Living Wages


According to the Koch brothers and the folks who run Walmart, paying workers a living wage will bring on the end days, wreaking havoc with the economy and destroying the natural order of things. I think what they mean is that they might not be able to afford that third private jet and will have to cut back their donations to rabid right wing politicians from a couple of billion to a mere 900 million. Something like that anyway.

Ever since Ronald Reagan was President, Republicans in America and conservatives just about everywhere have been claiming that the way to build the economy is to make the rich richer and let the benefits trickle down to the rest of the populace. Unfortunately for them, the decidedly un-radical bastion of global capitalism, the International Monetary Fund has recently determined that trickle-down economics is so much hooey. Coupled with studies that demonstrate that increased inequality create greater social instability inequality is actually bad for economic growth. It seems that conservatives might finally have to admit they were wrong and that the real solution to economic malaise is to pay people an living wage.

Yeah, like that is going to happen. I expect the big denial engine is already gearing up – this attack on the American elite is nothing but an international conspiracy to blah, blah, blah – you lost me at the word conspiracy.

In America, a number of cities – notably Seattle – have mandated $15 an hour minimum wages. The result has been… not bad. Unemployment rates have fallen and generally the city has continued to prosper. Some argue that it’s a fluke and can’t be replicated elsewhere. Meanwhile in states where anti-union governors (Yeah Scott Walker I’m looking at you) have driven down wages and cut taxes to the rich, the economy is in a shambles and the government is on the verge of bankruptcy. And this guy wants to be President.

Folks the race to the bottom gets you exactly one place. At the bottom.

In Canada, the Federal NDP is campaigning on a similar minimum wage – though it will only apply to federally regulated jobs, which is actually a fairly small part of the total economy. Still, it’s a start and a raised Federal minimum wage will put pressure on provinces to follow suit or at least provide a market push for businesses to raise wages to compete for labour.

Small business associations have argued that this will kill jobs – though there is no substantial evidence that raising minimum wages has ever actually done that. Remember these are the same people who claimed that banning smoking in restaurants and bars would put an end to the hospitality industry. Instead it was neutral or positive. I’m sure some businesses will go under – while others spring up – but businesses that can’t make more money than they spend go out of business all the time.

Across the political spectrum, governments have been learning some simple truths. The best way to combat homelessness is to give people a place to live. Similarly the best way to solve inequality and poverty is to ensure people at the bottom make a living wage. $30K is not a lot but it would make a huge difference to many people struggling on 2/3 of that. Whether it is accomplished with higher minimum wages or with a guaranteed annual income is of little import to me. All I know is that lifting the bottom is a far more effective way to make us all better off than raising the roof for the rich ever will be.

And that’s ten minutes.


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