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The Almighty Buck

Temp Troops of High-Tech 476 476

A submitter sends in this story about temp work in Silicon Valley, from the point of view of the temp. Compare almost the same story written from the point of view of's management.
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Temp Troops of High-Tech

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  • I used to mount tapes as a vendor to IBM... man... that work was a pain.... same wage walking eight hours a day to feed damn tape machines that would never slowdown... that god for VTS tape libraries.. It was amazing that in the year 2002 people are still manually mounting tapes for mainframe systems.. we even had a bunch of old reels... that would occationaly light up waiting for a mount.
  • Re:It's quite sad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dso (9793) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:16AM (#2881556) Homepage
    Actually, they call that Communism. I prefer a social concience but not out right control.
  • Re:That's Life (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fmaxwell (249001) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:17AM (#2881558) Homepage Journal
    Not everybody can both live where they want to live and have the ideal job. If there aren't any decent jobs available in your area... news flash... you may have to move.

    That's right! To hell with your family that lives in the area. If you mother's cancer kills her while you're 2,000 miles away, so what? You'll be living where the good jobs are.

    You need a clue. Some people have family ties, kids that they don't want to yank out of school and away from their friends, and other circumstances that make becoming a nomad to chase jobs around the country impossible.

    That's just the way it is. Reality bites...

    So no one should have a social conscience or work to improve the realities of life? Maybe Jonas Salk should have just said "People get polio. Reality bites" and then moved on...
  • Re:That because (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Masem (1171) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:24AM (#2881590)
    The quick calc is that your hourly wage times 2000 is your yearly salary. $10/hr == $20k/yr.

  • Re:First impression (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sobrique (543255) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:24AM (#2881591) Homepage
    But maybe I am a misplaced human on a capitalist society ;-)
    Please report yourself to the thought police forthwith. Such displays of humanity are incorrect and you must therefore be lobotomised.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:25AM (#2881596)
    We may win some battles for justice and our rights against the rich and powerful capitalists. But as long as they can dominate society in the workplace, control the politicians and the state security structure, and the airwaves, they will continue to exploit us and reap huge profits from the labor of workers. Every victory under capitalism is partial and temporary. The logic of greed of capitalism will always try to extract more from workers.
  • by gaj (1933) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:45AM (#2881707) Homepage Journal
    The whole point of business is the bottom line. Companies that are not primarily focused on turning a profit have a special name: failed. How much good does a failed company do for the economy?

    If you are easily replaceable, that's your own damn fault. The fact that there are those willing to replace you means that the job, however foul to you, is desirable to others. If you want a job that is more palatable to you, do what it takes to get one. Learn a skill, learn a trade, start your own business; whatever it takes. If you choose not to take the steps necessary to improve your lot, you have only yourself to blame.

    As for your comment about production line automation, I cannot remember a time that production line automation came to a plant that formerly employed human labor to do the job that didn't result in much wailing and gnashing of teeth when said workers were laid off. How does replacing workers help them?

    Or are you suggesting that the firm should automate the line, then keep the workers on as paid spectators?

    I'm glad you now have a more skilled position; it's nice to improve your lot, isn't it?

  • by gaj (1933) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:56AM (#2881764) Homepage Journal
    Saftey standards? How does that even apply. It's not like a few (or even many) paper-cuts are a saftey issue.

    This sounds like a perfect opportunity for an invention. These workers need gloves tough enough to protect their hands from paper cuts, but thin and slightly tacky, so they can open the plastic bags. Perhaps some type of latex? Either that, or the plastic bags could be dispensed by a machine that gives a little puff of air to pop them open as they are dispensed, perhaps with a bit of corn starch to keep it seperated. Probably not even all that expensive a machine to build.

    Or they could whine about it.

    Which sounds more likely to solve the problem?

  • by anomaly (15035) <tom.cooper3@gmai ... m minus math_god> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:03AM (#2881801)
    With all due respect, I'm no superman, and you wouldn't have to be superman to do it either.

    I went to school with some brilliant people, but I also went to school with some folks who weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, either.

