Political Physics: The Jigsaw Approach to Dealing with the Economic Crisis


a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

Last week I wrote about the fact that we are facing significant financial troubles at every level of government – local, state and federal – in the US. I also said that I have grave concerns about the magnitude of that debt and the implications of who owns it.  I posed some questions about our country’s ability to get its fiscal house in order.  Ernessa commented that she, too, was frustrated with the economic crisis and wondered if I or anyone else had any suggestions about what we can do on a grassroots level to help with this economic crisis?

I’ve been thinking about that question all week.

sawvThen on last Tuesday, I found myself at home sick and watching Saw V (please do not ask, it’s a long story).  For those of you who might actually want to see this movie, this is my official spoiler alert: stop reading now, because I intend to give away a significant plot point.  Okay, with that said, midway into the film we are introduced to five people who wake up in a trap in which collars are locked around their necks, strung on a cable connected to a set of guillotine blades mounted on the wall behind them.  They’re told by Jigsaw’s puppet that “Five will become one, with the common goal of survival.” He states “while your lifelong instincts will tell you to react one way, I implore you to do the opposite.”

The first part of their test involves pulling against a cable to get a key at the end of the room to release themselves. The consequence for not completing the trap is to be beheaded.  Of course they ignore Jigsaw’s warning. One of them jumps the gun and in the end only four out of the five survive.  This becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the movie, each time they face a test instead of working together it becomes survival of the fittest and someone dies. 

Fast forward to the final test with two people remaining.  In this test they have to stick their hands in rotating saws and bleed into a beaker. When the beaker fills with the labeled volume of their blood, the door to the room will unlock and they will be free to go. But before they start the test they realize that there are five saws and five openings on the contraption, for which to stick arms into. That’s when they realize that everyone could have made it through every test alive.  For example, in the first test only one key was needed to unlock each neck restraint so they did not need to fight against each other to get their individual keys.  With no other options, the two remaining survivors begin sawing their arms in an attempt to fill the beaker meant for five with 10 pints of their blood.

If they had listened to Jigsaw and worked together, the pain during each test would have been minimal or non-existent because it would have been born by the entire group.

Now I know you are thinking: why did I put you through that retelling of Saw V? But watching that movie actually took me back to Ernessa’s question: what can we do on a grassroots level to help with this economic crisis?

I think the best thing we can do is take Jigsaw’s advice – “let us become one, with the common goal of survival.” 

Now that is a bit simplified, but I mean it we need to spread the pain.

Right now, my husband and I are preparing to deal with a 10% cut in my paycheck in the months of May and June.  Like all state employees in NJ (and several other states) I will be required to take two-furlough days in both months.  The Governor is proposing the days in order to save $35 million and help close NJ’s budget deficit.  The alternative would have been for the state worker unions to agree to an 18-month wage freeze, but they refused.  Now it is important to note that almost all non-union employees, like myself, in state government have not had any increase (e.g., cost of living, raise, etc.) in years.


Now some of you may argue that this is a complicated issue, but for me it’s simple – spread the pain.  All state employees, union and non-union, agree to an 18-month wage freeze and do our part to close the deficit.  We save the $35 million+ and no one is forced to deal with a furlough.


Spread the pain.


I live in a City where more than 22,000 state workers commute in every day for work.  They use City resources like Police, Water, Sewer, etc.  Less than 25% actually live in or near the City.  A few years ago when the City’s water pipes burst, state employees working in Trenton had to be sent home because they were using so much water that there was not enough for local residents.  Today, the City of Trenton is facing a potential $28 million budget deficit.  I think that the City should impose a 1% commuter tax on state employees and anyone else that works in the City of Trenton but does not reside in the City.  That 1% tax could generate $12 million in reoccurring revenue for the City of Trenton.


Spread the pain.


Last week in San Bernardino, California, firefighters approved accepting a 10% salary reduction to help the struggling City close it’s budget gap while also avoiding seeing any of their peers being laid off.


The thing is I am not asking you to stick your hands into a box with rotating saws and bleed into a beaker.  Although for some people, taking a hit in the wallet may feel as painful.  The fact is we are facing some unprecedented economic challenges at every level of government and we all need to do our part.  Like Jigsaw said, “lifelong instincts will tell you to react one way, I implore you to do the opposite.”   


At least that is my suggestion, what are yours? What can we do at a grassroots level to help with this economic crisis?


flickr.com photo credit: Nick Farnhill