The PD Reader

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Posted by P. D. Reader on October 12, 2012 at 3:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Why We "Need" Socialism in America Right Now, originally posted Oct 15, 2012

Posted by P. D. Reader on Comments comments (0)
The above title was put there as a shock device to get people to read this post.

Did you see that?
If not, I'll say it again:  The above title is there as a shock device to get people to read this post.  Especially conservatives, who are likely to come here angry.

Everybody:  Take a deep breath, and calm down.

The above title is not there as a statement that socialism is a superior form of government, or anything at all to which we should aspire.  I'm not suggesting that we throw out the Constitution and become Communist China or the USSR.  The title is there to illustrate a very practical matter.

OK, the conservatives here are still too angry to read and know what they've read, so let me repeat that one more time:

The above title is not there as a statement that socialism is a superior form of government, or anything at all to which we should aspire.  I'm not suggesting that we throw out the Constitution and become Communist China or the USSR.  It's there to illustrate a very practical matter..

And I imagine the conservatives here are still too steamed under the collar to read and know what they've read, so let me repeat it one more time.  Perhaps italics will help?  This blog doesn't let you make the print any bigger, so it's all I can do.

The above title is not there as a statement that socialism is a superior form of government, or anything at all to which we should aspire.  I'm not suggesting that we throw out the Constitution and become Communist China or the USSR.  It's there to illustrate a very practical matter.(Oh, what do you know?  It will let you make the print bigger.)

At the risk of boring everyone else, I'm going to quit repeating that and move on, to the actual practical matter.  Conservatives, here's where you skip the rest of this post and go directly to copying its title around on Facebook and what have you, talking about what slobbering radicals liberals are, and here is a good case in point.  All I can say is, if you copy or paste anything, copy all of it.  No quoting lines out of context.  Including just the title.  Thank you.

Really, I'd prefer it if everyone took a deep breath and prepared to do some thinking.  I'm talking practicalities here.

This post was born of a heated argument with a conservative in which the argument was made (and not by me) that companies--and I'm not talking small businesses, like the little neighborhood veterinary clinics I work at, I'm talking big companies, huge companies, companies like Wal Mart and McDonalds and Staples and Apple--can't afford to pay Americans a living wage. 

They have to pay Americans a wage that no one can afford to live on, because in this country taxes are just too high.  Unions are just too greedy, and unions ask for too much.  Unions want to bankrupt the businesses they work for.

OK, there's no question.  Some union practices are over the top.  Check out Waiting for Superman for some details.  At least we don't have rubber rooms anymore.  If we're going to ask businesses to be reasonable toward workers, we have to ask labor to be reasonable toward management, too.

But:  In these businesses where we don't have unions, people work for minimum wage.  And they often have to have several McJobs in order to work full time, because these places don't want to hire full time.  If they did that, they'd have to offer benefits, like health insurance and maybe a retirement plan.  (And it would be nice if the plans they do offer weren't crap.)

The simple fact is--and stay with me, now, this is the first part of practicalities, here--the simple fact is, you can't live on minimum wage.

So my argument to this conservative was:  If these businesses paid people a wage they could meet their basic needs on, we wouldn't need but the barest minimum of any kind of program we call "socialist", because people who had jobs would have what they needed to stay alive.  (Although, if we were a compassionate society, we might still keep a few of those programs around for, say, those who are suddenly unemployed and looking for work, those who are disabled and can't work, or those who are suddenly felled by, say, a brain tumor, like my husband was last year.  I'm telling you, the hospital bills that first six months went into the six figures.  Medicaid helped us, and it saved our butts.)

But I digress.  My point:  If everyone who worked had wages that covered basic need, we wouldn't need all the socialism we now have.

Ah, the conservative opposition you get once you say this!  Certain words tend to be used, among them the word, "handout".

But a day's pay is not a handout.  It's a day's pay, for a day worked

I submit that a day's pay at a living wage, is actually a hand up.

But the argument was that companies, big companies, huge companies like Wal Mart and McDonalds and Staples and Apple, can't afford to pay those wages. 

(If they're going to make money, they have to pay the folks at the cash register a wage they can't afford to live on, or they have know.  Open dorms in China and cram people into them three to a room and work them sixteen hours a day, for wages they can't even afford to leave the dorm and go out onto the street and shop with.)

Now:  Can we just check the validity of this, please?  Do companies, big companies, companies like you-know-who, NEED to pay people below a living wage to stay in business?

When I went around looking for information, I found this, which you should check out.  It says a lot.

