If you work a full time job, the 40 hour work week brought to us courtesy of the New Deal and a rejection of the Gilded Age robber barons, shouldn’t that mean that you make a living. Not necessarily a life of luxury, but good shelter, food, clothing, medical and dental care, and transportation. High Wages, Low Wages, and Morality
It’s unusual for a controversial economic issue to be fought on moral grounds. But ACORN, a public advocacy group, has been winning a higher “living wage” for workers in state after state, city after city, by appealing to voters’ sense of justice.
“It’s probably the best [argument] we have,” says Jen Kern, director of ACORN’s Living Wage Resource Center. A decent income is a moral matter of “fairness,” she says. Those who “play by the rules of the game should be able to support themselves by their work.”
“A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you poor,” agrees Paul Sherry, coordinator of the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, a church-based coalition in Cleveland seeking to raise low wages.
According to the father of classical capitalism, Adam Smith, a Scottish professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University in the 1700s, the “invisible hand” of self-interest ensures the most efficient use of resources in an economy, and public welfare is a byproduct.
Today Americans are mostly content to let market forces – that is, the law of supply and demand – determine the wage levels for the multiplicity of jobs, professions, and positions that make the economy work. It would be extremely difficult for a bureaucratic group to make detailed, comparative judgments as to the real value of various occupations and place a specific wage level on each.
But at some point, the extremes in wages resulting from what is called “free enterprise” begin to violate people’s sense of common justice. They chuckle, then, at the portrayal in a Boston Globe cartoon of two bosses in a fancy office saying to three workers: “Why should you have a minimum wage? We don’t have a maximum wage.”
As it is, an employee working full-time at the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour makes $10,712 a year, about $1,000 above the official poverty level for an individual ($9,654).
At the other end of the scale, the compensation of top corporate executives, on average 431 times the salary of a blue-collar worker in his or her company, is widely seen as excessive. Critics often use the word “obscene” – a moral term – to characterize the tens of millions of dollars they get.
Capitalism in regard to pay is “out of whack,” says Scott Klinger, codirector of Responsible Wealth, a Boston advocacy group concerned over deepening income inequality in the nation.
Mr. Klinger maintains that Adam Smith assumed equal power in a free market among its players. He didn’t see the “enormous concentration” of economic and political power that has enabled the privileged to set the rules of the system. “Supply and demand is not the operative force,” he says.
There are those that think modern labor laws are a nuisance to the free market, impede corporate profits, and diminish profits. I will leave it to those people to explain why someone with on average just a little more education makes 431 times what a worker makes. Should I say that a good living wage is good for America. I think I just did. Capitalism isn’t composed of an empirical formula like carbon dioxide, with the national debt rising $2.19 billion per day since September 30, 2005 now is as good a time as any to start questioning the status quo. Do we want an economy and culture that approaches business and jobs from a humanity centered point of view or one that continues to see it as a game of social-darwinism. It seems like the Right has framed the debate to center around the concern that there’s a few people at the bottom of the economic ladder that are getting some nichols and dimes which they don’t deserve, and there probably are a few, but that’s not the problem. The real problem are the top tier hucksters who screw over thousands of workers and investors, the elite who have never done an honest days work in their lives.
A worker reports on conditions at Pullman:
“About the only difference between slavery at Pullman and what it was down South before the war, is that there the owners took care of the slaves when they were sick and here they don’t.”
