I read an article at Mother Jones and was struck by the uncertainty the author had about how we can change income equality in a world where merely working hard is not enough to get ahead these days. He proposed a few ideas, all of them crippled by what he saw as the complexity of our current economic situation.
The complexity of these decisions can be reduced by looking at the very bottom of the pyramid of our society and looking at who the poorest workers are, what they want, what they are capable of, and what they can do for the rest of society as a whole that we are now overlooking.
This is why, I chose as the motto “Money doesn’t trickle down, it explodes up.”
The rich sit on their money, hoping to pass it down to the next generation. They sit on their money, knowing that having to pay to borrow money in any way that doesn’t decrease their tax burden is foolish. They sit on their money if they are corporations and when they are tax shelters and foundations created to maintain piles of money for future generations. When they spend it, it rarely gets below a certain class threshold, that of the upper middle class who work the service sectors catering to the wealthy. There are a few exceptions, like the dishwashers in fancy restaurants and the maids in four star hotels, but the bulk of the money trickles down only as far as the manufacturers of luxury goods and those who sell them.
The poor, on the other hand, spend every dime they get. They spend voraciously. When a poor person gets a windfall in a culture of universal consumerism, they spend it all, and the exceptions to this rule would be extremely difficult to find, much less count. The more money we, as a society, pump into the poorest of the poor, the more it benefits the entire economy.
Right now, the most urgent desire of the poorest worker would be a huge increase in the minimum wage. The beauty of increasing the minimum wage is that it is a tax-free gift to the poor. It would be paid for by businesses who have more money than they need on the most part, and would result in an almost immediate rise in the cost of anything, mostly services of course, that rely on minimum wage labor. It would cost the taxpayer nothing. And it would increase the attractiveness of jobs that right now are not attractive to even the poorest among us, since working for the current minimum wage is less likely to support yourself, much less a family, than out and out slavery.
The common objection to a hike in the minimum wage is that the bums who work such lowly jobs are so incompetent and untrustworthy that they don’t deserve any more money than they already get, if that. Of course, those most likely to make such a contemptuous assertion are the lower middle class folks who are in contact with them, and who know how much more deserving they are. The realization that a higher minimum wage would drive up the cost of all labor, decreasing gradually the farther up the income chain you go, is a hard one to come to after decades of wage deflation.
Not only would wage inflation benefit the bottom of the ladder, it would benefit everyone above by a huge increase in demand for consumer goods of all kinds. Even the bosses would benefit from it, though they are too short sighted to see it. For everyone in the mid to lower-income range, a huge increase in minimum wages would make getting another job a viable alternative to unemployment, and a social safety net that is less costly than unemployment insurance.
You can tell I’m talking about a huge increase, not some nickel and dime increase. Getting the minimum wage to a living wage is just the start of the whole Minimum Laws idea. This is a blueprint for bringing the United States up to the standard of living of the very best places in the world to work.