Tuesday, December 09, 2014

I wrote all of this in response to a Facebook post.

The subject was the $15 minimum wage "debate".

And someone said:
At one point I ... but instead of whining to the government I ... bigger pay checks... better solution than complaining to the government.

Get a marketable skill and the economy will reward you appropriately.

So I got mad, because yes, ok, complaining doesn't solve much. But a staged series of protests in favor of a higher, livable minimum wage is not complaining, it's constructive criticism and a public awareness campaign. It's Doing Something About It. And the government is the entity that controls the minimum wage laws, so yes we do need to tell them if we want something to change. But regardless of one's stance on the protests... here is my rebuttal, which got too long and ranty to post on facebook.

A) if everyone got "marketable" skills and were magically rewarded by The Economy there would be no one to wash our dishes, serve our burgers and staff our stores. Therefore your "solution" is at best short-sighted and at worst sheer ignorance of the way the world actually works. Either you pay someone to serve, or you do it all yourself (and good luck holding down a full-time job, paying the bills, feeding and clothing yourself entirely from your expansive farm and workshops, and still managing to find time to read facebook). And if you're paying someone to serve, you're The Economy, and you're rewarding them... with poor wages, poor working conditions and a holier-than-thou attitude.

B) "marketable" changes by region, age, gender, time of year, date (what was marketable in 2004 may not be now), economic state (recession, anybody?) etc. It's not as simple as picking a degree in a STEM field and going for it, and even if it were, some people aren't cut out for STEM degrees (or [insert applicable skill here]). Some people might even enjoy flipping burgers for a living, if they could make a living at it. See point A.

C) You NEED service workers, therefore their skills ARE marketable to somebody, but you're not willing to pay them what they can live on because you don't want to have to recognize that you're abusing them in the first place when you demand cheap goods and services and continue to use and pay for those things that we provide to you. Everyone is guilty of this, some more than others, and honestly those filthy rich people that we love to hate because they're making more in a week than we'll see in our lifetimes are probably the LEAST guilty because they at least are generally aware that quality comes with cost (although the inverse is not always true) and they are willing to pay more for their goods and services, although half of them are doing so while running corporate empires that pay their workers shit and beans.

Also, people recognizing skill with larger pay checks is utter BullShit(tm). But keep lying to yourself because it's way more comforting than facing the cold hard reality that America is full of spoiled middle-class brats spouting platitudes about hard work and rewards while people go without health care because The Economy doesn't see fit to reward them for their work.

Sure, there are better solutions than "complaining to the government". Learn to garden and grow some of your own food, if you can find the land and the time. Save a few dollars a month until you have enough to buy some foods in bulk so that you can save another few dollars a month. Find rich friends and hang out with them and hope they can network you into a better standard of living. Figure out a better mousetrap and make a million dollars. Get a degree and then spend 50 hours a week spamming your resume to every place that's hiring, get lucky and get hired at the job of your dreams. Win the lottery. Pay off your student loans by selling porn on a cam site. Go to your boss and demand a raise, rinse and repeat until he either fires you or you're making enough to live on. Work your ass off at three part-time jobs, give up on all of your dreams, wear every lucky charm you can find to ward off any undue accidents, and keep your head down for ten or fifteen or fifty years until you've saved enough money in your 0.5%-interest savings account that you can afford health care and start thinking about a car, maybe. There are loads of options for bettering one's life! You just have to do it! Oh, and maybe not be mentally ill or physically disabled or transgendered or gay or old or female or a person of color or....

I'm all for good-old-fashioned work ethic and think that everybody should take pride in what they do, work hard, and better themselves. I don't presume to set the bar for what "better" means to other people, because there is a fine line between recognizing concrete improvements in essential life skills and telling someone they should have the same end-goal (and thus the same improvements in life) as you. A well-rounded education is a great thing and aids public discourse but is it necessary for everyone to attend college to get it? And to assume that "bettering" oneself must include getting more marketable skills just so that one can afford to eat is inhumane. I think we can all agree on that, yes? 
 Or maybe if people are worth so little that they don't deserve to be paid enough to eat, can we agree that they need to be culled? Because I could get behind culling all of the people that society deems "worthless", as long as I get to decide who has value. That's fair, right? 

That's basically what we're already doing: deciding arbitrarily who has value based on who has what job. Your job is your stated value to society - not your degree, your hobbies, the amount of fun you are at parties... but the thing you do to earn money because capitalist society has decided that you need to pay for the degree, the hobbies, and the parties with an imaginary currency that demands your time, attention and resources for the best years of your life and in return gives you little green pieces of paper (or these days, little electronic bits in a computer somewhere) which tell everyone how much society should value you. Except the system is broken, and while raising the minimum wage won't fix it by far, it will at least stop people from trying to better themselves with degrees only to graduate into jobs that don't let them pay their bills. It's not just fast-food workers who struggle with poor wages; they're just the loudest right now and the least likely to get a promotion or raise that will take them above the poverty line.

I also do not for one second think that people who take pride in what they do, work hard, and better themselves are somehow going to have the universe or the economy turn upside down and shit rainbows and winning lotto tickets over their heads, nor do I presume to understand the reasons other people have for not giving 110% at their jobs or in the rest of their lives (although often money is one of those reasons). I wish the world worked this way but it doesn't. It's cutthroat and competitive and horrible and it doesn't get along well with others, and it doesn't always play fair. So no, your anecdotal story doesn't matter to people who are still fighting to earn enough to live on. And it provides no evidence at all of a fair and just economy which rewards people for simply improving themselves.

The universe is not kind nor friendly and it doesn't give a fig how hard you work and it will not always reward you for that work. When it does, it may not even reward you in ways society considers a success. But if money is required for life then the least that we as a society can do is pay people enough that they can live, so that they have the chance to better themselves in the first place.