In 1930 the economist John Maynard Keynes, predicted that by the beginning of the 21st century, capitalism would have been so successful people would only need to work a fifteen hour week in order to maintain a decent quality of life. As great and influential an economist as he was, he missed the carnivorous quality of capitalism to feed off others and to not know when it is full. So today, near on a century since his prediction, most people are still working a forty (or more) hour a week, just to stand still.
Yes, in global terms there is more wealth, improved health, and wider variety of leisure, at least in developed countries, but we are far from being a ‘leisure’ society. However, there is greater competition for jobs at lower wages with a growing global population and a predicted reduction in employment due to technological advances.
All of these developments affect people in developed and developing countries alike and these global shifts are reflected beautifully in Kyle Dargan’s poem, “Two years from retirement, my neighbour contemplates Canada.” An ageing neighbour, whose arthritis is ‘now a hymn sung/by the choir of his bones’ will not be having the retirement he hoped for, and looks to work his final years in Canada, where its map is “speckled with throbbing circles,/bull’s-eyes. Those are the job sites—so many,/one must wonder what is Canada building.”
He is escaping job insecurity in the US, which he blames on the “undocumented Spanish boys/and their non-union, below-code labor”. Whether he is right or not, we tend to look for reasons that help explain our situation, even if we cannot do anything to change it besides move on. This neighbour is a carpenter and has always built and must continue to build, but he will be the last, at least from his family, because the building his son now does is websites. It is people from a different background a different country who will build in the future, as they seek the wealth to provide for their family and hopefully prosper beyond a menial wage.
It is the neighbour’s son who will benefit from his father’s work and will be less concerned about demographic change; “no one will need to know/the leagues of salty blood, salty water/marking a Mexican from a Spaniard”. This globalisation ‘programme’ is founded on a belief that such a model of development can go on forever. But as Kyle poignantly says in the final lines of the poem, “Our sleeping globe, it dreams this/one dream of expansion everlasting” and this “new world just a flimsy Babel/tower”. It will be many more years until (if ever) we only have to work a fifteen hour week.
Kyle Dargan is the director of creative writing at American University (Wash, D.C.), and the founder/editor of POST NO ILLS magazine. Before teaching, he worked as a landscaper. His fourth poetry collection, Honest Engine, will be published by the University of Georgia Press in April 2015. For more information about his work, please visit www.american-boi.com.
TWO YEARS FROM RETIREMENT, MY NEIGHBOR CONTEMPLATES CANADA
We meet at our leaning wall of cinder
blocks that separate his yard from mine.
We’ve promised to right it plumb
every year. Up till now, all talk—no rebar,
no mortar. $50 an hour. Good money.
Damn good money, he seconds.
Arthritis now a hymn sung
by the choir of his bones, I measure
his gait’s music as he climbs
four short notes back into his house
to retrieve the papers.
He brings back a dittoed leaflet
and a map of the northern territory
speckled with throbbing circles,
bull’s-eyes. Those are the job sites—so many,
one must wonder what is Canada
building, or how it is that they lack
enough carpenters of their own.
My neighbor has faith that journey-
work in Canada will mean an escape
from the undocumented Spanish boys
and their non-union, below-code labor
which he blames for his paychecks
being unsteady, brittle these days.
I don’t bother explaining globalism
to him—as if I understand it,
as if it threatens my livelihood
the same way it threatens his.
Good money—the lingua franca
in this age of quick growth, panoramic
decay. Our world becoming old world.
The new world just a flimsy Babel
tower. My neighbor must go build it
so he may one day drop his power-drill
or bequeath it to me instead of his son
who builds websites, his son who will live
beyond us—a citizen of this shrinking
earth where no one will need to know
the leagues of salty blood, salty water
marking a Mexican from a Spaniard.
Our sleeping globe, it dreams this
one dream of expansion everlasting.