Once upon a time there was a nightclub that was unlike any other nightclub that had ever existed. It was owned by the customers. The customers came to the nightclub to pursue their happiness, which was much easier there than in most other places. As you can imagine, most people were eager to cooperate under such conditions and generally enjoyed associating with one another.
However, there was the occasional disruption. One customer might have a dispute with another over a piece of property or a love interest. Sometimes a fight broke out. There are always some people in every nightclub that are just looking for trouble. Sometimes uninvited guests tried to enter from the outside and assault the customers. For any and all of these reasons, the customers decided to hire people to provide protection. They hired bouncers.
The bouncers were not the “best and brightest” people in the nightclub. On the contrary. They were hired for their proficiency in using force. The customers only tolerated the knuckle-dragging bouncers because they assumed that they needed them to keep order. “Stand by the door and try to stay out of the way, unless there is some kind of trouble.” That was the general attitude of the customers towards the bouncers.
Now, it goes without saying that there was always an inherent danger in having the bouncers around at all. Since they represented a potential for violence that no one customer or small group of customers could successfully resist, the safety of the whole nightclub depended upon all customers watching the bouncers closely. They had to make sure that the bouncers did not start exerting their power against anyone other than the real troublemakers. For many years, they were successful in keeping the bouncers under control.
However, there came a time when some of the more affluent customers decided that they could utilize the bouncers for their own benefit. Since they bought more drinks and generally contributed more to the till than most of the other customers, they believed that they should enjoy certain privileges. They began to pay the bouncers extra money to get them seats nearer the stage than they would get if they simply followed the “first come, first serve” rule. They also got the bouncers to give them back some of the money they paid for drinks. They figured that since they bought more drinks than most other customers, they should get a percentage back. If anyone objected, the bouncers would drag them away, beating them senseless if they resisted.
After a while, the bouncers realized that their position in the nightclub was not completely secure. Many of the customers resented the unearned privileges that they were forced to provide to the wealthy. Since the affluent customers and the bouncers combined were only a small percentage of the whole, they were greatly outnumbered by their victims. While the bouncers were by no means the sharpest people in the nightclub, their primal instinct for survival was as vibrant as anyone else’s. They decided that they had to get more people on their side. They needed to find another group to support them.
However, most of the customers weren’t interested. They preferred to mind their own business, buy their own drinks, and sit at whatever tables they managed to get in fair competition with everyone else. The last people they wanted to have anything to do with, much less receive any assistance from, were the bouncers.
Eventually, a solution presented itself. One of the less affluent customers approached the head bouncer. He said that it wasn’t fair that people like him couldn’t afford as many drinks as the rest of the customers and that the drinks they could afford were only well liquor, rather than top shelf. He suggested that the bouncers do something about it.
The bouncers were interested in this new opportunity to preserve their positions. If they could get the lower-income customers on their side, together with the wealthy customers, they might be able to keep their racket going. There was only one problem. The lower-income customers didn’t have any money of their own, so the bouncers didn’t know how they were going to buy the top shelf drinks that these potential new supporters demanded. For a long time, the bouncers were unable to solve this conundrum.
They were finally enlightened by a customer that was interested in seeing the new plan succeed. He was a “community organizer.” He didn’t have any identifiable skills or produce anything that anyone would voluntarily buy. All that he was qualified to do was to organize people into a group that could use their numbers to influence the bouncers. To him, the answer to the bouncer’s dilemma was simple. If the bouncers needed money in order to buy drinks for their new supporters, they should just get it from the rest of the customers.
What a great solution! The bouncers would now just collect money from the other customers and use it to buy drinks for their poorer supporters. This secured the support of these poorer customers to complement the support of the affluent. Naturally, no one was very agreeable to this proposition, but that was of little concern to the bouncers. They weren’t looking for agreement. They simply threatened anyone who complained with violence. Since there were now two significant groups with an interest in supporting the bouncers, the rest of the customers reluctantly complied.
It never occurred to the bouncers to wonder where all of the money came from. At one time, the affluent customers had become wealthy by producing products that other people voluntarily bought from them. However, as the new system progressed, the affluent were increasingly making their money simply from kickbacks that the bouncers were giving them from the till. They were no longer wealthy because of what they produced. They were wealthy because of what the bouncers extorted from other people and gave to them.
The poorer customers had been corrupted as well. Before they joined up with the bouncers, they worked hard and sought to improve their skills so that they could earn more money for drinks. Many of them saved their money and invested it in small businesses, eventually becoming affluent themselves. Regardless of their income at any given time, they generally bought what drinks they could afford and were positive contributors to the nightclub.