Here at least are the charts from that article, in case you don't want to go read it.  The source says they are from Business Insider.

The bottom chart is wages as a percent of the economy.  Does anybody have any idea how much money is represented by the figures in the top chart? 

And that isn't total income.  It's profits.  It's profits after tax.  Notice, if you will, that the shaded areas are recessions, and what happens to each of those red lines after the most recent recession.

These days when a corporation makes that much profit, it's mostly funneled to the tiny handful of people who own and run it. 

That's because the people doing the dog work, the people who mop the floors, run the cash registers, tag the merchandise, and handle the customers, are being paid as precious little as that company can get away with paying them.  I'm going to ignore the fact that a lot of shareholders don't even work for the companies they hold shares in.  They just own, and demand money.

This leaves those owners and executives with an awful lot of money.  Did you know that the richest 20% of working families take home half the income that is made in the entire country? That leaves the other 80% of us struggling for the other half of the total income that is taken home in this country. 

Here's an idea of just how rich some people are.

Something tells me that corporations can afford to pay workers enough to live on.  They really can.

But they don't want to, and we as a society don't believe they should.

Why is that, exactly?

Common conservative argument:  "Well, if people want all that money, they can just roll up their sleeves and go to work and earn it themselves!" 

And then comes the list of wealthy corporate CEO's who started with nothing.  Have you read Rich Dad, Poor Dad?  I did.  According to this philosophy, everybody in the country should start their own business and become their very own corporate CEO, and in this way all of us can earn a living wage.

Do you see an absurdity here?  I do.

The problem with this argument is that, according to a July 2010 estimate, there are a total of 307,212,123 people in the country right now.  Is it realistic to suggest that if all these people were to become business owners, we wouldn't have a living wage problem anymore, and nobody would need socialism anywhere?

Um, no.

The problem with this is that most businesses need workers.

I am an exception.  I am a relief veterinarian, and as such I can be a business of one.  I can do all the work, and handle all my books, myself, except maybe for filing my taxes.  I do have a tax specialist for that...who runs her own small business, for which I am very grateful.

But say you own a store.  Say you own a gas station.  Say you have a lawn business.  Say you decide to go door to door and open locks for those who've locked themselves out, or replace windshields, or what have you? 

If your business gets very big at all, you're gonna need some help.

You see, those who own and control businesses, for the most part, plan.  Those they employ, do.  The manager plans the doing of the work, but the actual doing of the work, requires...uh-oh.  Those pesky little entities, people

We haven't figured out how to create robots who can do everything a person can do, at least not at reasonable cost.  And even a robot would need to run on something.  Unless we develop solar power a bit further, which those who point and laugh at Solyndra don't want us to do, those who plan actually need help from other people to get things done.

And if those people are working for someone else, so that their work can be done, most of them aren't going to be owning their own businesses, too.  Unless it's part time.  (And even they may eventually need to hire someone.)

So may I ask:  Why is it that we all seem to think that only the work the manager or owner does is worth anything?  Why is managerial work so much more important than the actual dog work that the manager deserves this lifestyle, while the person doing the dog work deserves 

this lifestyle?

I mean, come on, people.  Excluding the "welfare queens" (of whom there are not nearly as many as you might think), we all work, and everybody's job makes an important contribution.

If you don't believe me, let's try a little experiment. 

For the next week, nobody in the entire country take out any garbage, change any diaper, feed anyone who can't feed themselves, mow a lawn, scrub a floor, or wash a dish.  And, for God's sake, nobody scrub a toilet...including those that have just been puked in. 

I think at the end of that week, we'd all have a very cogent reminder of just how important the labor that we consider menial really is.

Can we just accept that some work needs to be done, please, and that if it needs to be done it's probably important to somebody?

And if it's important enough for someone to be hired to do it, it's important enough for that person to be able to support themselves doing it.

That means, a living wage.

So, this conservative then asks me:

What is a living wage?

Hmm.  Good question.  Let's start with this:  From the figures I've seen, half the jobs in the country pay $34,000 a year or less.  That's before taxes.  I have seen one figure that said $25,600, but let's go with the 34, how about that?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that a living wage is one at which a human in this society can have his basic needs met. 

So what are basic needs? 

How about food, clothing, and shelter?  Basic, cheap food, clothing, and shelter.  We're not talking a 4000 square foot beach house, here.  Sounds like a good start.  I think medical care is a basic need.  (If you don't, you haven't been sick enough yet.) 