    For example, my senior year I was in an all-out run for head of one class against a man who was a laid-off coal miner.

    Nice guy, but on his best day, he had an average IQ. On his BEST day. One thing this guy had was a work ethic. He put in more hours than could be counted to make up for his lack of mental capacity, and it paid off in spades! This guy was the top of his classes because of the sweat equity.

    If Carl could succeed in school, anyone could. He was a hard worker with a family. Certainly he and his family made huge sacrifices to get him through college, but that was his choice, too.

    I've heard that Henry Ford said something to the effect of "If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."

    Let's inspire people to achieve rather than focus on limitations. Let's help people choose to make a better way for themselves rather than stay stuck in the mire.
  • Re:The alternative (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DohDamit (549317) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:04AM (#2881810) Homepage Journal
    Ahhh...the false dilemma fallacy. How common you are here, among the spoiled brats who aren't nearly as intelligent as they are lucky.

    Well, let's see...alternatives. Pay them $10 an hour, and pay for benefits. Rough cost? Hmm, in a mediocre plan, roughly $400 a month. Translates into about $2.50 raise. Not exactly going to break the bank.

    Hmm. The despotic tactics could go. Treating people with respect costs less than you think.

    Oh hell, what do I know. I should bask in the glow eminating from luminaries such as yourself.
  • Re:I don't get it. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by keycowboy9 (552940) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:10AM (#2881842)
    I think that the main point of this article wasn't that the people where "whining" about the $8.00 jobs out there. It's the way the lower payed workforce is being strongarmed by large corporations like HP and Manpower without any recourse in an undemocratic or civil manner. Got checkout Manpower Inc profit last quarter up 3% to 18.7% in a fading market? What was HP's? How much is HP paying Manpower to take away all those sticky issues like weekly paychecks and employee rights? How does Manpower justify its value add? Is this progress or opportunism? This article is highlighting the possible future or your "higher CS" job. Basically and as you have mentioned above, there will always be $8 p/h jobs and people to do them. Something to remember is that we need people to do lower paid jobs, you know all that lowly stuff like garbage and manufacturing and all that lowly physical layer stuff, whilst your doing all that important stuff like recompiling perl 5.53 for the 50th time.
  • by hawk (1151) <> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:12AM (#2881862) Journal
    That's overstated. Think of the alternative: zero unemployment means that noone is training for better jobs between jobs. No social mobility. You can't change employment. It all comes down to *why* people are unemployed.


  • by sql*kitten (1359) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:17AM (#2881895)
    Let's face it, paying minimum wage to people is cheaper than automating a production line (and of course, they can argue that they are providing valuable jobs).

    There are plenty of people who believe capitalism can do no right, to wit:
    • They're automating the factories, driving workers out of their jobs!
    • They're employing workers to do menial repetitive tasks better left to machines!

    The fact is, even in the developed world, there are lots of jobs that don't require anything more than repetition. Another fact is, the most you can earn is the economic value you produce, minus the cost of doing business. Third, the seller sets the price no more or no less than the buyer - for a transaction to take place, there must be mutual agreement.

    I've done the temping thing for a while, and there was certainly variety (like I'd be in a different job every week), but you are also treated as little more than 'an extra body'

    Well, that's what you are, an extra pair of hands to do the work. You show up, you do the job, you get paid, you go home. A lot of work is necessary, but very simple, and varies in demand - look at the Amazon story about seasonal rush. The alternative is to have very slow service during peak times, and/or high prices during the slow season, to support an idle workforce.

    It's heavy handed and unethical (IHMO) but companies (with a _few_ limited exceptions) are only interested in the bottom line.

    The market - the customers, you and I - have indicated by our behavior as market participants, that we want good prices and fast service. The only way to do this is with a flexible workforce.

    Another point made in the article was that many temps come from countries where there is no economy to speak of. Many Westerners are spoilt; a bad job and a little money is much, much better than no job and no money.
  • I agree (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:20AM (#2881912)
    I'm from South Dakota, in South Dakota right now a majority of jobs pay around 8 dollars an hour, in South Dakota the cost of living is about 1/6th that of Silicon Valley California. In South Dakota the unemployment rate is around 2%.

