Saturday, August 31, 2013

Work is a fundamental value

What happened to family values, the work ethic, and bootstrap-pulling?

Judging by the actions of the current Republican class in congress, it is OK for 10 to 20 million Americans to loaf around, not doing anything productive. They and their families can decline into social disfunction and all the other ills associated with poverty. They can lose their skills and indeed desire for work. That is OK.

Sure, they should all help themselves, but with far fewer jobs than unemployed, and fewer decent jobs than poverty-level ones among those, it is a game of musical chairs with more than one chair missing. Sure, they should all start their own businesses, cleaning yachts or something, but the rich are not really in a spending mood. The rich (or other consumers) would have to spend more overall in order for this kind of entrepreneurial spirit to result in a net increase in jobs and higher economic activity. But they are still saving, and indeed complain that interest rates are too low, impeding their saving plans.

One wonders what ethical planet the Republicans, conservatives, and other chamber of commerce types are on. Did the imperatives of class war somehow over-rule their platitudes about hard work and family values? Has maintaining a vast reserve army of the unemployed, with all the employer power that represents, become more important than promoting a middle class with universal values of fair play, decent pay, and stable communities? It looks that way from here.

Unfortunately, with democracy in America (if not governance entirely) temporarily suspended in the interest of the moneyed interests, one can only propose better policies in an abstract, long-game sort of way. And the two we need are: a living minimum wage, and a guarantee of a job for everyone who wants to work. The two policies combine forces by paying a decent living salary to any citizen who wants work, to work for public projects and needs of which we have no shortage. Then private employers can bid on top of that to get the workers they need, if they have worthwhile work to do.

As we learned in the Great Depression, work is a fundamental value. Everyone needs to feel useful and do something useful. No one wants a handout when they could be helping others, earning their way, and supporting their family. The depression was not only economically, but psychologically devastating, with the realization that, due to some technical problems with the monetary and banking systems, a quarter of the population was suddenly denied work and thrown into poverty. The fundamental point and nature of the economy was put in question.

The last century also showed that no pure system, whether communist or free market, works sustainably by itself. We need elements of both for a healthy economy and culture. We need the freedoms and competitiveness of the private market system. And we also need intelligent policy and legal controls over market systems to make them work effectively, as well as robust safety nets that insure us all from their recurrent, inevitable failures on small and large scales.

On this labor day, it is time to realize that we in the US are rich enough to use all our labor at all times, out of both self-interested as well as compassionate motives.

"The War Bonds and the Revenue Act creating the personal income tax, then, were specifically created not for the purpose of “collecting” money so the government could have it to spend—but rather for the purpose of destroying money so the government could then issue and spend even more dollars without feeding an uncontrolled inflationary spiral."
  • .. and from Bill Mitchell on the class war, quoting Heidi Moore on a simple point about food stamps, welfare, earned income tax credits, and the like:
"The article points out that because of the appalling remuneration of low paid workers in the US, the provision of safety nets in the form of food stamps etc, means: '… that the government is paying to subsidize company profits: as businesses pay a minimum or near-minimum wage, their workers are forced to turn to government programs to make ends meet.'"
"In an effort to help clear Pakistan's clogged courtrooms, Pakistani officials have created a mobile court that will mediate small civil cases, minor criminal cases, and juvenile cases across the country (Reuters).  There are about 1.4 million cases pending in Pakistan and frustration over decades-long cases as led some litigants to turn to tribal jirgas instead.  While these councils offer instant decisions, sentences can include being buried alive, gang-raped, or stoned to death.  Court officials are hoping their mobile justice system, which launched on Tuesday, can offer an alternative.  The mobile court heard 29 cases in Peshawar during its first day in action and the government hopes to launch 11 more buses by the end of the year."

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