In order to procure those needs, a person needs transportation.  (That doesn't have to be a Jaguar.  Let's say a ten year old car in decent shape that lasts at least a year between major breakdowns.  Or a cheap dwelling on the bus line.)  That ought to take care of a person with basic needs today.

But what about tomorrow?  If he's lucky, our person with basic needs is going to live to get old, and that means that at some point, he's going to be too feeble to work anymore, and we don't believe in social security anymore because that's socialism.  But our person might need help dressing.  He might need help cooking.  He might need someone to drive him places, like shopping or to the doctor.  He might need...oh, no. 

He might need assisted living

Have you seen how expensive assisted living is lately?  Even if you are fortunate enough to be able to remain in your own home, you still might need to pay something so a person will come in and help with activities of daily living.  (There's another minimum wage job.)

If you're this disabled, by definition, you can't work.  Therefore, a person needs to be able to put something away from the work he's done today, to pay for his basic needs tomorrow.  So, let's add to the list of basic needs:  Food, clothing, shelter, medical care, transportation, and savings.  First we must pay our taxes, which, don't forget, are a higher percentage of our income than the shareholder pays, because we work for a living and they just invest their money.  Can we do all this on $25,600 to $34,000 a year?

This might still be possible today, if we aren't in debt.  Unfortunately, many of us were told we'd sink into poverty without college, so we got college degrees.  That means many of our people are thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in debt we were told not to worry about, because it was "good debt".  Since there's no way to escape student loan debt, the need to pay on that adds significantly to the cost of our basic needs.

Ick.  Let's say we didn't go to college, or we were a deadbeat and we defaulted, or we went to college but we're going to try to stick it out anyway, and an average-paying job is all we can find.  Common these days.  Since half the jobs in the country pay $25,600 a year to $34,000 a year or less, before taxes, can a person live comfortably on that?

I think it's possible.  Ever heard of the Tiny House Movement?

Meet Dee Williams, a famous Tiny Hous-er.  Yes, it is possible to live on this little, pay down debt, and even pack your savings account full of savings.

I don't know if it's possible to do it with children, though.  I've heard of two people living in this small of a space and even being able to sleep friends over, but more than one small child, and I think this wouldn't be doable.  Then you've got to think about health insurance for the needs for the child...we still need to save for our own future needs...suddenly the amount of money required for basic needs becomes a whole lot more.

Not only that, but in many localities, even when responsible people want to build their very own sustainable, low-cost housing and live on very little...they find out it isn't legal.  In a lot of places, it isn't legal to build a house under 1000 square feet.  Do you know how much to costs to heat and cool a barn that size?  Pay the taxes on it?  Maintain it? 

And apartment rents aren't so cheap anymore, either.  Put together two parents and two kids, or even one parent and two kids, and I just don't see $34,000 a year, before taxes, being a very realistic figure upon which to meet everyone's basic needs.  Keep in mind that many, many jobs pay less.  Anyone trying to live on this little money had better hope they don't get sick, or their car doesn't break down, because on most families' budgets, just these very things start people sliding into poverty.  On Wal Mart wages, most people are relying on SNAP to afford food. 

Think about that.  You work in a store that includes a huge grocery section, but you can't afford food for your family there.

Finally, I leave you with this thought.

OK:  Having said all that...

We need to understand that we can't have it both ways in this country.  We can't call all the people hurting right now lazy and say they brought it on themselves.  I think we can all see that's just not true.  So what can we do, if we don't want a whole nation here of poor and very poor? 

There's Option #1:  Pay people a living wage...but we don't want to do that. 

So then, since half the population doesn't earn enough money to meet their basic needs, or they can't find a job, there's

Option #2:  Government services and support...but we don't want to do that, either. 

We're talking practicalities here.  If we would just knuckle down and perform Option #1 on our own, we wouldn't have so many working people in need.  But we don't want to do that, therefore, we need #2 right now, no matter what ugly name we choose to call it.


If we really don't like either one of these, there's always this post I saw on Facebook:

Karma Pridemore Sanchez:
I lived in a country where they do not help the poor. I had children ringing my doorbell begging for any little amount of food or money I could spare. If I had it, I gave it. These people busted their asses through snow and Siberian cold for less than the equivilent of $2/hour. Watching an old woman digging through garbage on Thanksgiving Day is not what I want to see for our country. Do I think programs like welfare and food stamps are necessary? ABSOLUTELY. When people have more money than they can spend in their's or their great granchildren's lifetimes, paying their fair share of taxes hurts NO ONE. Get over yourselves already.

In case you think that kind of scenario would be OK with you, I leave you with this.