The Infinite Matrix

Stories Columns Archive FAQ Home

the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


51. [Plate 78]
Capitalism for Dummies

For the rich to get richer, the poor must get poorer. Not because the amount of ambient wealth is fixed — it is not — but because of what is known in economics as a "frontier."

Here's how a frontier works. The total value of all goods, plus the profit that capitalism requires is greater than the total value of everything that can be paid for them. The profit is all paid for by debt. So, to keep the system afloat, next year's profits have to be larger in order to cover this year's debt. Once you stop and total everything up, the whole system collapses.

Similarly, once your wealth outstrips those things you want to buy, the only way to better your lot is by contrast. To keep things going, the distinction between rich and poor must constantly grow. This year you're grateful you're not poor. Next year you can be grateful you're not poor and deformed.

This is why the laws regarding kitchen workers are so draconian. Their salaries are pathetic. They have neither health care nor sick leave. If they're ill they must come to work anyway, or lose their jobs.


like swanwick?
like goya?
so do we.

keep 'em sparring!
send money.

T H A N K S !


It doesn't stop there, though — oh, no. In the very poshest restaurants, the dishwasher must scrape the plates clean with his hands; he's not allowed a dishrag, soap, or even water. The scullery-maid is only twenty-three, but decosmetic surgery has made her a hag. The fellow who works the bellows for the charcoal stove (gas would be safer, electricity cleaner; even coal would be cheaper; but this is a luxury establishment!) has worked there so long that he's forgotten the outside world exists.

If you tip the chef generously enough, he'll let you in the kitchen to see their misery. You'll be more grateful than ever for the Cote de Veau blanc cuite en cocotte dans son jus, gousses d'ail roties, pommes puree et epinards now so amiably distending your stomach.

For your pleasure, these poor brutes are allowed to neither rest nor eat nor drink in all the sixteen hours a day they're imprisoned in the kitchen. They resent it, of course. But what can they do?

Nor are they allowed toilet breaks. If they really have to go, there's always the stew.


[ Previous ]  [ Next ]

This is the 51st of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.

home | stories | columns | archive | faq | talk