The American Worker:
August 31, 2001 2:00 AM   Subscribe

The American Worker: Labor Day is coming up, so its an opportune time for the AFL-CIO to release a poll saying how unhappy workers are. But is this just a by-product of a (basically) stagnant economy with the drumbeat of layoffs ever present, business running roughshod over their employees, employees not realizing how good they have it - ready to sue at the drop of a hat, or business as usual? (plus: Unions in Hollywood doing their own thing)
posted by owillis (49 comments total)
I think the current economy makes it harder to forget how shady things are, but the lack of worker's rights in the US is indeed business as usual.

The article suggests that you can be fired for your political views. Is that exactly true in a legal sense? I mean, sure, I know it probably happens a lot, but I would think that it happens "in disguise" - as in, "we are sorry but we're going to have to let you go due to company cutbacks." You know, similar to how tv networks never fire female anchors because they're getting older... Am I getting the right picture here or can a company just openly fire you because of your political views?
posted by edlundart at 7:36 AM on August 31, 2001

Well gee OW, thanks for really defining the problem. Thank you for equating every job to some Hollywood CA issue. Thank you for not getting it. I am an unemployed techology worker. I fix computers. Yes, no biggie there. However, I hear people like you waah waah waah all day long and get this - your whining doesn't do shit for me.

No, I do not want a free ride. I will find my own path. In the meantime, I just hope that people like you will shut up.

Step down off of your self made pedastel. Shut up or help. These are your options.
posted by tp3wen at 7:53 AM on August 31, 2001

edlundart: ...but the lack of worker's rights in the US is indeed business as usual.'d think that Americans are forced to work in slave-labor camps for pennies a day, with cruel bosses who abuse them daily. What the hell are you talking about? We have more rights than we know what to do with! And don't forget the ultimate *right* of every American who doesn't like his job, boss, or treatment: FIND ANOTHER JOB.
posted by davidmsc at 7:58 AM on August 31, 2001

Yes, David, cause jobs are infinitely available. In fact, I'm going to go and get one right now, right near the lollipop tree, and the gingerale stream. I hope my bunny friends are there, because we have plans to fly on our magical skateboards after lunch!
posted by Doug at 8:01 AM on August 31, 2001


OW, I am sure that you are one of the good guys. And I really don't want to piss in your face. it is just that you hit a chord with this link and me.

If you want to talk beyond this thread, feel free to email me.
posted by tp3wen at 8:04 AM on August 31, 2001

Surely every rational human can agree that gainful employment should be reserved for the political elites; the rest of the populace should be incarcerated in various labor camps and unhealthy smelting facilities, where they can be worked to death for the Greater Glory of The State.

This has the added benefit of keeping the smelly masses away from our golf courses, and out of our direct line of sight. Needless to say, it also helps us to protect our Precious Precious Children from unwholesome influences often found in people who aren't members of the Club (some of these people may even have darker skin!).

Remember, their work makes us free.
posted by aramaic at 8:10 AM on August 31, 2001

Actually I was trying to post links relative to both sides of the issue - as I stand somewhere in the middle on this. I too was laid off this year, but would also like to start my own business in the future... sheesh.
posted by owillis at 8:13 AM on August 31, 2001

Picture a piece of dog poop on my head.......

Apologies all around. I was having a rather surly morning.

Yes, OW, you did paint a fine picture of both sides of the coin. I stand corrected.

posted by tp3wen at 8:29 AM on August 31, 2001

Doug: As a matter of fact, jobs ARE infinitely available in most cases. If a person wants to work in America, then he (or she) CAN work.

Oh - you mean that jobs that allow you to rake in enough cash to afford a 5,000 sq ft mansion, support a large family, hire a maid/butler, dine out every evening, work only a few hours a day in a nice, climate-controlled environment, and offer 100% medical & other benefits? Sorry...those jobs are few & far between, and involve a lot more than simply answering a "help-wanted" ad.

But there are ALWAYS jobs open for people who are willing to work - always. Yes, yes, there will always be some "unemployment" figure that represents the percentage of people who "can't find" work, and the number of unemployment claims reflects thousands of people each week, but that is the "macro" view of the economy & the job market. For an INDIVIDUAL, there will always be a job available.

And BTW, Doug, I didn't know that bunnies could skateboard...! (cute mental pic)
posted by davidmsc at 8:32 AM on August 31, 2001

How about the fact that millions and millions of American workers work their asses off, often at two jobs, and still do not earn a living wage. Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America" gives a compelling and sad account of this phenomenon.

(Oh, and I didn't even mention Wal-Mart, et al's, union busting tactics rampant across the land...and for all those union bashers in the heartland - remember who brought you the weekend and the 40 hour work week.)
posted by mapalm at 8:38 AM on August 31, 2001

davidmsc, I think most people are not complaining because they can't find a job that will pay them enough to afford mansions with maids. A lot of people are complaining, and have reasons to do so, because they have to work two or three jobs and STILL don't make what you would call a living (see mapalm's post about Ehrenreich's book).

you'd think that Americans are forced to work in slave-labor camps for pennies a day, with cruel bosses who abuse them daily

That is very exaggerated and has little or nothing to do with what I was saying. However, many Americans work for minimum wages that are unheard of in Europe, and the cruel boss you speak of is often not an individual but an enormous system that always benefits the big guys in suits and never gives a shit about the people who actually generate the profits in the hands-on sense. To top it all off, these workers can be let go without warning or compensation or even a good reason - and yes, they can look for another job but what are the chances that they will be treated any better there?
posted by edlundart at 8:57 AM on August 31, 2001

I know it's been said before, but I think that it's important enough to repeat... It is not the job of the government to make your life good; it is not the function of the government to provide you with a job. It is the function of the government to preserve the rights of each individual in America without regard to race, religion, or income. You have the right to accept employment; you have the right to reject employment. You have the right to work very long hours, and you have the right to work 10 hours a week. You have the right to start your own business, to hire whomever you think will support that business, and to fire them for almost any reason; just as they have the right to quit for any reason. After that, the world is a difficult place, but it's your job to make your life work.

