly in cities like Chicago. Huge buildings are going up. Transportation systems are sprawling. People are flocking in from all over the world, because a voracious demand for labor is bringing immigrants to the nation’s cities. There’s a crush from all the crowding, all the jostling.

—Is that a good thing? I can’t quite tell from the way you’re talking.

Is the weather a good thing, Kylie?

—Well, sometimes. Sometimes the weather is nice. Sometimes it rains or storms.

—But the weather is the weather. It’s not really something we have any control over. It’s not really good or bad. It just is.

That’s right, Jonah. Of course, our notion of whether the weather is good or bad may be depend a little on our perspective. Most of us like sunshine, most of the time. Most of us don’t like rain. But if there’s been a drought, we may welcome the rain. Sunshine may bring with it heat and humidity. That kind of thing.

Let me take this idea a step further. Our perspective on the wind may be a matter of what the weather has been like lately. But more often than not, it’s a matter of where we happen to be standing when the weather breaks out, so to speak. If you’re Chris here, and the wind powers your literal or figurative sails, you may be very happy that a strong breeze (which is what you might call it) is blowing. If you’re Brianna, working out in a field, the wind may chill you to the bone. If you’re Paolo, relatively secluded from the wind thanks to a house in the valley, it may not matter to you one way or the other. Of course, there’s always the chance that if the wind gets strong enough it will blow his house down. But that’s unlikely, and a lot of other houses are likely to get blown away before his is. And he might have insurance in any case. Which is to say that Paolo can’t control the weather. But he might be able to limit its effects.

And that’s something that Jonquil here sees quite clearly. She sees how Chris is doing, and how Paolo is doing. And how Brianna is doing, too. And she asks, “What can I do to protect myself from the wind?” She may go a step further and ask, “What can I do protect us—me and Brianna, but also others for whom the wind has had a deeply chilling effect?” And so it is that she organizes people to respond to the weather. Her efforts may involve getting Brianna to change the way she works. But it’s also likely to involve trying to get Chris to change, and maybe even Paolo, too. Which might be a tricky proposition.

—Don’t mess with Paolo man. He’ll bite your head off.

Exactly. Then again, Chris, Paolo might not be as bad a guy as you might think. Or maybe Paolo will find it in his interest to help Brianna in ways that might not be obvious at first.

—Wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

Maybe not. Maybe that won’t matter, because Jonquil’s crowd may be able to exert enough pressure on Paolo to change whether he wants to or not.

There’s one other thing to remember: whether or not Paolo, or Jonquil, or anyone else responds or doesn’t respond to that wind, it’s important to keep in mind that the wind itself isn’t static. It shifts, in ways that are hard to predict. Maybe it dies down; maybe it intensifies. People can take advantage of the weather (or not), but they can’t control the weather. Sometimes it may seem that way for a while, and sometimes like-minded people who inhabit a similar position on the landscape can benefit over time more than others. Weather lasts forever. But the weather, so do speak, doesn’t.

So what’s my larger point here, kids?

—Always take a jacket.

—Protest climate change.

—Buy a house in a valley.

Um, can we think a little less literally?

—Well, yes, Mr. K., but that’s less fun. Besides, it’s enjoyable sometimes to frustrate your cute little analogies.

Guilty as charged, Em. But would you mind telling me what the analogy here actually is? What the wind is analogy for?

—You said it yourself. Capitalism.

Yes. Right. I guess what I really mean is who Chris, and Brianna and Jonquil are in the analogy.

—They’re the people who are dealing. Chris is like a factory owner. Brianna is like a worker. Jonquil is like one of the people who try to organize the workers, what do you call that—a union.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.