Saturday, April 13, 2013

Miller's Facepalm... and some economics stuff...

Rogue Roasting Company
12oz double Soy Vanilla Mocha
Breadpudding Muffin

I have created my own axiom.  It reduces to the utterly simple philosophy, "Don't do big things dumb."  I have dubbed it: Miller's Facepalm.

I have formally announced it on Facebook, and I have now begun to use it as a short-hand in the comment sections of friends' posts.  An example, you ask?  The 2008 economic implosion was principally caused by the irresponsible and/or illegal actions of major financial institutions on Wall Street.  The obvious response would be to increase and improve regulation and incarcerate those responsible for the actual illegal actions, if not for the actions that should have been illegal.  As of 2013, we have fewer regulations and the banks responsible for crashing our economy have been declared too big to prosecute.

Miller's Facepalm.

Homeowners who were illegally evicted have received less in their settlements than the the consultant paid to look at the fraudulent paperwork used to evict them.

Miller's Facepalm.


Miller's Facepalm.

Chained CPI may or may not be the more efficient way to calculate inflation for the elderly, but to implement it when these "wildly" inflated Social Security checks have not led to the current economic crisis, nor to Social Security checks being enough to keep many seniors out of poverty...

Miller's Facepalm.

Obviously, I'm on an economics kick here, but this principle applies to anything big, anything systemic.  This is not your everyday "d'oh!"  This is not leaving your keys in the refrigerator, or on top of your car as you go walking downtown (twice).  This is big time dumbass.  This is waging an ill-conceived and illegal war.  This is instituting a huge reform to the broken healthcare system that does little to nothing to rein in the main drivers of increasing health care costs.  This is mandating that the woman keep the baby but cutting any assistance that would help her care for it.  This is obsessing about tax rates but completely ignoring wages and other forms of compensation.

Speaking of wages...  I literally did a fist pump, jumped up and down, and shouted, "About damn time!" at the TV when the president mentioned raising minimum wage in the State of the Union this year.  My biggest reason for moving to Oregon was the minimum-wage-to-cost-of-living ratio, as compared to that of California's.  The cost of living in Cali is about 2 to 3 times that of Oregon, yet Oregon has the higher minimum wage.  How has this come to pass?  Unlike California, Oregon's minimum wage adjusts automatically every year based on inflation.  Shockingly, this has not crashed the Oregon economy, though wage-stifling California has come oh-so-close to complete implosion.  Obviously, economies are complex and cannot be reduced to one simple factor, but this does seem to conflict with the prevailing argument that raising minimum wage in a recession (or at any other time) absolutely cannot be done.

Since minimum wage is the baseline around which the whole economy must harmonize, it is the first and most important piece to tune correctly.  Right now, in most parts of the country, it is striking a bitter chord.  Sometimes literally (have you heard about the fast food workers' strike in New York?).  What we first need to ask ourselves - in order to avoid a Miller's Facepalm - is what should minimum wage cover?  This is a question of our values.

Should it cover the cost of living for a single person, or should it be assumed that, at some point, a minimum wage worker will have to cover expenses of a spouse, child, or other relative?  Should we presume that a minimum wage worker should not have to pay the full cost of housing because they must live with someone else, like a parent or roommate?  Isn't that real cost deferred to other people?  Won't their income be decreased proportionally by covering the additional expenses of housing (and feeding, and the additional use of utilities by) the minimum wage worker?  Should costs of living include savings for long-term costs and eventualities?  What about raising a family?  If our ideal is a married two-parent family unit, but a single income can't support the cost of raising even one child, haven't we broken that ideal?  If both parents are economically required to work, then a third party must be introduced to raise the child while the parents work.  And even if there is a willing social partner (Grandma, Aunt Ida, mom's bff who has a tot or two of her own, etc.) available to take on the childcare responsibilities to enable the second parent to work, there is an additional cost - paid in kind by the caregiver, or by the parent to the daycare or babysitter.

There is a cost paid by the child, too.  It may not be a calamity to have an additional caregiver in their life - that can be a great asset.  But there is a limit to that benefit.  A young child is only awake about a dozen hours of the day.  If they're spending a full work day, plus commute - maybe 8, 10 hours a day - with other people, then who is really doing the parenting?  Don't we have the right to raise our own children, even if we're poor?

And should there be such a thing as the "working poor"?  If a man or woman puts in a full day's, and a full week's work, even if it's a menial job, a little pitiful "meaningless" job, shouldn't they be entitled to a living wage?  They are not pursuing their own projects or ambitions - not on the clock.  They are not back-packing across Europe to "find themselves" or working on their Great American Novel.  They are working to help another person's business thrive.  These are the hours of their life - they do not get them back.  Doesn't that earn them a decent, independent living?

If you agree to these things in principle, that even menial workers should be able to afford to take care of themselves on a basic level, save a little for the future, and maybe even start a tiny family, without having to ask anyone else for help, then you should be at least figuratively rioting in the virtual streets over the injustice of the current minimum wage.  Even in Oregon, where an individual worker has a fighting chance of living alone on a minimum wage income, wages still fall far, far short of providing these things we believe in.  No one is talking about minimum wage covering 19 kids or a 30-year mortgage, but could I maybe live somewhere that doesn't have my neighbor's cigarette smoke coming through the heating vent?  Could I maybe not have to flash my economic undies for the state every few months to feed my 2 kids and make sure they can go to the doctor?  Where is the dignity in that? in being degraded for working hard for a real small business that can't afford to be the only business in their market to pay you fairly?  Where is the respect for the worker who doesn't dare quit the job that treats him so inhumanely because he is so easy to replace, and not enough money is better than no money at all?

Okay, this is just the beginning of the conversation wherein I debunk all the nonsensical arguments against paying people what they are due.  I am, unfortunately, running out of coffee money and must wrap this up.

There are, clearly, many dumb ways to go about raising minimum wage.  However, not raising it at all, playing these shell games with costs, and allowing millions of people to continue to suffer and exhaust themselves for no good reason, that is the dumbest damn thing of all.

Everybody now...

Miller's Facepalm.

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