    The fellow in the article said "The events of this day alone are grounds to start a revolution."

    On what grounds? He's making 8 dollars an hour, doing grunt work. Sure his hands are getting cut up, where I grew up, the summer work was prying rocks out of dirt roads with 6 foot iron pry-bars, 8-15 miles from, town for 8 hours a day with no breaks. That really motivated me to stay in College.

    All these people that drive for 2 hours each way to work, they have locked themselves into what they get because they are either too foolish or too lazy to move. A work visa into the US doesn't mean you have to move to Texas, California or New York, there are thousands of places out there that need stable workers, that want people, of any nationality to move there.

    Turning the place Union won't help, temp workers are temp because they want to be.
  • by DohDamit (549317) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:23AM (#2881940) Homepage Journal
    Buddy, we've lived the same life. Same path through the shithole jobs, same type of jobs even.


    You had the hope that you could escape. So did I. That's why I went to school, that's why I'm doing well now. I know too many people who don't have that hope. I have no idea how I had it....but I did.

    There is an alternative to this situation. Oddly, it struck me when I was working one of these shit jobs. On one occasion, we had six people working a shift at the fastfood place. Five managers, and me. Man, we fucking flew. Work was easy, no one was stressed, and it actually didn't suck. Next shift, next day, thirteen people, one of em a manager. Nothing was going anywhere, chaos ruled, and life sucked. I know damn well the managers were earning about 50% more than the employees. The idea that I drew from this was as follows: open up a fastfood joint, hire 50% of the people, pay at management rates. Advertise this fact to the MANAGERS at the other shops. They could earn their pay and have LESS responsibility? I asked my managers then if they would jump. To the man(and woman) they all said yes.

    Respect for your employees empowers them, especially if they have nothing else going for them. Thus, I put the onus on the employer to show respect for the individual.

    Everyone has to work. Not everyone has to work for an asshole.
  • Re:First impression (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jht (5006) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:42AM (#2882074) Homepage Journal
    You're spot-on, but there's a catch:

    Raj knows his co-worker/fellow temps. He forms relationships with them. But there's only a small group (relatively) that he works with. He doesn't know most of the other temps, nor does he know the workers on the other shifts, nor most of the full-timers, or anyone at their other facilities.

    He might know _of_ them, but to Raj they aren't part of his world. If something happens to them, it won't really register on his radar screen because he no personal connection with them. This is important - it's part of why the management at HP (or Amazon) can easily deal with cutting workers to boost profits. These workers aren't part of their world. They're just statistics on a P&L sheet. They don't have a direct relationship with the people their fates depend on.

    Is this necessarily bad? I'm not sure. I think depersonalization is a necessary evil to go with growth - people only have room for x amount of connections in their own "personal network". managers can only handle a certain number of direct reports on average before things become inefficient (not enough time to maintain the connections or devote enough attention to each person). That's where middle management, sub-groups, and smaller organizational units come into play - to preserve as much of that as possible.

    The largest company I've worked for (where I am now) employs 152 people directly. But for the last two years we've also been a part of a much larger "virtual" organization (through a pool with several other insurance companies of equivalent or larger size). Once we leave the cozy confines of my 152-person location, a lot of these issues come into play - decisions have been made that affected people that probably would have been made differently in a smaller company.

    That's not all bad here, though. We've formed a lot of official and quasi-official working groups within the combined organization that are as small as possible - the objective being to try whenever feasible to keep decisions from happening in a vacuum and to preserve the personal aspect of working together as much as one can. Has it been perfect? Of course not. But it hasn't been too bad either, thankfully.

    In the end, people need to be aware that they are ultimately responsible for their own fates. Raj can go work elsewhere, or go to another part of the country, or learn a skill that will allow him to escape the permatemping world. Or he can settle for what he has now. Some of his co-workers, sadly, will never do better - perhaps a few of them are handling the most they are capable of. As another poster to this thread said when quoting Judge Smails (the reference was from Caddyshack, BTW), "The world needs ditch-diggers, too". But most can eventually go as far as their skills will take them, provided they make sure that the skills they have are always needed enough to ensure relatively high-paying work.

