Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Politics: Bill Gates' pizza.

Cup of Joe Powell has a post up in which he meanders through the usual issues of the vast gulf between The Poor and The Rich (which, despite the pro forma hat tips toward the guys that bag our groceries, may usually be read as "the vast gulf between Myself and Bill Gates.") Quoting from a Bill Moyers speech, all the stations of the income redistribution cross are touched: Minimum wage, outsourcing, class distinctions, and Bill Jenkins' cowboy boots.

Pardon me if I think the windows in the ivory tower could use a little Windex.

Unless Mr. Cup of Joe's usual workplace attire includes a name tag or a hairnet, odds are good that he makes more money than I do. A lot more money than I do. So, with an appropriate amount of Dickensian forelock-tugging, permit me to offer some observations from the trenches of The Little People, about whom he is ostensibly so concerned.

For starters, drop the minimum wage hand-wringing, okay? Minimum wage doesn't apply anymore to anything but the most menial of jobs; jobs intended to be filled by schoolkids and by retirees looking to supplement their fixed incomes. If you're an adult parent of two and making minimum wage, you have made some pretty serious career errors in your life. Even such entry-level gigs as cashiering at the local convenience store or asking McDonald's patrons if they'd "like fries with that" are hiring at $8/hr these days, and merely showing up on time and displaying a minimum aptitude for completing all your assigned tasks at those jobs for six or eight months straight pretty much guarantees being awarded the polyester clip-on tie of an Assistant Manager. As Greg Swann wrote, you have got to be a pretty exotic flavor of stupid to starve to death in the land of milk and honey.

Is this what you wanted out of life? No? You wanted to be a nucyoolar physicist? Well, I wanted to be a lawyer. I also wanted a gold house and a rocket car. Instead, I dropped out of college when I was eighteen. So after twenty years of bootstrap-tugging, I'm making dick-oh-nine an hour and desperately seeking competent, responsible people to keep my schedule full at work, in the vain hope that maybe one out of every ten hires will show the kind of gumption, initiative, and responsibility that will allow me to talk my boss into giving them some keys so that I can take two days off in a row. (Don't screw up like Tam, kids; stay in school.)

Personally, I blame Bill Gates for my quandary. Well, actually I don't, but everybody else seems to, so I figure I should jump on the bandwagon. See, I've learned from reading the writings of the High-Strung Class that apparently prosperity is a zero-sum game. That, as P.J. O'Rourke put it, the economy is like a pizza, and if Bill has eight slices of pepperoni with extra cheese, all you and I get is the box. Pardon my French (or am I supposed to say "Pardon my FreedomSpeak"?), but that's just ever so much bullshit. Money is made. Wealth is created. Prosperity violates the First Law of Thermodynamics every friggin' day. Who cares how much money Billy Boy has? It didn't come out of your pocket unless you willingly gave it to him (unlike the IRS, Bill can't actually send guys in black outfits with battering rams and submachineguns to take stuff you don't want to give him, no matter what your Linux geek friends tell you.) There's money out there to be had, and new wealth just waiting to be created, but it requires you to actually set the remote control down and go do something to make it; it's not just going to find its way to your mailbox all by itself.

35 comments:

Elmo's aphasiatic twin said...

Cup of Joe, Bill Moyers--please send money to us poor, blighted, exploited citizens of the state. It would be so much friendlier getting a check from you guys instead of a treasury warrant.

We already have plenty of guano. Quit writing and adopt a few of us. Bring us in from the cold. You treat your pets better.

BobG said...

"Personally, I blame Bill Gates for my quandary. Well, actually I don't, but everybody else seems to, so I figure I should jump on the bandwagon."

I thought it was supposed to be Bush's fault...?

Rob Huddleston said...

Tam -

Rant on, my lady!

Cheers,

Rob

Joe Powell said...

Geez, I hope you make more money than me 'cause I hardly make any - the result of my own choice to work freelance as a writer, to make my own opportunities rather than wait for someone else to make them for me.

The idea of the minimim wage is fairly useless, as it makes legal the least amount of pay possible.

The thrust of the post I wrote was to highlight Moyers' comments about public distrust in government, and the ever-increasing influence of lobbyists on the used-to-be fiscal conservative movement. I think his speech is worth reading and certainly worth some hashing out - is he right? is he wrong? I dunno, but it gave me food for thought. Like many talking heads, he rolls out "statistics" and they can be skewed to mean whatever you want. I assumed most readers might read Moyers' comments and think for themselves if they were of value or not. (In fact, the title of my post was a question - not a statement.)

