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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Price of Everything

This is how we value things in our society – with money.

This is US dollars! So they're practically free!

That works out to about $2.63 per frog leg. Of course, nobody ever asked the frogs how much those legs were worth to them. Trust me – it was a lot. Ever tried to do the breast stroke off a lily pad? But this problem isn’t restricted to frogs. Our whole system of valuing stuff is deeply flawed. Take the case of Melvin.

Buy the whole neighborhood! This subprime thing is like an after-Thanksgiving sale!

Melvin gets so excited by his killing in real estate that he crosses the divider and makes an actual killing in on-coming traffic, heading into the afterlife with a busload of gay Anglicans seeking a new life in Iqaluit, which they’ve heard is the Canadian San Francisco.

Log Cabin Republicans become Ice Igloo Democrats!

Unfortunately, the crash happens in Malibu, and sends out a single spark which ignites Jeffrey Katzenberg’s house and sets fire to the whole colony. Minutes later, the entire drought-stricken Southeastern US is aflame.

Can we blame this on the writers’ strike?

The Russians, who are still using Sputnik as a spy satellite (“Waste not, want not” being an old Russian proverb) get a blurry image of the smoke wafting across the US, and assume it’s a clever new missile defense shield developed by the crack scientists who have been keeping Dick Cheney’s brain alive in an old soup pot in an undisclosed location.

Oh, wait these belong to Colin Powell. Can someone return them and change the city to “Tehran”?

Following the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war, Putin pulls the plug on natural gas to Europe and launches the 5,000 MIRV’d missiles he bought at a garage sale in Kazakhstan last weekend at every major city in America. Fortunately, Washington D.C. has such a high poverty rate that it doesn’t qualify as a major city, and survives the attack. It’s several hours before Bush becomes aware of the vaporization of the free world, because he’s eating some really tasty soup he found in the basement. But this is a catastrophe! Let’s take a look at how it effects the GNP, which measures the growth of the US economy:

We are smokin’.

What’s going on here? Didn’t somebody get the news that all the stuff Melvin caused is bad? Just the opposite! After Melvin crashed, his cell phone stayed on, racking up lots of roaming minutes and creating bigger revenue for his phone service provider. Then there was the overtime for the EMT’s to bag all those dead Anglicans, and the coffins not only for the car crash victims but the 43,735 people who got roasted in the resulting fire. All three Dreamworks founders built even bigger houses, complete with invisible domes which protected them from the influx of Soviet nukes. And the contract China received to clean up the 8 trillion tons of irradiated American soil gave the country so much money that it actually moved back into US Treasury securities, providing the survivors with another tax cut to buy Oil of Olay Cancer Cleanser from the Sharper Image Catalogue! It was a bonanza for the economy!

Now I wear a different skin every night!

But somehow it doesn’t make sense. Where’s the deduction for the value of all those trees that burned up? The debit for the unhappiness of the people who lost their homes? Where do we subtract an amount for the peace of mind we’ve lost since we started living in the Nuclear Age? Are we all really just the sum total of what we buy and sell? Robert Kennedy didn’t think so. Here’s what he had to say:

“…the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials…it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

That was 40 years ago, but we still aren’t measuring the beauty of poetry, or a lot of other very important things. For instance, because we don’t count the value of educated women in the GNP, we don’t take much notice when the college-campus subsidy for birth control accidentally drops out of the law, causing all those randy university strumpets to go without, or resort to alternatives like the morning-after pill, or prayer.

Please Lord, have him pull out on time.

Because we don’t put a dollar value on dignity, we don’t mind that the working poor have to go to shelters to get a turkey for Thanksgiving. And because we don’t value the well-being of our citizens more than we value getting to work, we don’t mind that the corn the government used to buy and give to those shelters now goes into ethanol for our gas tanks.

Is this one regular or premium?

Even up here in Canada – the land of nearly-free health care – we forgot to put a dollar value on health, with the result that family doctors are paid on the assumption that they will take no more than 8 minutes to see any one patient, meaning that there is never time to talk about anything but the single most pressing symptom. Not only don’t doctors have the time to treat a whole human being, they can’t even treat a basket of symptoms. Just the one.

Sorry, I’ll have to put the heart back in next time.

By valuing the wrong things, we force co-eds and shelter workers and doctors and legless frogs into making the kinds of trade-offs that gradually eat away at our souls.

But we haven’t put a price on that either. Yet. May I suggest $2.63 per soul, to get the bidding started?


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