— worker to a reporter for the Chicago Herald, 31 May 1890
There is the thinking element of some jobs, but those thinking skills while highly desirable in a technologically advanced economy may be rewarded far out of proportion to their value in the context of the whole system. The best idea in the world, the greatest new gadget, car, or machine tool has no value if it can’t be produced and it can’t be produced without a worker. In fact no wealth is possible without workers doing the production and distribution and the array of job skills associated with those activities. Some how it looks like our society has taken to putting a overarching value on ideas, that are usually derivative ( think Michael Dell and Bill Gates) over the labor that it takes to produce and maintain these often unoriginal products and services. Has Bill gates really done a billion dolars worth of work or had a billion dollars worth of original ideas. There is an irony here in that those that work very hard to elevate people like Dell and Gates to the level of free market-original idea gods are also frequently Ayn Rand fans and adherents of the second rater school of thought. Dell and Gates ( just examples that are easy to identify) are prime members of the second raters club, blessed with good luck, timimg and a ruthless approach to business triumphing over originality and hard work. If the creative forces behind these pinnacles of the quasi-free market walked out tomorrow could their businesses continue. Then to whom do the grand poopahs of the executive suite sell their wares to. If they are only selling to people of there own class, that’s an awfully small market. Isn’t it in everyone’s long term interest to make a fourty hour work week a living wage so that markets are bigger. Should the market make a few millionaires or should the market value everyone’s contribution, not neccessarily with an artificial equality, but with a sense of moral and economic justice. Is a worker at SomeCompany Inc. really 431 times less valuable then Mr/M’s Executive.
Even in 1890, possibly the peak year of prosperity before the First World War, one contemporary estimated that of the 12,500,000 families in the United States, 11,000,000 had an average income of less than $380 a year [about $7,500 in 2002 dollars]. Andrew Carnegie defied any man to show that there was pauperism in the United States, but a few years after he spoke one out of every ten persons who died on the Island of Manhattan was being buried in Potter’s Field. The gap between rich and poor–growing more visible every day–may have been the most glaring cleavage in American society, but it was not the only one….Violent outbursts at the Haymarket riots of 1886 and the great strikes at Homestead and Pullman gave evidence of the savagery of industrial warfare and led many to conjure up visions of a new and bloodier Paris Commune on American soil.
I’m a little sleepy so I’ll just point to this Newsweek article without too much commentary. In my attempt not to be a total hack and ignore anything good that is done on the center-right let me emphasize that many of the heros of the piece are Bush appointees fighting clear abuses of power, the dragging of American moral authority into a muddy ditch….Palace Revolt – They were loyal conservatives, and Bush appointees. They fought a quiet battle to rein in the president’s power in the war on terror. And they paid a price for it.
These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. They did so at their peril; ostracized, some were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia. Some went so far as to line up private lawyers in 2004, anticipating that the president’s eavesdropping program would draw scrutiny from Congress, if not prosecutors. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.
Quote of the day courtesy of unfutz,
“This year, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union Address fall on the same day. As Air America Radio pointed out, “It is an ironic juxtaposition: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, and the other involves a groundhog.”
Answering the question, do we have rules for everything. Some days it seems like we do. Elevator Rules
If you are going up or down one floor, use the stairs! This rule should especially be observed during peak traffic times like morning and afternoon rush.
1. When you have a cart, stroller or large packages
2. When the elevator is empty
3. If you are disabled or injured
“Well, it seems—well, I am up here——” He paused and swallowed several times distractedly. “Oh, yes. Young woman, Colonel Moreland has called up again to ask me to be sure to bring you in to dinner. His son Toby has come all the way from New York to meet you and he’s invited several other young people. For the last time, will you——”
“No,” said Ardita shortly, “I won’t. I came along on this darn cruise with the one idea of going to Palm Beach, and you knew it, and I absolutely refuse to meet any darn old colonel or any darn young Toby or any darn old young people or to set foot in any other darn old town in this crazy state. So you either take me to Palm Beach or else shut up and go away.”
“Very well. This is the last straw. In your infatuation for this man—a man who is notorious for his excesses, a man your father would not have allowed to so much as mention your name—you have reflected the demi-monde rather than the circles in which you have presumably grown up. From now on——”
“I know,” interrupted Ardita ironically, “from now on you go your way and I go mine. I’ve heard that story before. You know I’d like nothing better.”
from the short story The Offshore Pirate by F. Scott Fitzgerald