America Is The Ultimate Skinner Box
This is a story of adaptation. When the light goes on, press the button.
I remember when the college admissions story broke. I remember the perp walks. I remember the shame, the gossip, and the scandal, that so many wealthy celebrities would use their money to pave the path for their kids to get into a prestigious college. I know that they mean well for their kids, but do they really need to pay for preferential admissions to an elite college just so that their kids have an economic advantage over someone else’s kids?
I’m seeing something similar with Trump. When Trump is away from the White House, he stays at his own resorts and the government foots the bill for him and his entourage. I even saw recently how vice president Mike Pence stayed at a Trump resort 180 miles from a meeting he was scheduled to attend. And now the Air Force is investigating their use of Trump accommodations by their staff.
In September of 2008, across every business channel on cable, we learned that the stock of all the big banks was worthless when we measured the value of their assets to their liabilities. The people who were supposed to be paying the mortgages were defaulting on their variable-rate mortgages in droves, and that made the bonds that were backed by the mortgages worthless. The big banks and the big insurance companies were all running controlled accounting fraud, and still, they managed to get bailed out by Congress because they still had enough money to buy influence.
At the very top, I see very serious and wealthy people finance the campaigns of the legislators that represent them. I see the revolving door where someone from industry gets a job in an agency that regulates that industry and learns how the agency works. Then they go back to work at the same company to gain a competitive advantage over the other companies regulated by the same agency.
If perchance I watch some broadcast TV with my family, I am treated to a parade of drug commercials. The advertised drugs have fancy names with really strange syllables, and they are selling this fantasy that their drugs will make our lives better. From psoriasis to AIDS, there is a remedy for every ailment. And every one of those drugs I see on TV is patented, and this practice is called, “rent-seeking”.
Over and over again, the cycle is repeated until at last, we have come to this point. Eventually, the only thing that is heard by American industry and the government is money. If money is speech, then the government hears our biggest richest corporations loud and clear.
Of the people who make money off of this process, I have to wonder, what are they going to buy with all that money? When I go shopping with my wife, I see so much junk for sale. The toys, the electronics, the as-seen-on-tv gizmos, and gadgets are all essentially landfillers. They’re novel for the occasional use, but they don’t fulfill us.
Ferrari just released a nice new convertible car with better than 700hp, and it’s capable of reaching a speed of 211mph. Who will buy that? Where will they drive it? Or will they keep it in a climate-controlled garage for future sale as a rarity at auction? How many kids could be sent to college for the cost of just one supercar?
With millions in disposable income, one could buy a nice house in Malibu, the north coast of California, or an apartment in a New York City highrise tower. On the B1M channel on YouTube, I’ve seen apartments selling for $80 million each. These are lavish enclaves with a spectacular view of the landscape below, set far above the noise and the hustle of the city. Of the wealthy, is that where they want to be? Above us all?
If all of this is achieved by gaming the system, then what are these very wealthy, very serious people learning? Are they learning to achieve their wealth by producing something of value to humanity, or are they simply seeking a bottom line? A number?
I’m thinking of the Skinner Box here. When the light goes on, press the button for food. That seems to be what America has become: the ultimate Skinner Box. When the light goes on, we press that button regardless of what that does to the environment, the land, the water, the air. The very things we need to live and breathe and drink.
Some of us just happen to live in a fancier, more expensive Skinner Box, and so we have a more advanced set of lights and buttons with all the latest features. We eat better food and have a better view when we take a rest from pressing the button. With the internet, we see others in their Skinner Boxes, all pecking at their own button for more food, more stuff, more recognition, better clothes.
At what point do we decide to get out of the Skinner Box?
When we notice what we’re doing to the environment. When we notice what we’re doing to our bodies just to sit in front of a screen for work. When we notice that our kids have grown up and we missed it while we were pecking that button. When we notice that the sun has set on a beautiful day while we were inside, doing somebody else’s business. When we notice that the sun is the same in a relative way, but we’re older. When we notice that the only thing that really matters has nothing to do with how well other people are doing.
What really matters is whether or not we have made the decision to be happy with what we have right now. Without reservation.