My Grandpa went through the Great Depression without any education whatsoever, yet he always had at least one job, and often more than one. It was hard, but he was always able to make a decent living. With the educational and economic opportunities available to American's today, you can't tell me that it's impossible to make a "living wage". Our "living wage" provides a standard of living 10 times greater than some of the wealthiest countries of ancient times. What you really want is a living wage, in the industry of your choice, doing a job that you can "tolerate", without having to work yourself to the bone. Sorry, there's no guarantees.
posted by gd779 at 9:03 AM on August 31, 2001

...American workers work their asses off, often at two jobs, and still do not earn a living wage.

Nope - bad argument. If someone chooses to have two cars, an upscale house in the "right" neighborhood, full medical, a blazing computer (and one for the kids), two phone lines, cell-phones for the kids, and probably dance/karate/piano lessons, etc, then maybe they will NEED two jobs to pay for all of this. However...if a person really wanted to get by working only 30 hours a week bagging groceries, and live simply without "keeping up with the Joneses," then I seriously doubt that it couldn't be done. It boils down to: What necessities, conveniences, and luxuries do you want badly enough to work for? It's not right to blame "employers" or "business" for failing to overpay or overprotect workers.

And this is such an easy target, but it must be said: What, exactly, is a "living wage?"
posted by davidmsc at 9:05 AM on August 31, 2001

Well said, gd779. I would have deferred to your post, but it didn't appear until after I composed my post.
posted by davidmsc at 9:07 AM on August 31, 2001

A lot of people are complaining, and have reasons to do so, because they have to work two or three jobs and STILL don't make what you would call a living

How about these people? What kind of situations are they in that they have to work 3 jobs? Unskilled, uneducated? Whose fault is that? I worked shit jobs building planes for the DOD, servicing planes at another job. Those jobs sucked. But that was what was available to me at the time because I didn't get an education after high school. Come to think of it I didn't get much education in HS either. BUT!!! One day I joined the Air Force. Was it great? Most definitely not. But I got the GI bill and after 4 years I got out, went to school and the rest is history.

You know who has the power to change your life? YOU !!!

Crap like this pisses me off. No one is more responsible for your life than yourself. If you don't like your life than change it. If you don't like your job, THEN QUIT! Go get a different job. Sometimes it may not be the easiest thing to do, but ultimately it comes down to you. Not the government or anyone else.

Pardon my ranting, but I have always felt rather strong about this type of issue.

Good posts from GD779 and davidmsc
posted by a3matrix at 9:59 AM on August 31, 2001

However...if a person really wanted to get by working only 30 hours a week bagging groceries, and live simply without "keeping up with the Joneses," then I seriously doubt that it couldn't be done.

Read "Nickled and Dimed", and see if that challenges your beliefs. The big problem: at the bottom end of the wage scale, marginal costs eat into money that those on higher earnings assume would be there. Living in a trailer isn't proportionately cheaper than living in a mansion, for the standard of accommodation it offers; healthcare on the margins is grotesquely expensive; banks won't touch you, so you're forced into high-interest borrowing for high-cost items.

You're in the USAF, davidmsc? Then frankly, having signed away your life in order for the safety net of a military career, you're in no position to make judgements about work on Civvy Street.
posted by holgate at 10:08 AM on August 31, 2001

One more example of why being poor is expensive: the lowest wage earners often don't have access to cars -- or even kitchens -- which means that they're less able to buy cheap, healthy food that they can cook for themselves, given the movement of grocery stores to the outer suburbs, and the generally shittiness of public transport in the US. Instead, they're reliant upon local stores, which inevitably have high markups because of economies of scale, and pay a premium on fast food or pre-packed meals.
posted by holgate at 10:13 AM on August 31, 2001

Assume someone makes only $7 an hour and works full-time. Lots of jobs like these around. (and usually better paying. Only fast food and the like starts off at such low wages.)

$7*40hrs=$280*4weeks in a month=
$1120 a month.
In my town (and all neighboring towns,) you can get a two-bedroom apartment w/ all utilities paid for ~$600/month.

That's more than enough money to "make ends meet."
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:17 AM on August 31, 2001

let's play a little connect-the-dots, shall we?

go back to the anxious 20-somethings thread.

remember those kids who just graduated from college, with a damn-near useless liberal arts degree, who don't know what the heck they want to do?

some options:
-secretarial work - probably the best gig of entry level. indoors, quiet, non-retail. might even get benefits. when I had my first secretarial job, about 4 years ago, I was making $8/hour. it's probably more than that, but not much. (a friend is temping at around $9/hour these days.)
-retail. probably no benefits, no paid time off. and $7 is not ridiculously low, either. my partner was making $7.50/hour at a chain bookstore earlier this year (and one known for its good treatment of employees).
-social service/nonprofit. usually a friendly atmosphere, possibly doing good for humanity. (that's a rant for another day.) maybe benefits, a good chance to learn stuff, but terrible pay. (I was making about $28k/year as a webmaster at my last nonprofit job, which I left less than a year ago, mostly that much because I'd been there for a while. A friend was making $7/hour, a couple of years back, to be a case manager for genuinely screwed up girls in a group home.)
-customer service/phone banks. see retail.

