Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Email: Another tl;dr

(This is pretty long and covers a lot. If you want to use anything for some reason, feel free to just use a small segment. I've been collecting points that I've written about various topics so I don't have to reinvent the wheel each time a common political topic comes up, so don't feel bad about not using it for something!)

I find that most people who believe the unemployed are lazy and support the reduction of social welfare spending (and other general "economic conservative" beliefs) think about the economy and job market from the perspective of the individual. The thought process is something like this: "I know people who have started with little and become successful. I used to work retail, but now I'm the owner of a successful small business. If I/they did it, why can't others?" Sounds reasonable, right?

The problem with this line of thinking is that it doesn't look at society as a whole. In reality, the vast majority of jobs required for society to function are relatively unskilled and don't pay much. Society only requires a comparatively small number of skilled, high-paying jobs. If they weren't uncommon, they wouldn't pay as much - it's simple supply and demand. 

The job market, on a societal (and community) level, amounts to a zero-sum game; the ratio of high/low paying jobs varies to an extent, but most jobs will always be the relatively unskilled, low-paying jobs I mentioned before. 

Has this changed the way you (whoever is reading this) view the relationship between personal merit and employment/income? Because it should. Even if our country was a meritocracy (which it isn't, but that's a separate argument), society will always need roughly (ignoring the state of the economy) the same number of janitors, retail workers, construction workers, etc. Unless you believe that millions of people suddenly become lazy during economic downturns, the unemployment rate also has nothing to do with work ethic or feelings of entitlement.

We need to stop associating someone's personal merit with the job they work or how much they get paid. Half of the country above the age of 25 makes less than $32,000 a year. There's a reason corporate interests (represented by conservative politicians) tell people that the "right" way to improve your life is to find a better job; it prevents them from seeking higher pay and better conditions at their current one. 

Everyone in society, regardless of the job they work (or even if they're unemployed), deserves to live a decent life. Everyone should have access to something as basic as health care, because there are fewer jobs offering insurance than there are people who need it. We know that it's possible, because every other developed nation does it. There's nothing morally wrong with seeking a better life. And there's nothing wrong with feeling entitled to healthcare, or even an education. A number of developed nations, like Norway and Germany, even offer fully (or almost fully) subsidized higher education to their citizens, and their universities are still world class. Given that it's financially feasible, there's no good reason for something that so clearly increases peoples' opportunities - and leads to a more educated populace - to be prohibitively expensive for a large portion of the population. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling "entitled" to things as important as healthcare, education, or shelter.


The top 20% of our nation controls 84% of its wealth, and corporate profits are high. While the rest of America has seen their income fall, the top 1-5% have seen their income increase even faster than before the recession. Where would those 20% be without the other 80%? The rich (top ~1-5%) receive most of their income in the form of capital gains - money they only receive due to the work of the employees at the businesses they invest in. Why are people losing their jobs and seeing their pay decrease while the rich continue to see their income - largely from investments - increase?

Some say that it's wrong to blame the wealthy. Bullshit. Are we really supposed to believe that the top 10%, who control 71% of the nation's wealth, have no part in the way our nation is governed? That they have nothing to do with the fact that they're getting richer while the rest of the country gets poorer? One thing should be clear to people on both sides of the aisle: money buys power and political influence. If the American people want to know why they're struggling financially, they need to focus on the small percent of the population that has seen their wealth increase while the rest of the country suffered. 

Conservatives often claim that the rich are paying their fair share by pointing to their share of total federal taxes being greater than their share of total income. This is nonsense. Wealth should be used to measure whether taxes are fair or not. To understand why, think about the following situation: Most of the rich decide to retire, and they also remove most of their money from the stock market and put it into treasury bonds (which have a very low interest rate now). Their income would decrease substantially as a result. Despite still owning 70-80% of the country's wealth, their income would now make up a much smaller portion of the country's total income. Using the conservative rationale from before, they would only need to pay a small portion of our country's total tax revenue - despite still owning the vast majority of our country's assets/wealth.

At present, the wealthy don't pay anywhere near enough in taxes. The top 20% certainly don't cover 84% of total tax revenues (and they easily could). Conservatives act like the 40+% of Americans who don't pay taxes* need to contribute more. But how much of our nation's wealth are the bottom 40% fortunate enough to own? 1%. They are literally demanding the segment of US citizens who own just 1% of our country's wealth and assets to pay more in taxes. These are the same people pushing for a lower capital gains tax rate.

*They pay plenty in taxes, actually. Some pay enough in local and state taxes that their effective tax rate actually ends up higher than that of some of the rich.

People need to stop being afraid of asking for more. If you're part of the 40% who own 1% of our nation's wealth, you deserve more.