The President gave an important speech about the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the resulting loss of the American Dream. He is the first President, probably since FDR, to openly acknowledge that the problem was and is systemic, that it has been forming over the last few decades as a result of poor policy choices, and that everything he has done, including health care reform, is meant to address this one lethal problem. I use the term lethal because the American Dream is one of the most critical “release valves” that our society has. It has allowed for the development of a large Middle Class that not only drives our economy but also keeps the peace. Any society that does not have a Middle Class is in serious danger of experiencing violence between the many “have not’s” and the few “haves”. One of the things the President proposes is raising the minimum wage. I wholeheartedly support this idea and here’s why.
Aside from the pragmatic concern of avoiding violent revolutions, there are moral concerns. Many religions (not just Christianity) tout “good works” as a path to salvation/redemption/evolution, etc. Ethical theory, without religion factoring in, also holds “good works” as the ultimate good in human society. No one, conservative or liberal, argues this point. What they argue about is whether we should be compelled to help others by the government. Conservatives argue that they don’t like being forced to help others and that they’d prefer to give on their own. They believe it is wrong of the government to force them to help others and to choose who they give to. They want to donate to the groups that they choose based on their own personal set of values. Liberals argue that individuals are selfish. They won’t give anything or won’t give enough to help those that need it and they don’t pick who they donate to in a way that is fair or necessarily helpful to society as a whole. They believe the only way to ensure fairness and to leverage the benefits of mass donations (i.e., larger funds of cash) is via our representative government. They also argue about who qualifies as needy. Conservatives tend to have a narrower view of what “needy” means than Liberals do.
Beyond the “avoid violence” and “it’s the right thing to do” arguments, there are some other very practical reasons for raising the minimum wage. First of all, the minimum wage has NOT kept up with inflation and remains lower than average wage levels across the board. Paying 30 million service workers more means fewer of them will need food stamps and Medicaid. It means they’ll be able to purchase more and as we all know, our economy is consumer driven.
Second, it would help put a dint, if not end, the current system of “Corporate Welfare” in this country. Corporate Welfare refers to companies that make billions in profit, that pay their workers unlivable wages and thereby actually suck money out of our Economy and put a much heavier burden on our government (and thus our taxes). Some of these companies pay little to no taxes as well–hear that sucking sound? It’s Ronald McDonald attached to Uncle Sam’s teat. We don’t need to worry about young bucks buying steaks with food stamps, we need to worry about these “Welfare Kings”. So raising the minimum wage would force these corporations to pay better wages and that would in turn get their employees off the dole. And believe me, these workers would rather NOT be on food stamps and Medicaid.
Conservatives argue that a higher minimum wage would put these companies, many of whom are international corporations, at a competitive disadvantage in the global market. Not true. According to Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, :
Americans won’t drive to China to pick up their burgers and fries.
In other words, the majority of the minimum wage recipients work in the service industry providing things to us that we do not and never will buy overseas and can never be served to us by overseas workers. So that’s a third practical reason.
Ultimately the American public is pretty supportive of the idea–71% of the U.S. population. And in a country as large and diverse as we are, that’s a very big number. Let’s make it happen and see how it goes because if we don’t, the gap will continue to widen. And as the gap widens our chances of being a successful and long-lived country will decrease in equal measure.