and that's with a college degree (but no marketable skills). which means that you're not just paying the money for rent, food, whatever, but also student loans. which you didn't necessarily realize you'd be paying while you had a s*** job, because, wow, you signed your life away for thousands of $$$ of debt at 18! (see the 15-yr old in college gets in trouble thread.)

now, most of these jobs probably don't give you benefits. so, say you need your wisdom teeth pulled, or you get bronchitis from a leaky ceiling in the cheap-ass apt. you can just afford. (both of these things happened to friends of mine.) not something so awful that you qualify for assistance, or something that happened at work, but definitely a few hundred to a thousand or so dollars. of course, that assumes that you took care of those things right away...when instead you probably put it off until it was really nasty...and more expensive.

and, of course, all this assumes that you have graduated from college, don't have any kids, don't have any speeding tickets (or, like a couple people I've known, nasty bills from speeding ticket compounded by lack of insurance because they couldn't afford the insurance but needed the car to get to work), don't have any other loans/debt (like all the credit card debt tossed willy-nilly at college kids).

a living wage isn't just food and shelter.

(btw, sonofsamiam: $600 for rent, plus $400 for groceries/etc, plus $36 for a bus pass (in my town) equals $1036. don't forget that people making minimum wage still pay payroll tax, too. but even without that, a person at minimum wage has less than $100 to pay for ANYTHING ELSE they might possibly need or want. which might include laundry!)

I appreciate that a lot of people have done things to get themselves out of these situations. I got damn lucky, myself, that I found an interest that was actually valuable. davidmsc chose to join the military.

but frankly, it's embarrassing that a country with as much idiotic conspicuous consumption as ours is balanced so it's so hard to get out of a hole like that, once you've gotten into it.
posted by epersonae at 1:25 PM on August 31, 2001

okay, wow. that was really long. I've just seen a little too much to be quiet about this one.
posted by epersonae at 1:28 PM on August 31, 2001


Let's see, that would be $1120/month gross pay. With income, medicare, unemployment, and social security taxes deducted that would mean a take home check of around $950.

Let's assume, arguendo, that this 2-bedroom apartment comes furnished (unlikely), so that there is no need to purchase pesky items such as chairs, a sofa, or a bed. Subtract the $600/month rent and our potential Hiratio Alger now has $350/month to feed, cloth, and entertain him or herself - less than $90/week.

Pretty slim pickings, even if this person is single, has no kids or an aging parent to take care of, thinks Top Ramen is just the best and most nourishing meal around, and has no desires that can't be fulfilled with a public library card.

That $7.00 job is highly unlikely to provide health care or paid time off either, so our hero/heroine will need to stay excruciatingly healthy. A week out for flu and he or she might have to start skipping that Ramen that they love so much every other meal for a week or two to catch up. Some really serious disease or accident and they better hope their local homeless shelter (if there is one) has a free bed.

Could this be pulled off? Sure, people are doing it every day in the U.S. They have to. Could a person in this position work real hard, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and make their life better? Sure, although it will probably be only the exceptional or the lucky who succeed in doing so. Pulling together the energy, time, and resources to improve one's lot while pumping almost everything that you have into just making ends meet leaves little room for human frailty or an unlucky break.

People who are concerned by the way wealth is distributed in the U.S. aren't suggesting that the government should provide everyone with a lavish lifestyle - and I think those arguing along this vein know it. One can still provide the personal freedom to succeed and innovate while still providing an adequate safety net to those who need the help. In fact, such a "social wage" would likely increase the overall well-being of those at all levels. Instead of a system where one person can end up being Bill Gates, why not strive for a system where everyone has an honest shot of securing a comfortable (not extravagant) life?
posted by edlark at 1:55 PM on August 31, 2001 [1 favorite]

thanks, edlark, I'd forgotten about furniture.
posted by epersonae at 2:13 PM on August 31, 2001 [1 favorite]

holgate: You're in the USAF, davidmsc? Then frankly, having signed away your life in order for the safety net of a military career, you're in no position to make judgements about work on Civvy Street.

HOLGATE: Whoa -- foul on you. The fact that I am in the Air Force does not disqualify me having (or stating) an informed opinion about society/culture/etc, or this issue in particular. Taking your position, since you are presumably NOT in the military, would it be fair for me to say that you are not in a position to make judgments about the defense budget, or whether or not we should engage in military action, or whether the Army should have adopted the new black beret?

And in terms of making judgments about work on Civvy Street, consider that I did have a life before I joined the military and did work in the civilian sector. Consider also that I have a wife, siblings, parents, friends, and others who work on Civvy Street. Consider also that the example of working your way up in order to improve your lot (ie, getting a better job, as per this thread) applies to military folks, too; I enlisted back in the 80s and soon realized that in order to provide a more comfortable life & future for me & my family, I had to work harder, which was accomplished via full-time night school to earn my BS degree while working full-time as an NCO, and eventually being commissioned as an officer.

Safety net, huh? Yeah, in some ways the military provides such -- regular paycheck, medical care...but far be it from me to point out to you the downsides, or price, of that net. Oh, what the hell - moving every 1 to 3 years, watching your kids cry every time you move, training in inhospitable environments (in order to be ready for real-world crises in even worse environs), subjecting yourself to regulations, uniforms, and such that often seem at best to be relics of a bygone era, and even watching some of your friends & co-workers be slaughtered or maimed by get the point.

Don't mean to be so long-winded - but please don't "dig" at military service. The parallels to Civvy Street are there, and the simple fact that we serve does NOT discredit our opinions or ability to make informed & reasoned judgments about the society that we live in.
posted by davidmsc at 2:14 PM on August 31, 2001

Recently heard argument on the "left-wing" NPR:

"What makes it so easy for an American worker to get a job is how easy it is for that American worker to be fired. Being able to get rid of employees on a whim means that employers aren't afraid to hire new people."