I also mentioned in the post that the median income nationwide is between $45,000 to $48,000, way above any minimum wage job. But when lobbyists of all stripes (according to Moyers) dump $200 million a month on federal officials, the voices of voters are often overwhelmed.

As for Congressman Jenkins, a lifetime politician who gets federal farm subsidies in the tens of thousands of dollars a year, he seemed to me to be rather disconnected from the vast number of residents of East Tennessee. My best advice to folks is not think of the government as some panacea to all ills, but to become more self-sufficent and reduce the constant growth of government as "national nanny."

I am certainly happy for any and all readers to my wee blog and all comments are most welcome.

Mulliga said...

Moyers has a long history of skewing statistics. He's basically a shill for the Democrats. Read his screeds on "killer assault weapons," for example.

Gap between rich and poor increased compared to 1960? Stands to reason, since 1960 was smack in the middle of the post-WWII economic boom. CEOs were paid much less in 1976? Well, hey, that oil crisis couldn't have anything to do with that, right?

Poor to middle-class people have never dominated politics. Hell, most people couldn't even vote when the Constitution was ratified. How much political influence did a farmer or factory worker exert in 1906?

It's this kind of populist dreck that gets us "campaign finance reform." I think we all agree there's a lot of corruption in Washington, but this is not the way to go about cleaning it.

Here's my suggestion. No one can be elected to Congress who has an annual income over $100,000, or a net worth of over $500,000. That oughta be fun for some laughs, at least.

Leanman said...

It's hard to imagine that anyone who's had a basic Econ class would spout this tripe. Price floors and ceilings can only cause shortages and surpluses. Only the free market can find the equilibrium.
Tam, rant on. One of your best posts.
-leanman

Chris Wage said...

Minimum wage doesn't apply anymore to anything but the most menial of jobs; jobs intended to be filled by schoolkids and by retirees looking to supplement their fixed incomes

50% of the people making minimum wage or less are over 25 (2002 data).

If you're an adult parent of two and making minimum wage, you have made some pretty serious career errors in your life.

Anecdotal. For that matter, so is the rest of your post. "I fucked up and even I'm OK"? .. "If you make minimum wage, you must have fucked up worse than me"? Is this really your case for the state of social equality in this country?

Give me a break.

Chris Wage said...

It's hard to imagine that anyone who's had a basic Econ class would spout this tripe. Price floors and ceilings can only cause shortages and surpluses. Only the free market can find the equilibrium.

It's hard to imagine that anyone who's had something other than Econ 101 wouldn't realize that we don't live inside a framework Marshallian supply/demand graph.

Tam said...

"Is this really your case for the state of social equality in this country?"

I must have missed the part where you were guaranteed social equality.

Chris Wage said...

Assessing and guaranteeing are two different things, but hey, nice strawman.

Tam said...

I am then given to understand that you see "social equality" as a goal?

Chris Wage said...

Yes.

Tam said...

Before proceeding, then, would you care to offer a thumbnail sketch of what you see as the definition of "social equality"?

I am wanting to make certain we are operating on the same definitions, here.

Chris Wage said...

Economic/material egalitarianism with an aim to the "floor" and/or average quality of human existence.

Anonymous said...

Yes there are people who have sudden changes in thier life that is beyond thier control. But I believe they are a small minority.

The old cliches, "You make your fate" & "You make your luck" do apply in life.

If a person wants more, then they have to put in the effort to get it. Too many people depend on the Government for too much and blame anybody with money for thier problems.

But what do I know. I'm just a shmoe who started with a high school diploma and raised 5 kids and have everything paid for and never had a credit card, lives well and doesn't expect any social insecurity when he retires.

LawDog said...

"Economic/material egalitarianism"

Wikipedia gives us this definition for "Economic egalitarianism":
"Economic egalitarianism is a state of affairs in which the members of a society are of equal standing in terms of economic power or wealth. It is a founding principle of various forms of socialism."

So, can we read your post as:
"Socialism, with an aim to the "floor" and/or average quality of human existence."?

Just to be clear here.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Hrmm, economic egalitarianism.

Chris, open your wallet. I open my wallet too. You have cash. I have no cash. Give me half. We're even. Like that? Or do you have something else in mind?

Dr. StrangeGun said...