    Being a human and a capitalist aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. But the bigger the organization, the tougher it is. People also get torn between their connections to others and their own fates - it's tough for the manager of a temporary workforce to form any lasting attachment to their workers when your own job may depend on being able to dicipline and/or terminate workers on the instructions of the people your own job depends on.

    If you're the person in those shoes, and you feel uncomfortable with it, then I'd definitely say you're human.
  • Re:The alternative (Score:2, Interesting)

    by why-is-it (318134) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:44AM (#2882080) Homepage Journal
    What's the alternative?

    How about paying a reasonable wage - enough to pay the bills. It's not a binary choice - poverty level or CEO level wages you know.

    this is the kind of migrant labor these workers chose.

    Just like they "chose" to be poor. Ri-i-ight.

    Granted, they probably didn't have a whole lot of options to choose from

    Definitely an understatement. Let's see: poverty level wages, or starve. They definitely had a choice. Mind you, HP also had a choice: they could pay a living wage to their staff, or they could contract out the positions to a third party and minimize their costs, and give Carly a bigger bonus.

  • Re:I don't get it. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gaj (1933) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:53AM (#2882137) Homepage Journal
    The number of bulshit statements in your post lead me to believe that either you are a troll, a moron or simply ignorant. I'm going to assume the latter, though I'm bound to regret it.

    "People cannot form unions since our pseudogovernment has completely undermined them."
    Unions have undermined themselves. The reality is that unions are mostly superfluous. If people were not such sheep, and if (possibly well meaning) politicians would stop interfering with the market, this whole issue would sort itself out.

    "Public education is a malformed joked, being actively disassembled by conservative treachery and liberal stupidity."
    While I agree that public education is rapidly becoming a bad joke, it is only because of the lack of market forces that this is so. If people could vote with their feet (and cash), shools would have to compete for students in order to stay in business. If they provided inferior product, people could go elsewhere. Of course, that assumes that the parents would have any clue as to how well little Jonney or Jenny is being educated. But that's their responsibility.

    "You can't make a decent living doing honest work."
    I can't! Damn. Guess I'll just go home then. I came from a lower middle-class family. Only got two years of post-HS education (no degree). I worked blue collar jobs for about half my working life. Yet I'm doing ok (our household income is in the $90K - $120K+ range).
    "You can't get an education unless you come from an already fairly affluent family."
    Huh. Again, I suppose I should go home now. I must not actually know all the programming languages I'm using. I must not have the problem solving skills I need every day to get my job done. I must not have the communications skills that are necessary to interact with all the people I need to interact with daily. Hell, I may as well just go apply for wellfare now. After all, as I said before, my family was barlely middle class; certainly not affluent. And when the scolarship that I received from the construction company my dad works for (as a lobor forman) ran out, I chose to quit school because I didn't have the motivation and wisdom to find another way to get the money. Yet I work on an peer basis with folks who have their MS. Why? Because I chose to educate myself. I'm reasonably intellegent, and it didn't take me all that long to get pretty good at programming, network design, etc. It was hard work to get into the field, but hey, hard work pays off.
    "So...if you are not already can't get comfortable."
    Hmm. I was a broom pusher, a floor machine operator, a "would you like fries with that?" guy, a forklift driver, a truck unloader. Max wage was approx $12 during that time. Not overly comfortable. Yet now I'm a well paid computer profesional. How can that be? According to you, it cannot be.

    " Wasn't the great game of America supposed to be social mobility?"
    Nope. opportunity for said social mobility, on the other hand, is the "great game of America". But opportunity is not a free ride; it means you are free to reach for the brass ring, but if you areen't willing to hang on tight enough, or werent' willing to build yourself a ladder to be able to reach it, or fail for some other reason, too bad. Thank you for playing. Please try again soon!

