Monday, February 14, 2005

Minimum Wage and Social Justice

Via Jesus Politics, this quiz on social justice reveals some pretty shocking statistics. For instance:

In four of the nation's 3,066 counties can someone who works full-time and
earns the federal minimum wage afford to pay rent and utilities on a
one-bedroom apartment. New York Times, "Study Finds Gap in Wages and Housing
Costs," December 25, 2004.

Think about that for a second. And then think about why in the hell we bother to have a minimum wage at all. Because, as it is set now, there's no point to it whatsoever. And we should have a minimum wage, one set at a level that a person can live on the minimum wage. But a minimum wage this low is just smoke-and-mirrors: it makes it look like we care about the working poor, but really we don't, since we can point to minimum wage as an effort to help the working poor when we we know that it is low enough that it really doesn't matter.

Yeah, I've heard all the arguments about how minimum wage reduces the number of low-paying jobs and hurts small businesses that can't afford to pay the minimum wage. I am even willing to stipulate that both these things are true. My question, then, is so what?

Do we want an economy that produces lots and lots of jobs that pay less than a living wage? Why in the hell would we want that? That doesn't do anyone any good except the business owner who can essentially engage in slave labor. Also, it produces a system that is the antithesis of capitalism, at least as the definition of capitalism as I was taught in sixth grade.

You see, there was a contest of some sort, and the winner got a bottle of Coke (and you should feel just as old as I do if you remember the days when it was common to see a bottle of Coke). The teacher then explained to us that the contest worked the way capitalism worked: The winner got the whole bottle. Under communism, the teacher told us, we would have split the bottle up between all thirty or so kids, so we'd each basically get a sip, and no one would be satisfied. Why wouldn't it be better to create a smaller number of jobs that pay a living wage for the workers most qualified to get them rather than to create bunches and bunches of jobs that no one can live on? Are the supposed "capitalists" of the right really communists? (I'm not entirely certain that I like this logic, BTW, but I am simply pointing out that the right, when saying that minimum wage will reduce jobs, has not proven that reducing the number of non-living wage jobs but is a bad thing, especially as it would, one hopes, increase the number of living wage jobs. Those on the right beg the question with this argument).

Secondly, with regards to the "it will hurt small business" argument, why should we want to encourage people to open businesses that can only exist on the backs of laborers making less than a living wage? How does that help the economy? The laborers making less than a living wage aren't going to have enough money to spend to be much boost to the economy, and neither are businesses who have such a slim profit margin that they can't afford to pay living wages.

Further, did ever occur to anyone on the right that, without minimum wage, the really good business owners, the ones with "merit" in this supposed "meritocracy", who know how to run businesses that are profitable enough to pay a living wage, have to compete with the slave laborers and so can't ever afford to pay a living wage? Maybe, rather than worrying about how a living minimum wage would hurt start-up businesses, we should see a living minimum wage as a method of weeding out small businesses and small business owners who aren't helping the economy and shouldn't be in business at all. Maybe we should set our standards higher, so that those entering business who want to be considered successful know they have a certain threshold to meet: being able to pay living wages.

Of course, the right will holler about government hindering "the rights of small business owners." But since when do aspiring business owners have the absolute right to start up businesses regardless of the effects upon other people, the community, or the environment? Since when does the right to start up a business include the right to pay slave wages? Don't people have the right to make an honest wage for an honest day's work (hint: the Bible says yes. Of course, the Bible also says you have to pay workers at the end of each day, and yet I don't notice those who condemn gays based on biblical scripts picketing the ubiquitous businesses that pay weekly or biweekly in direct contravention of biblical law).

The median financial wealth for blacks was $1,100, less than 3% of the
corresponding figure for whites. "Minorities," in State of Working America
2004-2005, Economic Policy Institute

But all the inequities of slavery and discrimination have been corrected, right? So what the hell are the blacks complaining about? As if over 200 years of being property and second-class citizens is erased in thirty years. As if it doesn't make any difference at all that most of the capital in the country was already locked up by whites before blacks were even given the right to amass capital. As if it growing up in a good neighborhood with good schools and well-off parents is just the same as growing up in Compton to a single mother making minimum (therefore, less than living) wage.

Where does the US rank worldwide in the imprisonment of its citizens?
First. The US imprisons over 700 persons per 100,000. Russia is second with 584.
Sentencing Project, Facts About Prisons and Prisoners.

This one I already knew. I think the US' world-leading incarceration rate is a symptom of the same disease that causes Americans to support banning gay marriages: Americans are some of the most judgmental freakin' people in the world. The US uses the power of government to enforce morality on its citizens in a way unheard of in the rest of the western world. The US' extremely harsh drug laws, which are a large part of the reason for the US' sky-high incarceration rate, are a good example. When the US puts a guy caught with 10 ounces of cocaine in prison longer than a guy who murdered someone, it is because the US is using the justice system to punish the drug offender for a lapse in morality. Americans want their government to punish people for doing things they think are "bad," and aren't above using the justice system, as well as government coercion (only in the US does the government spend money to "promote marriage" and other dumb things like that), to do it.

In 2003, the US military budget was more than 8 times larger than the Chinese
budget, the second largest spender... The US military budget was more than 29
times as large as the combined spending of the seven "rogue" states (Cuba, Iran,
Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria). Even if you add China and RussiaĆ­s
military spending to that of the seven potential enemies, all nine nations
together spent $116.2 billion, 27% of the U.S. military budget. The US military
budget is more than the combined spending of the next twenty three nations.

Yes, Mr. Rumsfeld, you go to war with "the army you have." But that isn't a defense: It is the proof of your incompetence. I mean, what else, exactly, could the taxpayers of the US provided you with that you didn't get? We bought you stealth aircraft, super-advanced smart bombs, the world's first (USAF) and second (US Navy) largest air forces in the world, the world's biggest navy, the world's best spy satellites and plans, the best equipped, best trained soldiers and marines in the world... What, did we need to buy you a Death Star too? Just to successfully defeat and occupy a country using obsolete Soviet-era equipment manned by guys who don't have enough to eat? Would you like a pink unicorn with that, too?

Where does the US contribution [of aid to poor countries] rank in the top 22 countries in proportion to our economy? Last.

I already knew this one too. But it is interesting, in light of how Americans are willing to throw people in prison for fifty years for moral offenses, that Americans don't walk the walk when it comes down to it. Sure, the US gives a lot of aid in absolute numbers, which lets us feel all warm and fuzzy, but that's like Michael Jordan giving the United Way $25 compared to your $20 and feeling morally superior.


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