P.S. The last time I checked, Bill Gates wasn't landed money. There may have been some agressive dishonesties in his get-rich campaign (ask Seattle Software) but he worked for it, and now there it is.

I'm a fairly smart individual. It still took me six years to finish college because I worked full-time through the whole thing, and earned my associates degree. I had a job in my field before I was done, and I still have it. I despise it, but I work for my own furtherance here. I work a second job for "fun" and extra cash. I had, maybe even still have, the ethic and social skills to get and hold both positions.

This may not be "hard" work but I doubt anyone envies me the 14 hours I put in every day. I have a house on mortgage. I have "entertainment funds" occasionally, and a few expensive hobbies. But I *earn* them, and damn anyone who tells me I'm "priveledged". When I grew up both my parents worked for scratch, my toys were construction paper and every so often a refrigerator box. Until I was 10 most of my clothes were hand-me-across from the rest of the family or secondhand from Goodwill. My parents struggled *hard* to get what they have now... two homes, one a very nice property in the mountains. Are they "priveledged"?

The only priveledge they, and I, have, is that we have the power of spirit to KEEP PUSHING. I WILL NOT SUFFER IF I HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE MY SITUATION. And if I become rich through my efforts, a pox on anyone who forgets that it came through a lifetime of hard work!

Sorry for the rant, but I hope you understand why I'm just a little bit harder on the "Oh woe is me, I need my welfare" types.

Chris Wage said...

So, can we read your post as:
"Socialism, with an aim to the "floor" and/or average quality of human existence."?

Just to be clear here.


No. (Lookup the wikipedia definition of "hasty generalization")

Tam said...

Well, Chris, we have no mutual frame of reference for discussion.

I see "economic egalitarianism" as not only impractical (if not impossible), but also immoral. You see it as desirable and moral.

Where do we go from there?

Chris Wage said...

I don't know -- Disneyland?

How is egalitarianism immoral?

Tam said...

Because it presupposes equality of outcome, while equality of effort is an impossibility due to the inherent inequalities among humans.

The only way to keep the trees equal is by hatchet, axe, and saw.

LawDog said...

"No. (Lookup the wikipedia definition of "hasty generalization")"

Given the amount of time I spent going through the archives at your blog, I'm not so sure about the "hasty" part.

But I digress.

Given that your definition of "Social Equality" involves "Economic Egalitarianism", and given that the defintion of "Ecomnomic egalitarianism" involves everyone in society having an equal amount of power or wealth no matter what they give to society, I'm detecting more than a whiff of socialism here.

There is no way for a 22 year-old slacker bagboy to have an equal aount of power and/or wealth as Bill Gates, without redistributing Gate's wealth to the bagboy.

Socialism.

Or do you know of another way for all members of society to have an equal amount of power and/or wealth?

Joe Powell said...

The vote of an American - whether, poor, middle class, or ultra-wealthy - is supposed to have the same value, isn't it?
Of course, prior to the 1920s, women had no vote and it took until the mid-1960s to eliminate poll taxes on non-whites.
And yes, the Constitutional writers didn't go out and get every American's vote. Are we supposed to use pre-1776 norms as the model for who gets to participate in government today? I hope not.

Again, the questions raised by Moyers seem to be worth debate: does the enormous wealth heaped on federal officials insure their needs get more consideration than the needs of the nation as a whole?

Personally, I'd like to see federal reps. required to live in a dorm, 4 to a room, with an average-quality cafeteria available for food, and mandatory town meetings in their districts with voters on a regular basis and a ban on any federal rep. getting a job as a lobbyist after they leave office.

Too idealistic? Probably. Extremes of all kinds appear to get more attention and voter distrust only reinforces the power of the few.

I've always liked the opening line of the Tennessee State Constitution, which reads: "All power is inherent in the people." But it remains the responsibility of the individual to actually exercise that power and demand the respect it implies.

Chris Wage said...

Egalitarianism and wealth distribution via coercion are not mutually implicit, which I think is the error you're making in trying to pigeonhole me into your authoritarian socialist stereotype.

Chris Wage said...

er, mutually inclusive

LawDog said...

And how do you redistribute wealth without coercion?

Taxes are coercion. If I don't pay my taxes, I go to Federal Prison. Pay up or suffer the consequences is about as coercive as you can get.

By-the-by, asking your viewpoint isn't pigeon-holing. If I were to state that you were an authoritarian socialist, that would be stereotyping.

