Minimum Wage, Unemployment Insurance, and Forcing Compassion on Capitalism

Minimum Wage, Unemployment Insurance, and Forcing Compassion on Capitalism:
This morning, the Rude Pundit was listening to the NPR, and he heard the usual Monday a.m. palaver between the host and longtime DC reporter Cokie Roberts. It was primarily about all the backwards ass racist fucks who crawled out of their swampy ditches to make comments on various websites and Facebook pages about how much they hated Nelson Mandela. Roberts said that some members in Congress were shocked, shocked that their base was actually made up of the aforementioned racist fucks. Then, to offer balance, she said, really, "And I'm sure the President is getting blowback [from the left] for bringing President Bush with him on [Air Force One to the funeral]." Later, she said, "We've seen a whole lot of the President reaching out to his base on income equality and raising the minimum wage."

Now, the Rude Pundit's no doyenne of les affaires du Washington, but he's pretty sure that if a vast majority of Americans support something, it ain't "the base." 76% of people polled by Gallup support hiking the minimum wage to at least $9 an hour. When Obama speaks, as he did last week, about raising that guaranteed hourly rate, he ain't some crazy leftist just trying to score points among the poors. In reality, he's merely stating what most everyone in the nation believes. In fact, by logical extension, opposing a minimum wage hike is pretty much an extremist position. But that sounds unbalanced, no? And we can't have that.

David Simon, creator of The Wire and other stuff, gave a speech last month at the Sydney, Australia, Festival of Dangerous Ideas. In it, he attacks the actions of American capitalists. The problem with income inequality in this country isn't capitalism - Simon says he's all for it - but how much rich Americans are such dickholes about acquiring ludicrous amounts of wealth. That dickishness is causing the nation to rot at its core. "A horror show," Simon calls it. "The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It's a juvenile notion and it's still being argued in my country passionately and we're going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I'm astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?"

Capitalism fails once labor is taken for granted. Everyone is supposed to reap the rewards in the perfect capitalist model, not just the stockholders and the executives at the very top. If a company is profitable, it's supposed to pay its workforce, down to the bottom, more and give greater benefits because an investment in labor is an investment in the future good of the company. But many, if not most, companies (like fast food chains and Wal-Mart) don't see it this way. They see labor as a necessary but disposable evil. They will pay as little as possible, especially in a buyer's market for workers. And so we need a fig leaf or two for workers. That's why we have a minimum wage. That's why we havethe limited benefits of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act (which doesn't guarantee pay, just that you're not supposed to lose your job).

In other words, government is supposed to be a check on the excesses of capitalism, not an enabler of more. Right now, despite the protestations of yahoos and assholes about "regulations," we simply allow a grotesque amount of wealth to be held by an increasingly small number of people without telling them, "Look, motherfuckers, pony up or one day your ass is gonna be fuckin' eaten by your employees."

What else is it but savage cruelty for a country that has hundreds of billionaires to be discussing that an extension of unemployment benefits for over a million people might cost too much while still looking to cut food stamps further? We have public figures saying that it harms people to extend unemployment insurance. You know who it harms? The friend of the Rude Pundit who's 57 years old, laid off from a job in marketing over a year ago, trying to figure out how the fuck his family with two kids, including one in college, is gonna keep their apartment on his wife's small salary (which, thankfully, comes with some meager health insurance) even as he applies for and interviews for jobs every week that he can't get because they're entry-level and he's fucking 57 years old and he's about to run out of unemployment.

This ain't a heavy lift when it comes to economic and sociological theory. You wanna keep the place you live in nice? You spread the wealth. That ain't a dirty phrase. That ain't socialism. Shit, it's basic etiquette. And you don't spread it through charity. You do it through good-paying jobs because you can fucking afford it. You do it through social programs administered by the government, which is supposed to look out for people.

We're talking basic social contract shit here. As Simon said (heh), "We're either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we're going to keep going the way we're going, at which point there's going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody's going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there's always the brick."

And if you wanna think really hard about that brick, read the New York Times' story about homeless children in New York City. It'll make you wonder why we're not rioting in the streets every day.