"We create new jobs all the time. Why just last week I fired my top two $40,000/year employees and replaced them with 3 $15,000/year employees. See, I created one new job! I'm a philanthropist! Now about my corporate tax cuts and those pesky environmental regulations..."
posted by theMargin at 2:17 PM on August 31, 2001 [1 favorite]

davidmsc, as a military member you have it way, way better than most folks. You don’t pay rent or you get a housing allowance, your continuing education was probably paid for or subsidized, the PX/BX (of which only military members are allowed to use) has prices below any store in the area, you and your depedents don’t have medical bills (comparably) and your retirement package is really quite amazing.

In other words, while you’re still a working man, you really don’t have the exact same worries as most civilians. Thats paritally the reason you joined the military. I don’t knock you for doing so, but the life ain’t that bad. I think that’s what holgate was getting at.

Besides, the “inhospitable training environments” is actually a bonus. The moving too, sometimes.

Moving on, We’ve seen ten years of the highest corporate profits in this country since World War II. In the industrialised world, the US worker works harder, longer, has less vacation time and median wage growth is either middling or declining after adjusting for inflation. Americans work a full week longer per year than they did in 1990, when they worked a week longer than they did in 1980.

If the economy did so well for so long, shouldn’t workers eventually get some of the benefits?

And there really is no sense in comparing the US economy to that of Nigeria, or other third world country. That’s like comparing a BMW to a skateboard. Do any of those developing countries have a Fortune 500 that accounts for 2/3 of their country’s $9 trillion GDP? Didn’t think so.

Also, simply saying that the standard-of-living improved for wage earners in the last hundred years is an equally factitious argument. The standard-of-living increased for slaves between 1760-1860, is that an argument for slavery?

What you really want is a living wage, in the industry of your choice, doing a job that you can "tolerate", without having to work yourself to the bone. Sorry, there's no guarantees.

Yep, capitalism is incredibly inefficient, both in the use and distribution of resources. It does guarentee that a tiny minority will own most of the assets and the majority will work in service to them.

Instead of a system where one person can end up being Bill Gates, why not strive for a system where everyone has an honest shot of securing a comfortable (not extravagant) life?
posted by raaka at 2:39 PM on August 31, 2001

I take your point about your lifestyle, davidmsc, and I respect you for what you do, because I certainly wouldn't do it myself. That doesn't negate the fact that the lives of military personnel and their families remain subsidised by general taxation -- ie the federal taxes of the grocery-baggers -- to an extent unseen even in civilian public service. When you talk about "overpayment", and throw out ridiculous examples about the purported expectations of the low-paid, you've got to expect to be taken to task when your line of work is precisely that with the ideological clout for its bosses to demand higher budgeting and better conditions year on year. (Rumsfeld's precarious position right now is a testament to the Machiavellian maxim that you shouldn't annoy the generals.) By suggesting that the only reason to work two jobs is to pay for "cell-phones for the kids", you make yourself sound uninformed. (My girlfriend took a second job working night-shifts in a mental care facility for the health benefits; she's also a full-time college student.)

I have friends who grew up on US airbases around the world as the children of service personnel; I have close family who worked on US bases in Germany, and who married airmen; they're all happy to admit that the benefits usually offset the difficulties.

By signing up, you escape the most insidious elements of low-wage society: exploitative landlords, the healthcare lottery, high-interest debt. And a good thing too, given the responsibility that falls upon the military: I'd hate to think that the defence forces were having to worry about the latest rent increase.
posted by holgate at 2:41 PM on August 31, 2001

Is it just me, or has MetaFilter become much more reactionary/conservative in the last few months? And here I was thinking this was a good place to come and get away from the bile so rampant in the rest of media. sigh.
posted by mapalm at 4:20 PM on August 31, 2001

No, its just you. As a liberal, I find that an enclave of liberal "yes I agree with you, the corps are always pushin' down the man" yes speech is boring and useless. Pushback leads to third way compromise and real dialogue.
posted by owillis at 4:40 PM on August 31, 2001

FWIW - My budget just before I fell victim to a catestrophic health event in 1996 (blood clot in my leg fragmented and bits were showing up in my lungs, making breathing well nigh impossible)

My budget before the incident:
-job 1 (cashier) $4.80 x 30 hr/wk = $144/wk or $600/mo
-job2 (bagelboy) $4.65 x 24 hr/wk = $110.wk or $465/mo

-Rent $475/mo efficiency apartment (unfurnished)
-Tech School Tuition $175/mo (averaged across a semester)
-Student Loan $125/mo (from B.A.)
-Utilities $65/mo (gas, electric, phone - conservative month)
-Bus Pass $35/mo (no car, also rode bike when bus did not run)

This leaves $200/mo to feed, clothe, perform personal hygiene tasks (i.e. laundry), pay taxes, and keep myself in school supplies. If I did not have to eat or have ANY other expenses, I could have just afforded the $1,200 twice a year for catestrophic health coverage, which only kicked in after a $1,000 deductible and then only paid half expenses. This insurance did not cover things like routine exams, presecriptions, etc.

Luckily (odd turn of the phrase) this happened at the end of my last semester and after making up my incompletes and moving to a better job market (further expenses) I was employed in my career field and I, then my wife and I, spent the next three and a half years paying for my hospitalization at $50 - $500 month as could be afforded. I was also fortunate enough to have gone to a non-profit hospital so they held my balance interest-free.

