Friday Night Story


He approached the gates that shined like gold in sunlight. “Good morning, Sam,” the man standing at the gate said. “Good morning, angel.” The rotund stranger laughed, and his cheeks reddened. “I’m no angel, nor saint, but a man.” “So you aren’t Peter?”

“The Rock? Heaven’s no. The name is Benjamin.” He extended his hand, and Sam shook it. “I can’t help but feel I know you.” “I’m certain of it, but we are not acquainted, so it is good to meet you.” “And you.”

After a moment of silence, Sam asked, “How’s it done?” “Well, I’m not here, officially, but I promised Peter I’d mind in his stead.” Ben opened a book, large and ornate, that shone of its own glow, and balanced a pair of bifocal spectacles on his nose. He licked his finger, and turned the pages, one at a time, studying them thoroughly, and when he came to the end of the entry, he whispered, “Oh, Sam.”

“What’s wrong?” he asked. Ben folded his glasses and pocketed them, his face became older than it had been a moment before. “I’m afraid you won’t be allowed to pass.” Sam’s face transformed from one of unbelief to outrage, and he demanded, “Why not?”

“I’d like to talk to you about some things, Sam,” Ben said, repositioning his spectacles, and looking for a passage. “I built my empire with the sweat off my brow, and always gave to the lord’s charities.”

“But you failed your own philosophy, Sam, when you refused to share your profits with your employees.” “That’s capitalism, Ben. A businessman is beholden to his stockholders as much as his customers.”

Ben smiled, like a father, and crows’ feet stood at his eyes. “Capitalism revolves around the voluntary exchange of goods, services or currencies. Difficulty arises when we consider externalities. Some externalities are positive, like affordable employee healthcare. The government spent about a third of what your company profits picking up the cost of benefits for employees who could not afford them..” “We drove costs down. And not just in our stores, but industry wide.” “That’s true, and that is indeed a positive externality. Let me ask you something, Sam.”

“Shoot.” “What do you know about the history of corporations? Actually, indulge me, because I remember most of it clearly, despite my age. American Corporations were originally limited to businesses operating in the public trust. They were grudgingly allowed to complete projects in the public interest that were too large for individuals or governments to accomplish on their own. Their creation involved an act of the legislature, and a coprorate charter had to be renewed after a short, set time by the legislature, or it would expire. After some time, governments became less concerned with troublesome amounts of power held in corporate hands, and more concerned about collecting taxes on their profits, so corporate charters were issued indefinitely, and with the least restrictive rules, by state governments competing over tax dollars.”

“Now you say you were beholden to your stockholders, but that’s fuzzy economics at best. In a perfectly competitive market, Sam, price is equal to cost, meaning you break even. It’s the reason people preach capitalism as the most efficient economic system. However, capitalists succeed by boxing out the competition, underpaying their workforce, and selling inferior products; a capitalist would be lying if he said his ultimate goal was anything but monopolizing the market. Cutting the fat out of overhead was good for everyone, and made the economy lean; squeezing your employees for more profit, and forcing the government to subsidize your workforce was wrong.”

Sam fumed. “You’re one of those hippy, profits are evil, welfare-state socialists.” Ben smiled, “Not at all, Sam.” The Apostle, Peter, returned, straightening his halo and wiping spittle from his beard. “What the hell happened to him?” Sam asked. “You both have something in common, a lesson never learned: whether in a gentleman’s club or in profit, all things in moderation.”

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