    "Guess what, tough guy, my family was already well off when I was educated. I'll bet my life yours was too."
    Don't make that bet. Depending upon your definition of "well off", you'd lose. Again, we didn't starve, we had clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads. Hell, we did allright. But I had no monetary support (other than a few small loans, a few hundred dollars at a time) after highschool. Yet I'm doing ok. Please explain that.

    Bottom line is: TANSTAAFL.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:06PM (#2882214)
    While I was in school, I saw a similar situation. There was a guy that graduated with me who was in his late forties. I don't know his history, but I do know that he he wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. Anyway, this man worked as a janitor at the school as well as a student there. He came to class every day wearing a blue shirt with his name patch on it then mopped the floors every night while wearing his backpack and listening to his mini-cassette recorder. I am sure that he did not get paid much, but he had two major things going for him. First because he was an employee at the school, he got a discount on tuition (maybe fees, I don't remember for sure but I know that he paid only about 60% of what I did for the same number of classes). Second, he got scholorships and minority grants.
    Now this janitor has a B.S. in Computer Science. Getting an education is not out of reach if the person has the desire. Emilio is a perfect example...
  • by El Camino SS (264212) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:08PM (#2882235)

    First of all, although it will do you no good, blame the Government for all of the wonderful deregulation in the workplace.

    It will do you no good, because "the will of the masses" couldn't get John McCain in the White House, well after his candidacy yielded three times the support of Bush or Gore in the primaries. Think how different our country would be for the working man with a reforming, respectful, ex-POW in the big chair. All of that campaign money is now going to screw you in this "financial crisis." By the way, financial crisis means "we will not cut into our profits one dime, so we will CUT YOU." Expect fun legislation that will take decades to undue in the next year.

    Second, blame Manpower. After all, they're only the largest employer in the US. They treat peole like cattle, hold your checks for weeks so that you feel forced to stay at your crappy temp job... and sometimes never pay off. I should know, my sister got screwed by them. So this poor person that lost a weeks pay, well, they aren't alone... pray it wasn't two.

    They keep the money coming late so you can never be ahead of anything, and be able to leave your job to pursue a better one. This is no different than the coal towns of West Virginia in the late 1800s, where they were far away from everyone, so the company charged more than they got paid, and they got more and more in debt until their children worked the mines.

    Manpower is no different. After all, they are America's largest employer (of late, no benefit, no security funds to people who can't afford an education)! JOIN THE MANPOWER TEAM TODAY!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:11PM (#2882251)
    It speaks well of those who argue for higher wages, better working conditions, and the like for the lowest-paid workers. But, at the same time, it's important to remember that we're the ones who create and support these structures. After all, we kicked off a race to the profitability bottom by insisting on the cheapest possible prices for hardware and software: $60.00 inkjets, pirated software, e-commerce loss leaders, and the like. The players have had no choice but to cut expenses to the bone in order to keep prices sensitive to our demands.

    This isn't to say that companies aren't misallocating money -- Enron, anyone? -- but don't think that increasing assembly line workers' real wages won't impact the prices we pay.

    Now, the flip side: when companies reduce prices by reducing costs, they paradoxically make life easier on low-wage employees in some ways, because the cost of living is reduced as well. Unions are a way workers can game the system to their own advantage, increasing their own wages by making goods more expensive for other, usually non-union, laborers; to use a deliberately simple example, if auto workers can get higher wages while farm workers can't, then auto workers will get larger paychecks and pay less for food, thus getting improved real wages. At the same time, farm workers' real income (even if their money wages remain stable) drop because cars become more expensive to compensate the auto workers. It's essentially the prisoner's dilemma.

    I hate to say it, but I can't think of any easy way out of this problem, short of increasing government requirements when it comes to wages, benefits and working conditions for all American employers. But then, of course, many of those jobs would be moved overseas where such protections don't (and, given how onerous they are to developing nations, probably shouldn't) exist. But *that* would drive down product prices, releasing more free money into the American economy, creating new jobs ... and so on ....
  • by syphax (189065) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:35PM (#2882438) Journal
    There's a variable not much discussed here- good vs. bad management.