Babble all you will about the laziness of the American Worker and the cult of victimhood. Look over the numbers above - look for the cell phones, Internet access, "entertainment", hell - a single fucking car. Stop spouting your ingorant brand of conjecture davidmsc, gd779, a3matrix, and sonofsamiam and tell me where the fuck I went so wrong as to spend the next three and a half years living solely to pay off a hospital bill in this land of milk and honey. I'm not saying feed an clothe me at the taxpayer's expense, but I would argue that there is a tremendous disconnect between "minimum wage" and a "living wage." I would also argue that creating a single-payer insurance program or mandating universal insurance coverage would go a considerable way in helping to create a living wage.

All of this so you (the American Consumer)can save a dime for every freakin' bagel you suck down or a fraction of a cent on every gallon of gas you consume. Alternately, all of this is so every executive officer can walk away at the end of the year with a healthy bonus and shareholders see an uninterrupted pattern of dividend per share growth - preferably at least 15%. If you want to tie health coverage to employment, fine - but make damed sure that every freakin' job has that as an option. You want people off welfare-roll and on the payroll? Make damned sure that, once on the payroll, they have more than $200/mo of discretionary income for things like insurance premiums and food. This is what's called a freakin' living wage you morons!

I was lucky to escape the cycle, thanks in no small part to my wife - who was so kind as to help me with my previously existing debt load. Presently I live little better than I did before - only a few entertainment items and a larger, more sanitary apartment - still no car. Everything extra is split between insuring I'll never have to go through that again and helping others break out of the same cycle.

I don't want your sympathy. I do want you to open your eyes to the reality around you. Stop spouting banal generalities about the American Way/Dream/Economy and examine the ever growing gap between wage earners and those live off of the wage earner. It's all there if you bother to dig beneath the shiny exterior painted by the national media and corporate-funded think-tanks.

Christ, the willful ignorance just makes me sick.
posted by BoyWithFez at 4:57 PM on August 31, 2001

Oh, and I suppose I should apologize to everyone who made it down here for the language in the above post.

Sorry . . . I can get kind of excited about this issue.
posted by BoyWithFez at 5:03 PM on August 31, 2001

The fact remains, owillis, that MetaFilter has attracted quite a few rabid, frothing right wing fuck heads lately.
posted by mapalm at 10:57 PM on August 31, 2001

mapalm: here

As far as a "living wage" goes, here's my thought: While I believe the minimum wage should be increased, aren't the bulk of people on minimum wage teen/college kids making some cash for themselves, as opposed to supporting a family? Wouldn't creating some sort of arbitrary "getting by" wage just encourage people to stay at their current station and not attempt to pull themselves up (welfare state)? How about using welfare-type funds for education/job training programs for people on the lower end of the pay scale so they get an extra boost so they won't need to be supported by government for too long?

I have no problem with MegaConGlobalCom paying their fair share back to society but I think in the zeal to pass a lot of pro-worker legislation we tend to forget the significant size and impact of the small-medium business market, where they aren't able to absorb the costs of things like frivolous litigation nearly as easy as say a GM or Microsoft, so prices go up and those on the low end of the spectrum end up getting screwed all over again...
posted by owillis at 11:44 PM on August 31, 2001

[Another long hincandenza post... you've been warned]

owillis: aren't the bulk of people on minimum wage teen/college kids making some cash for themselves

Yes and no- while the Mickey D's crowd might generally tend towards teen/college kids, the discussion is much broader than just 'minimum wage'. The $7 or $8 an hour job is above minimum wage, but as the above real-life stories detail, they aren't so far above it that there's still a very slim margin of error for even sickness or unexpected expenses. And that's what BoyWithFez so laboriously (ha! I made a pun!) detailed above: that average hardworking people, some with plenty of education and motivation still aren't doing so hot, and not because they are lazy or overspending. After all, by definition we can't all be in the top 10%, 5%, or 1% of the nation's income earners... that's why they call it a rat race, because most people aren't going to "win", but they will trample each other trying.

owillis: How about using welfare-type funds for education/job training programs

Agreed- partly. While such training is important- help people help themselves- it's not a complete fix in itself, because you could just end up with more college educated people fighting over the same crap jobs as before (except of course in lollipop land, where "welfare mama" davidmsc lives, and jobs grow from the magical Zum-Zum tree in neverending supply...). I also agree that welfare needed reforming, but not for the same reasons as folks like Newt et al; I think that simply handing a check over is a stop gap measure that ignores deeper concerns, like a band-aid on a bullet wound. While I'd consider it inhumane to simply take away the check and call it reform in and of itself, I can't say I agree that simply throwing out the checks or the hip buzzwords like "education/training" actually 'solves' the root problem. Know what I'm saying?

owillis: they aren't able to absorb the costs of things like frivolous litigation

As for this mythic zeal to pass worker protection laws, I see no such zeal. While some legislation is badly crafted to not allow per-case flexibility, including for [truly] small businesses, lots of worker protection legislation does recognize the burden a small business might have with, say, quotas. Further, I believe that denigrating the courts as full of "frivolous litigation" is a deception- not one that you're participating in- that serves the purpose of cutting out one of the last respites of democratic justice. There is VERY little frivolous litigation that actually occurs, including the infamous McDonald's coffee case and many others; portraying the court system otherwise serves the purpose of weakening the people's check and balance on companies both big and small when it's time to mete out justice (see, for example, the "tort reform" nonsense of this administration/Congress).