I'm just asking questions.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Chris,

"Egalitarianism and wealth distribution via coercion are not mutually implicit(sic) [inclusive]"

How? Please educate us so we may withdraw you from a rather cramped and uncomfortable pigeon hole.

Chris Wage said...

Well, I don't really understand how they ever would be -- they are two entirely separate ideas, so it would seem to me the burden of proof lies on you to show how they are inextricable.

Or, to put it in terms of Tam's earlier crude metaphor: The only way to keep the trees equal is not "by hatchet, axe, and saw." Trees can grow.

The same mutual cooperation and market forces that served to create and entrench wealth could also, theoretically, diminish it. Or to put it another way: they could reduce the disparity, without taking from others. Wealth is not a zero-sum game.

This may or may not fit your definition of coercion, but it's coercion to the extent that exists and is entrenched in our current and former "free market" system.

I don't know if you have (it doesn't sound like it), but you may want to read up on the various strands of libertarian socialism, which take it as their aim to promote egalitarianism while opposing state coercion.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

"Well, I don't really understand how they ever would be -- they are two entirely separate ideas, so it would seem to me the burden of proof lies on you to show how they are inextricable."

I beg to differ sir, this is your dog and pony show.

"Or, to put it in terms of Tam's earlier crude metaphor: The only way to keep the trees equal is not "by hatchet, axe, and saw." Trees can grow."

We're still talking about limb removal, whether or not recovery follows. I'm rather attached to my limbs, thank you. That's rather like saying "Let's take all this man's money, he'll make more."

"The same mutual cooperation and market forces that served to create and entrench wealth could also, theoretically, diminish it. Or to put it another way: they could reduce the disparity, without taking from others. Wealth is not a zero-sum game."

Taanstafl. You have no choice but to diminish something to enhance something else, it *is* a zero sum game.

"This may or may not fit your definition of coercion, but it's coercion to the extent that exists and is entrenched in our current and former "free market" system."

You yourself acknowledge that the current system is coercive and not an entirely free market, then?

"I don't know if you have (it doesn't sound like it), but you may want to read up on the various strands of libertarian socialism, which take it as their aim to promote egalitarianism while opposing state coercion."

Coercion is still coercion, no matter how many names for "spade" you have at hand. Forcing someone to give can also be called theft, which is a stronger and by my tack a more accurate term. The government steals tax money, particularly from those who aren't using the services that money is allocated towards.


Let's break some points down right here, to get to the crux of whatever misunderstanding we're having.

1. Egalitarianism, please define.

2. If egalitarianism invovles equality of personal economy, how do you intend to approach that?

3. If approaching that economic equality involves taking funds from some a redistributing, how to you propose to enforce that redistribution?

Cybrludite said...

Bill Gate's fault? Heck, if not for Bill Gates, my career-path likely wouldn't even exist...

Kevin said...

Joe Powell wrote:

"The vote of an American - whether, poor, middle class, or ultra-wealthy - is supposed to have the same value, isn't it?"

Err, no. Haven't you read the Constitution? At the very least, Article 2, Section 1 and Amendment 12?

In 2000, votes in Florida had more power than votes in California. In 2004, it was Ohio.

And the system was set up that way deliberately.

Kevin said...

OH, and kick-ass post, Tam.

Joe Powell said...

Whoops, Kevin, ya caught me idealistically talking democracy rather than republic. And yep, that was a deliberate decision by the writers of the Constitution.

The post I wrote asked a question, which was whether or not the belief espoused by Moyers that money has far more influence over elected officials than any single constituent is accurate.

Somehow, some readers here think I urged for all money in the nation be split up into equal portions for every resident. Never said it, never will.

I did and do think Moyers' comments about a money-driven political system turning this country into a "class-based society" are worthy of debate.

Bob Reynolds said...

"The only way to keep the trees equal is by hatchet, axe, and saw."

Not even these tools can accomplish the job. Oak: common for general flooring and furniture. Maple: Great for bowling alley lanes; used but not common for general flooring and furniture. Walnut: high quality furniture; rarely used for flooring.

Even in death they are not equal -- neither are people and not even "hatchet, axe and saw" can make them that way.

Some try to use force to bring about "equality" as measured by some arbitrary criteria. But the normal distribution of talent and circumstances just causes the natural inequalities to show up in some other measurement.

The maples will just have to be satisfied with the light they get.