Tuesday, June 10, 2014

J. Q. American

12oz Iced Soy Mocha

Exceptional Americans get too much damn airtime.  Yes, it's nice that someone accomplished something that the average person has not, or does not that often.  Good for you!  The problem is this nonsensical claim that Americans are inherently exceptional, or at least disproportionately so.  Just because we have ancestors who often had to endure extraordinary circumstances to get here, does not mean all of our ancestors had some extraordinary genetics which they passed on to us.  Desperation and incarceration were also common catalysts for their arrival on these... appropriated lands.  Oh, and let us not forget that even idiots do big things sometimes.

The real exceptionalism is not in Americans but in America.  In the history of the world, America really does stand out as an ideal.  Its essence is not about the select, the elite, the tribe.  It is about the everyman.  All men are created equal.  Period.  America has been failing this ideal since Day 1, but the Idea of America has been too strong, too true, to let the hypocrisy remain unchallenged.  Too many have suffered under this flag, and continue to suffer, but the Idea is stronger and will win out in the end.

Racism, tribalism (America vs the World), classism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance... yep, they're still around.  Many Americans still subscribe to those bullshit ideas.  But those are un-American ideas, and the sooner we move past them, the better this country, and the world, will be.

So if the quintessential American is the Everyman, what should our policies look like?  Why does the rhetoric of today berate people who are average?  Why are all of our policies geared towards punishing the Mediocre American?  Sure people who innovate and create things help society in general.  But that's not everybody, and it can't be.  People who argue that all of society benefits when people are forced to achieve more for themselves because we've made minimum wage unlivable have no idea what's going on down at minimum wage level, have no idea what motivates people, and, I guarantee you, are not helping all of society.

We need to set policy based on what we can expect the average American to be and to do.  J. Q. American is an orphan and a C-student.  We can expect him or her to have no legacy, no family to carry him through his struggles.  We cannot expect there to be anyone who will support J.Q. while they finish school, or when they lose their job when they become injured.  We cannot expect him or her to have the skills necessary to rise to the next level of retail.  Trust me, not everyone can handle being a floor manager - there is a skill to getting yelled at for no reason by a complete stranger.  Entry level, or near it, may be the highest J.Q. ever rises, or maybe wants to rise.

What's so wrong about wanting work behind a counter?  It's work!  Often times it seems, it's more work for the one behind the counter than the one counting the cash ever has to deal with.  But it can also be satisfying.  I have enjoyed seeing the regulars, sharing laughs, crafting fine espresso drinks (I have not fully mastered latte art, but I did once make a volcano in the foam, I swear).  If that's what I love, then why make that unlivable for me?  Why force me into a profession I don't love, one I may likely be unsatisfied and unsuccessful at, just to generate more money for the economy?  You know, we need happy, satisfied people to have a healthy society, too.  And we don't have to maximize someone's financial output to have a healthy economy, either.

Somehow this myth has established itself that minimum wage jobs aren't hard work and don't deserve to be treated as valid worthwhile jobs for a person to hold longterm.  People don't stay in unsatisfying, low-wage jobs because they are lazy.  There may be an element of self-doubt or fear of leaving stability that holds some people back.  It might factor in for some people.  But if you would really rather be studying Slavic languages and maybe dream of being a translator someday, chances are you would go to school and study Slavic languages, and maybe international affairs, if you could.  But we don't make that tenable for J.Q. American.  Maybe a Privileged American with a family who could at least co-sign for a student loan and give them a place to live while they're studying, maybe they could see that dream through.  But not J.Q. who has nothing but their abilities and desires.

And let's ask again, why do we charge kids up-front for their education?  If it benefits all of us for people to achieve the most they can, to follow their dreams to the extent of their abilities, why don't we make that possible?  I just read two bits of data relating to student loans.  First, higher education used to be free or nearly free.  The only cost to the student was their effort.  And the benefit to everyone else was a more knowledgeable, more satisfied, citizenry at least, but who also likely had a better paying job than they would have without their education.  Thus, more tax revenue, more consumption for the consumption-centered economy.  More stable families with better outcomes and less need for assistance.  Wins all around!

Second tidbit, since 1981 the cost of tuition has increased 1200% - without justification.  There have been innumerable excuses given, but none pass scrutiny.  It has gone up that much because it can.  Education is an inelastic good.  It's not just that most of us would rather not work low wage jobs at Taco Bell or wherever and are willing to pay up to educate ourselves for a career we would actually enjoy.  It's because, increasingly, we cannot afford our low wage jobs - even if we do like them - and we will gamble our future (and our parents' retirement, if we have parents who can co-sign) on the hope that we might find some financial stability.  If we can ever get ahead of our student loan debt.

(The baristas have cranked up the overhead play and it's clashing with the Radiohead on my headphones, making me very distracted.)

So let's take a step back and ask how things should be structured for J.Q. American...  First, education provided from PreSchool through doctorate, if that's what he or she is up for.  All the outcomes for everyone are better.  Safety provided - police, paramedic, fire services.  No profiling, either, people.  And if there's a region where those services are lacking, then we all step in to make sure they are provided adequately, because it is inexcusable that any J.Q. American should be expected to live without basic safety.

Equal and affordable justice provided without bias.  No more of this mass incarceration... crime, there's no other word but crime to describe what has happened to our prison system.  Except exploitation and Jim Crow, of course.

Healthcare - provided.  We need to either treat it as a single-payer public service - fully-funded - or we need to treat it as an inelastic industry, regulate the hell out of it (compared to what it is like today), uncouple it from employment, and make it a non-profit industry.  (PS non-profits in general should be under much stricter compensation and profit caps than they are today.  No CEO of a non-profit organization should have a 7-figure salary).

Safety, justice, healthcare, and education...  All these things have to be fully funded and provided without bias for America to call itself America.

And these services are not inherently at the mercy of markets, no matter how much people with full bellies and gated communities will try to convince you otherwise.

Remember that the value of a dollar is arbitrary.  What is not intangible are our resources.  So let's ask - is there enough room for all of us?  Sure, if not all in the same place at once.  Is there enough food for all of us, enough clean water?  Currently, the answer is still yes.  Are there enough people willing to do the work that is necessary to feed and shelter us?  More than enough.  We've even got enough people left over willing to educate our children, treat our sicknesses, even provide our digital distractions and our lattes (if that's your thing).  So if the natural resources and the human resources are there, why are so many people going without?

It's because we have a distribution problem.

We have to start with the appropriate wage equation, and then we'll work on unraveling the convoluted tax system that has been crafted expressly to allow the wealthy to have even more wealth.

Crap! They're closing.  I'll have to pick this up later, specifically for how minimum wage should be crafted, and did I mention J.Q. is agnostic?

Ta for now!

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