In the history of this country, all 300+ years (pre and post revolution) there has been a constant struggle for the people to be heard, a voice drowned out by well-financied priests of the powerful always uttering "It's the end of history" to protect the status quo. For example, even back in the 1820's and 1830's, women working in textile plants would go on strike to get more reasonable working hours, or even bathroom breaks during their 14 hour work days; it would be another 100 years before some of those basic protections were codified in law, and 150 years before women got those protections explicitly as well. I'd hardly call that a "zeal", considering that to this day we have half the U.S. Congress believing the minimum wage is a bad idea... We take for granted worker protections like 40 hour work weeks or minimum wages that were earned by the blood, sweat, and tears of countless souls before you, benefits that have propelled our society into the economic largesse of a solid middle class that has you and I sitting on our generously plump behinds typing away in the wee hours of the night. But don't ever forget that those who attain the pinnacles of wealth by whatever means- and I firmly believe that all wealth is luck- can easily become disconnected from their fellow man by the abstraction of business decisions. Once disconnected, they'll readily agree to an 80 hour work weeks, no benefits, and massive unemployment (except in that Socialist Worker's paradise of lollipop land where anyone like davidmsc can have a job being an errand boy sent by grocery clerks...) so that workers could be treated like cattle: one of them keels off or "gets sick" or has a "family emergency" and you just haul another filthy cretin off the boat and shove them in the same place. It's the same mindset behind slavery, that if you can stop thinking about people as human beings and instead as just more bodies and numbers and abstractions, it's easy to do most anything to them. This is why it's so important for "the people" to remain vigilant...
posted by hincandenza at 2:30 AM on September 1, 2001

mapalm: The fact remains...that MetaFilter has attracted quite a few rabid, frothing right wing fuck heads lately.

Only to serve as counterpoint to the quite a few rabid, frothing LEFT-wing f***heads that have been here from day one. :-)

Balance, ya know.

And boywithfez: Your situation stands as an example of one of the most frustrating aspects of our society - the costs of medical care. Believe it or don't, but the government is responsible for somewhere between 50-80% of the cost of healthcare; there is no easy way out of the situation that has evolved to the point where healthcare is simply out of reach of non-insured (and even some insured) people.

Listen, people, I know that our society isn't perfect - don't think that I am a cruel, heartless bastard - but we really, honestly, truly have it better than just about anyone else in this world, no matter how you slice it.
posted by davidmsc at 5:18 AM on September 1, 2001

davidmsc -
And because my glass, while only partially filled, has more in it than the glasses of wage earners in any other country, I should just shut up and let those who tote around keg-like quantities of wealth act like the gluttons they are so that the status quo is not threatened.
Right. I'll be the good "means of production" that I am supposed to be and we'll all get to watch Friends this evening. I don't mean to call you a cruel, heartless bastard, but the view that you advocate - we're better than everyone else - does little to solve the problems with the system that you would also like to deplore. Either you're with me and working for change or you're against me and not helping. You can't have it both ways because, unless you are advocating change, you are IN FACT advocating the status quo - tacitly or otherwise.
As for the costs behind healthcare - here's some information on three large pharmecutical companies gleaned from the latest issue of ValueLine:
-Merck & Co. sales of $40.4 billion last year, and since 1996 earnings per share have nearly doubled from $1.60 to a projected $3.15.
-Schering-Plough sales of $9.8 billion last year, and a near doubling of earnings per share since 1996 ($.83 to a projected $1.64 this year).
-Pfizer sales of $29.6 billion last year and a doubling of earnings per share since 1996 ($.50 to a projected $1.02 this year).

The doubling of earnings per share in a five year period is indicative of 15% growth, which is considered a healthy investment opportunity. While some of this growth is due to the newly found freedom to advertise directly, the majority of it results from the ability to heavily overcharge due to patent protection. While I'm all for patent protection, the way in which these companies abuse their rights at the expense of the public is disgusting. If you take a read through the analyst's report in ValueLine you quickly get the impression that these companies retain this growth rate only because of the development of new (not necessarily better) drugs and the attendant patent protection creating a monopoly for several years. Herein lies one of the larger culprits of "unaffordable" healthcare in this country.
I'll stop here for now. If you'd like, I'll pop down to the library and do some research on the top for-profit HMO/Hospital chains in this country and, if memory serves me, we'll similar kinds of growth and wealth manufacture. It is these institutions, not government that have caused the incredible rise in health care expenses in this country.
posted by BoyWithFez at 9:22 AM on September 1, 2001

my glass, while only partially filled, has more in it than the glasses of wage earners in any other country

BoyWithFez: Why do you think that is? What has made the U.S. so successful? China and Russia generally have greater natural and human resources. Europe is filled with first-world countries and high technology. Why us, then?

I would argue, and I suspect that davidmsc would agree, that our economic prosperity directly correlates with the status quo capitalist policies you oppose. Europe is caught in a quagmire of unemployment and economic recession, and I would argue that their greater socialist tendencies are at least partly responsible.

Of course, as holgate pointed out to me once, the economies of Europe are generally more stable than the economy of the U.S. Why you'd want to trade prosperity for stability, I don't know... but some do.
posted by gd779 at 11:03 AM on September 1, 2001

err, "socialistic", not socialist.
posted by gd779 at 11:04 AM on September 1, 2001

gd, david, I’d like to know how you’re defining “success” or what you mean when we “have it better”.

You’d think with all this great wealth we’d be leading the world in elimination of child malnutrition, poverty and standard quality of life. The fact is we aren’t in most categories.

If being successful means being better off than Thailand, but not as good as France or Sweden, I guess the US is successful. If being successful means generating a lot of capital for a priveleged minority, then the US is probably the best in the world.

Why you'd want to trade prosperity for stability, I don't know... but some do.

