Life Is Good — a short story

Posted on 2014 July 2

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The club maitre d’ ushered the two captains of capitalism onto the smokers’ veranda. The men settled into luxurious lounge chairs that overlooked the city at sunset. 

The investment banker, still clad in his blue pinstripe suit, opened a small case and pulled out a pair of costly Cohiba Gran Reserva cigars, a gold Davidoff guillotine cutter, and an ST Dupont torch lighter. He turned to the CEO. “Care for a smoke?”

The CEO was removing his tie; he shook his head. “No, thanks.”

The banker shrugged, snipped off the tip of one of the cigars, and applied the torch to the bottom. The blue flame, like a rocket ship’s flare, quickly seared the tobacco into glowing life. The banker took a puff and leaned back. “How am I going to corrupt you if you won’t participate in my vices?”

The CEO smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m already quite corrupted. In fact, let’s have some obscenely expensive cognac.” He signaled to the liveried waiter, who returned moments later and decanted the perfect amount of Camus Cuvée into tulip snifters. The CEO raised his glass. “Santé.”

The Banker raised his. “Back at ya.” He swirled the liquor for a moment, took a sip, then set the glass down on the small table between the chairs. “Enjoyed your performance up on The Hill yesterday.”

The CEO raised an eyebrow. “You saw that?”

“Sure. C-SPAN.”

“Oh right.”

“Loved how you bitched and moaned about the new regulatory regime for your industry. You put on a good show.”

The CEO shrugged. “Well, the rules are a burden. They should know about it before they cause job losses.”

The banker chuckled. “Job losses. Right. Listen, you know as well as I that the entire system of federal regulations makes us much richer than we could be otherwise.”

The CEO sighed. “Yes, yes, you’ve said something like that in the past. But okay, you’re the numbers guy. Go ahead and refresh my memory. I’ll play Devil’s Advocate.”

The banker cleared his throat. “So. Any centralized regulatory system automatically removes half the competition, because the little guys can’t afford to enter the game. If it costs two mil in lawyers’ fees just to get started, that garage genius hasn’t got a chance. All that’s left is the big boys.”

The banker paused to pull on his cigar. Carefully he blew the smoke in a series of rings. He tapped the ash into a tray. “Like you and me. We end up with near-monopoly control of our own markets.”

“Okay, I understand that. So why do we bother to lobby Washington, if their rules have already done everything for us? Maybe we’re wasting time and money.”

“Well, the other big boys want the same privileges, and they’ve got lobbyists, so you must go to D.C. if you don’t want to get your clock cleaned. Besides—” he took a sip of cognac— “we can talk to members of Congress and … you know … refine things.”

“Yes, they do need to get re-elected.”

“And — as you so eloquently pointed out to the distinguished Senators — they don’t want to do anything that might cause job losses. It’s jobs that worry most voters. So you do some hand holding and help them see things your way, then you do the same for the regulatory department heads. And when those boys leave Washington there are juicy positions waiting for them at your corporate offices.”

The CEO smiled. “Yes, I’ve got a few working for me. Not always the best minds, but they sure have a lot of inside information.”

“Exactly. So even though we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world, here in the Land of the Free, and even though the regulations are sometimes through the roof, it ends up like paying a fee to make your competition disappear … and you get special privileges.”

“You are an evil genius.”

The banker grinned. “Aw, shucks. But it gets better.”

“How do you mean?”

“We one-percenters pay about a fourth of all federal income taxes.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“And the top seven percent pay roughly half.”

The CEO shook his head and sighed. “We’re footing most of it, aren’t we.”

“And all those entitlement payments keep the riffraff quiet and docile.”

The CEO frowned. “But people worry about jobs anyway. Something in them wants to get out there and work.”

The banker shrugged. “We want the low-skill people accustomed to not working, so they won’t complain when more and more robots take over the labor market. Otherwise they’ll panic and start a riot. And I, for one, don’t care for bricks tossed through my lobby’s plate-glass windows.”

“So you’re saying all those entitlement handouts simply prepare the lower classes for permanent unemployment, while giving them just enough money to live on, and … what, watch TV? Play games on their cell phones?”

“Exactly.”

The CEO chuckled. “Then basically the entire progressive program in this country has completely backfired.”

“Well, I don’t know how we could be as successful as we are if the liberals hadn’t given us all this unintentional help. And the poor stay poor, which is too bad, I suppose, but life’s a bitch.”

“You’re so cynical.”

The banker puffed on his cigar. “Nope. Just a realist.” 

“By the way, love the cut of that new suit you’re wearing.”

The banker smiled. “Thanks. I’m trying to be fashion forward. At the prices I pay for clothing, I could start a small company in Guatemala. Which gives me an idea—”

“Cute. Hey, how’s your new car behaving?”

“The Bentley coupe? Best machine ever. Silky-smooth handling, almost like I’m floating down the street.”

“Don’t you miss the Porsche?”

“Oh, the Spyder’s right there in the garage with all the others. I can drive it any time I like. But right now I only have eyes for the Bentley. Speaking of gorgeous, how’s the little lady?”

The CEO leaned back. “Wifey is just fine, spends most of her time with the kids in Connecticut. I come home on weekends.”

“And your weeknights?”

“No comment. Anyway, she got another nose job. I told her she looked fine already, but she’s obsessive.”

The banker nodded. “Women are funny.” He raised his glass. “Anyway, great to see you again. We should do this more often.”

The CEO lifted his glass. “Absolutely. The way things keep going for us, life is good.”

Their glasses clicked. “Yes,” replied the banker. “Life is good.”

* * * *

SIDE BAR: How to keep the poor from succeeding

SIDE BAR: Urban “smart growth” benefits the rich, traps the poor

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