    For my work, I've spent time observing warehouses for a number of different companies. The nature of the work varied little across the facilities that I've seen, but the cultures varied dramatically- workers in some facilities hated life, and in others were fulfilled and happy (of course, I am dramatically simplifying here).

    The difference? Whether management viewed and treated their employees like robots, or like experts who knew the job better than they (the management) did. In the latter case, management could and would call on floor workers to help improve business processes, making the company more efficient- and guess what, one benefit of increased efficiency is that you can pay a higher wage (and will, because you want to retain your trained workers).

    I realize that this sounds like a fairy tale, but I have seen it and it's real. It's the exception rather than the rule b/c it's hard to manage with this philosophy, and requires something that few managers have- humility.

    For an example of what I'm talking about, read about Paul O'Neill's days at Alcoa (Jan 13th article in the NY Times Magazine- apparently not free online). For the theory, read about W. Edwards Deming, or the book Lean Thinking.
  • by benedict (9959) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @01:37PM (#2882836)
    That's true. For low-skill work, the power
    balance is generally in employers' favor.

    It's been interesting to watch the balance tip
    back towards employers in high-tech fields in the
    last few months. It's still pretty good for
    workers, but not as good as it was just a year and
    a half ago.
  • Pride and Bitterness (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jamesmartinluther (267743) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @03:09PM (#2883335) Homepage
    "But I quickly learn that the engine of the new economy is fueled by methods and labor practices more commonly associated with the old industrial era.

    I saw this writer in a television documentary on public television a few months ago. He struck me as bitter about the success of others and overly prideful of his own mechanical labor.

    Simply put, those closer to the implementation of the thoughts of others are paid less.

    Raj Jayadev's paid contribution to the company is to mechanically assembles designs. The engineers are paid more than he is for the designs and assembly instructions. The designers of the business process are paid even more. None of these groups should be prideful of their own contribution, and none should covet the pay nor power that others have.

    He is lower on the decision chain and he should not be so bitter about that. While his strategy of organized complaining and "unionizing" may help a group of workers with pay and conditions, I would argue that self improvement (and group improvement) help a lot more.

  • by broken77 (143273) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @04:47PM (#2883919) Homepage
    The reality is that some folks are currently less well off than others. I only see two alternatives that don't screw simply steal from someone else to sove the problem

    Option 1 - What's your idea of "stealing"? Would "stealing" be reducing the salaries from the CEOs, presidents, veeps and managers and redistributing those salaries to the workers? If so, then would "stealing" be reducing salaries from the workers and redistributing those salaries to the upper level employees (such as CEOs)? Because that's what's happened. The average CEO in America used to make ~40 times the salary of the entry-level employee in their companies, and they now make more than 400 times that salary. The salaries of upper-level management has also increased dramatically. I say take that money and redistribute it fairly.

    Option 2 - Raise the price of the products we sell in this country. Someone asked, "would I be willing to pay $500 for a printer I would pay $125 for now". Nope. But why does it have to be $500? Can't it be $175 and still increase employee salaries?

    Option 3 - Reduce the amount of net profit by increasing employee salaries. This *might* then reduce the amount of money stockholders would get from sales of stock and dividends from those increases (I say "might", because it's not entirely clear what will happen when you raise employee wages - possibly productivity will increase, product reliability will increase, and therefore profits will increase. But who's to say!)

    Now I see you smirking. "There's no way these ideas will work! Some other company will run this company into the ground through not changing their economic policies and just sticking with the old way!" You're absolutely right. That is, unless everyone changes their ways. But that would never happen, right? Right. This leads me to Option 4.

    Option 4 - Major economic reform in the way Capitalism runs. Unfortunately, this is only accomplished by making laws (or repealing laws, or re-writing laws and documents). I also don't think this is ever going to happen. It is therefore my hypothesis that Capitalism (at least in its current incarnation) will eventually buckle under its own weight. More and more people will live hard lives that they can't seem to climb out of, more and more poverty and social unrest will be prevalent, and the system will eventually fall. I see it as inevitable. Just waiting for it to happen...

I have not yet begun to byte!