Who is this prosperity for? Who benefits?
posted by raaka at 1:40 PM on September 1, 2001

raaka: My definition of success is maximum personal freedom and maximum personal opportunity. A governmental mandate making every member of society equally financially successful is neither feasible nor desirable. Distribution is largely irrelevant to me unless the winners are using the system to violate the rights of the losers (I'm not talking about power structures, but rather about fundamental rights). Everyone doesn't need to have equivalent advantages, just equal opportunity to play the game.

Creating a more equitable distribution of income requires discriminating between those who have been "oppressed" by their lack of income, and those who could have achieved more given a willingness to make greater sacrifices. A beauracrat in Washington isn't going to be very good at designing laws to accomplish that goal. Good in theory, bad in practice.

Further, wealth redistribution ignores the reality of corruption in power structures. The more power we take from the marketplace to give to the government, the more corrupt and inefficient the practice becomes. The market isn't nearly as conceptually pure in either ideology or motive, but it does a far better job of accomplishing the goals overall.

Further, the "poor" in this country are much, much better off than the vast majority of citizens on the planet both now and throughout history. If reducing poverty is about more than just about lifting as many as possible slightly above that arbitrary poverty line, I note that (as described above) the American capitalist system has done more to reduce overall poverty than the vast majority of countries. Perhaps more than any country.

As someone pointed out in another thread:

world GDP: $40,700t
US GDP: $9,255t

You advocate the increased violation of basic property rights in order to fund governmental programs (successful or otherwise) aimed at helping the poor. I advocate encouraging personal responsibility by upholding the rights of our citizens, even if those citizens happen to be rich.
posted by gd779 at 2:30 PM on September 1, 2001

There's a whole other debate about the definition of "rich" and "poor" in this country, which I won't get into now. I'll just mention that statistics citing "the poor" and "the rich" may be misleading, and may bear further scrutiny into exactly what those phrases mean.
posted by gd779 at 2:32 PM on September 1, 2001

Of which 2/3 of that GDP is controlled by the Fortune 500. That is a level of private ownership unheard of in any industrilized country. I seriously doubt they could reach that level of ownership without a lot of government help. Commonly, its referred to as corporate welfare.

I have no desire for the government-corporate plutocracy to tell me how to live my life. Fiscal and economic policy in the last twenty years has benefited corporations much more than individuals. You need not look further at the level at which corporate profit raised compared to middle- or lower-class wealth.

If your statement “the more power we take from the marketplace to give to the government, the more corrupt and inefficient the practice becomes” is true, then surely the opposite is equally true. Current economic data and history supports both. We’re living in a time of nearly unrivaled corporate-government cooperation, to the welcome benefit of executive boards and the exceedingly rich, but to the detriment of everyone else.

As for your last point, I’ll repeat myself one more time, then disregard the faulty logic in the future. There is no sense in comparing poor, third world countries standard-of-living to that of the US’. Car vs. skateboard. Much more beneficial would be to compare developed, first world economies, of which there is variety.

You advocate the increased violation of basic property rights in order to fund governmental programs

You must not be addressing me, because I haven’t said anything like that here. I have said that the government creates policy that benefits corporations in a variety of ways. I would hope they could balance their zeal to boost profits margins with raising individual quality-of-life at an equal rate.
posted by raaka at 4:44 PM on September 1, 2001

Do any of those developing countries have a Fortune 500 that accounts for 2/3 of their country’s $9 trillion GDP? Didn’t think so... As for your last point...

raaka: It's relevant for two reasons. First, as I suggested to BWF, our capitalistic system is WHY we have more Fortune 500 companies capable of dominating the global economy than any other nation. Our capitalistic, individualistic traditions have played their part in creating the prosperity we now enjoy. Second, when you ask the government to provide a "comfortable (not extravagant) lifestyle", it points out that maybe you are overstating the problem through your definition of "comfortable". If our rich lived in billion dollar houses made of pure gold, but our poor only lived in houses worth $100,000, would you still cry out for an equal distribution of wealth? Under what circumstances do we require governmental, robin-hood style assistance? As to comparing the USA to other first-world countries, you're right that there is variety... but our economy is still substantially ahead of any European country. I alluded to that point in my comments to BWF.

You must not be addressing me

Actually, I was, and you have. Taxes, in any form, are essentially the government choosing to override basic property rights. That's necessary at times, of course, but it should restricted to times when it is truly necessary.

Now, I have a question for you. Businesses fall into one of two types: Some are privately held, making them the legal representation of a family or small group who took the risk, invested their own money, and tried to make a profit. Most, however, are publicly traded, which means that they are mostly owned by the public at large. Given that, how can the government conspire with "business" (which is, at it's core, made up of people) to screw the "public" (many of whom have a financial stake in the success of the business)?

I anticipate that your answer will be that the rich and the poor have different levels of ownership in these companies. If that is your response, what makes it desirable for rich and poor to have an equal ownership in our corporations?

Actually, as I type this, I am possibly beginning to understand your position. Perhaps you believe that success is based solely on privilege or luck, not skill and perseverance? Perhaps you feel that the average worker born into the lower class generally cannot work his way up into the ranks of the middle class? Perhaps you believe that America does not reward people based on the laws of supply and demand but rather some other basis? If this "caste" vision of American society were true, there would certainly be justification for governmental redistribution of wealth. Is this, in fact, what you believe?
posted by gd779 at 5:28 PM on September 1, 2001

My apologies to those of you that have seen this same tired old debate rehashed a thousand different times on a hundred different forums. If it's any consolation, I'm trying to learn, not argue.
posted by gd779 at 5:35 PM on September 1, 2001

Perhaps you believe that success is based solely on privilege or luck, not skill and perseverance?