However, as time went on, a larger and larger percentage of their drinks were being financed with money extorted from other people by the bouncers, rather than money that they had earned themselves. In addition, the number of people in this group was constantly growing. As more and more money was being taken by the bouncers to keep their supporters happy, the price of drinks rose and the available capital needed to employ most of the customers grew scarcer. Increasingly, average customers became poor and had no choice but to make a deal with the bouncers.
As a greater and greater percentage of the wealth acquired by both the affluent and the poor became simply transfer payments extorted by the bouncers, the nightclub as a whole began to make much less money. This was a problem for the bouncers, because both their own income and all of the payments made to their support groups came from the bar.
They decided that they better start getting involved in the way the customers made money. Obviously, the customers weren’t doing it as efficiently as they used to. If the bouncers gave them some direction, perhaps they would start generating the kind of revenue that used to drive higher sales at the bar.
The bouncers started going around to all of the customers and telling them how to do their jobs, run their businesses, and even manage their households. They told the construction companies how to build houses. They told the farmers how to grow food. They even told the brain surgeons how to perform brain surgery.
There was only one problem. They were bouncers. They didn’t even know how to turn on the nightclub’s sound system, much less do brain surgery. Their assistance didn’t help. Sales at the bar dropped even faster than before.
The bouncers contemplated these problems as deeply as bouncers are able to contemplate anything. They finally came to a conclusion: it was simply not possible to generate sufficient money from the customers to run the nightclub anymore. A new strategy was needed. They decided that the only way that they were going to be able to collect the funds they needed was to get it from the customers in other nightclubs.
Fortunately, they were well-equipped to do this. As their involvement in the activities of the customers had increased, their numbers had increased as well. It took a lot of bouncers to try to tell all of those customers how to do their jobs and run their businesses, especially since the bouncers themselves had no idea how to do any of it in the first place.
Moreover, since being a bouncer was highly profitable and required no real skills beyond being able to beat people up, everyone that couldn’t do anything else became a bouncer. As the nightclub was still relatively wealthy, the bouncers coerced the customers into hiring ever more bouncers, until there were almost as many bouncers as customers.
The bouncers’ new plan was simple. They assigned 25 of their number to go into a neighboring nightclub and take over. They picked out a nightclub that had only 5 bouncers in order to minimize the risk. They went in and quickly threw out the 5 bouncers and began trying to collect money from the customers of the nightclub that they had invaded.
Of course, those customers were no more willing to hand over their drink money than the customers in their own nightclub. So, the bouncers promised that they would keep order and protect the new customers from any other nightclub’s bouncers. The new customers agreed and began paying them off. The bouncers sent some of the money back to their affluent clients, who in return gave their full support to their activities in the other nightclub. After this apparently resounding success, the bouncers expanded their operation to every nightclub in the city.
However, there was a weakness in the new plan. The payments to the affluent, the payments to the poor, and the salaries of the bouncers in every nightclub in the city were all being paid by an ever-shrinking group of productive customers. Over 40 percent of the poorer group were producing nothing at all and just collecting drink money from the bouncers. While the affluent group was still producing some wealth, their productivity was greatly decreased because their activities were either being subsidized or directed by the bouncers.
Eventually, the whole operation collapsed. The tiny percentage of people still actually producing anything in the nightclub could no longer afford to pay for their own drinks, much less the drinks they were forced to buy for the bouncers’ supporters. The nightclub had to borrow money from other establishments, which was ironic because many of their creditors could only afford to lend because they didn’t have to pay for their own bouncers. However, these other establishments soon realized that they were never going to be paid back and ceased lending their money. The nightclub was forced to close.
There was a lot of finger-pointing in the ensuing chaos. The customers now had no nightclub at all and their standard of living had dropped considerably. The affluent group argued that the bouncers should have been buying less drinks for the poor. The poor group argued that they should have been kicking less money back to the affluent. The bouncers themselves only had one suggestion: to hire more bouncers. This was obviously impossible since there wasn’t even enough money to pay the existing ones, but one could hardly expect an intelligent suggestion from a bouncer.
After many long deliberations and debates, the customers came to the conclusion that every one of their problems had actually been caused by the bouncers and that they would be better off with no bouncers at all. So, they fired them and decided to provide security themselves. They reopened the nightclub and business immediately rebounded. There were now plenty of drinks for everyone and plenty of money to buy them with. And they lived happily ever after.
*Disclaimer: Obviously, our little allegory portrays bouncers in a highly stereotypical and unfair manner. While I am sure that many and possibly even most bouncers do not resemble the slow-witted brutes depicted in this story, one must sympathize with the challenge of finding any group useless enough to represent the political class. So, somebody had to be thrown under the bus and it turned out to be the bouncers. Being an Irishman, I sincerely hope that real-life bouncers and employees of drinking establishments in general will excuse any unintended offense.
*Photo by federico stevanin
© Thomas Mullen 2011