Not solely, but it's a whole lot less likely that someone born at the bottom is going to ever have a chance to be, say, Bill G. He may be a real smart guy, but I can't believe that he would've gotten where he is today w/out some family advantage. (Dad a well-to-do lawyer & all.)

Or look at either Gore or Bush. Whatever you think of either of their policies/politics, it's hard to miss the fact that both of them came from established political families.

Clinton, of course, is the exception (that proves the rule?).

It's definitely easier to get the right kind of education if you've already got money behind you. It's easier to meet people who can help if they're of the same social class. It's easier to recover from your mistakes/problems when your family can take care of you. (Whether those problems are criminal, social, or medical.)
posted by epersonae at 11:15 PM on September 1, 2001

Taxes, in any form, are essentially the government choosing to override basic property rights. That's necessary at times, of course, but it should restricted to times when it is truly necessary.

The problem being that those who decides the extent to which it is "truly necessary" are those in the least suitable position to judge, given that wealth and power (the two often being interchangeable) guarantee basic property rights well enough. And when a society blatantly fails to offer a basic guarantee of life, liberty and property to all its members, it's time to reassess the terms on which it's based.

As spandex pointed out in another thread, the average life expectancy of a farmer in Kerala, India is greater than that of a black man in an American city. For a country that likes to boast of its prosperity, disparities like that should encourage a shamed silence, and a period of introspection.

Because it's the disparities that matter. Qui bono?
posted by holgate at 9:13 AM on September 2, 2001

Any American (black, white, or otherwise) who wants to leave America and live as a farmer in Kerala, India, please say "Aye" now.



When I said that we (Americans) have it better than any other country no matter how you slice it, I meant GENERALLY better in any category. You can pick-n-choose specific instances where we are not #1 in a given area, but ON BALANCE, when considering quality of life, opportunity, standard of living, healthcare, technology, freedom, rule of law, etc, it's obvious. And while I don't necessarily like to "boast" about USA prosperity, it is sometimes necessary to point out reality when others crow about how "superior" other systems/nations are simply because they guarantee a 35-hour workweek, or mandate 4 weeks of holiday.

And to those who carp about the Fortune 500 and the *obscene* profits of pharma companies, etc: excuse me, but the vast majority of those companies are publicly traded - which means that shareholders are reaping the benefits of growth, profit, etc. I honestly think that many of the critics of our system believe that every huge corporation funnels every dime of profit into the pockets of only the CEO and the board of directors, when in fact the profits are distributed to anyone who has elected to invest in the company. The converse is true also - if the company tanks, then the shareholders will lose some of their investment. The point is, the shareholders CHOSE to invest their money - nobody forced them to. It's called FREE market for a very good reason.

Jealous of the profits reaped by Merck & others? Then buy a few shares of stock and enjoy the dividends & watch your portfolio grow.
posted by davidmsc at 9:42 AM on September 2, 2001

Reality? Depends how you slice it: ON BALANCE, we are all hermaphrodites. As I said, the people talking about "general" prosperity are the ones who are specifically prosperous. But that's the way ideology functions.

Again, it's the disparities: returning to the original topic, why are labour organisations conventionally regarded with greater suspicion than the boards of Fortune 500 companies? Why has "union" become a dirty word in the USA?
posted by holgate at 10:35 AM on September 2, 2001

Why has "union" become a dirty word in the USA?


a. the mafia is often involved (there is still a Hoffa in charge of the Teamsters for chrissake)
b. their drive to raise their members salaries on a whim using strike as a "big stick", using the common man as a bully pulpit but scratching each others backs just as badly as the CEOs
c. in education, their fight against teacher's being tested

CEOs/Boards can be evil too, I'm just answering your question as to what common perception is.
posted by owillis at 10:46 AM on September 2, 2001

Not many Americans would want to leave the country to become farmers in India, and Americans are better off than people in most countries of the world. But I believe it's way over the top to say that the American people, as a whole, have it better than any other country's population.

One must read statistics with the extremely skewed wealth distribution in mind. There is a lot of wealth, but most people never see it. Certain people (usually those born into privelege) rake in amounts of money that are so ridiculous that it's a waste. For instance, there are a bunch of people who have more than 20 million dollars. I chose an arbitrary number there, but the point is that nobody needs that much money and the people that have it keep making more - without making their lives any better than they already are. Whether you have 20 million or 25 million is really without meaning to anyone but the completely insane.

Meanwhile, there is a huge number of people who, as discussed over and over again in this thread, are struggling to make ends meet in a way I've never seen in the Northern European countries I've visited - at least not on the same scale (meaning, not as many people are struggling to the same extent).

The city of Washington, DC is an interesting illustration of this. You have these majestic buildings and beautifully kept lawns, but the neighborhoods a stone-throw away are falling apart in a way you never thought you'd see in a developed country.

I'm Scandinavian. In Norway there are practically no poor people in the true meaning of the word (my family was considered poor but I am talking about POOR as in, homeless and dying from lack of food etc), there is government-subsidized healthcare, there is a decent pension system, there is free or cheap education, there is over a 99% literacy rate, and the list goes on. All for approximately the same tax level as I'm paying in New York/the US.

(Take a look at this link - scroll down to "Different ways of measuring human development." It revolves around a UN report on living standards.)

There are exciting opportunities for me in the US, I love this country and I am priveleged to be able to take part, but I KNOW from what I've seen that the average American does not have it better than every other country's population. I always hear that argument; "yeah, well we still have it better than everyone else!" but this is simply not true. And even if it was, there would still be room for a LOT of improvement.
posted by edlundart at 7:11 AM on September 3, 2001

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