Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Income inequality

So the State of the Union address was last night.

In political terms, that translates to "stand and clap" or "sit and glare" depending upon which side of the aisle you're on.

As someone who has studied rhetoric, I'd say the President is up there with the best in terms of delivering speeches.  A political commentator at The New York Times pointed out that Obama was "left of center" in terms of proposals but "right of center" in terms of style and delivery.  Smart.  And while I didn't get the demand for a manned mission to Mars that I wanted (a guy can dream), the President did vow to tackle something...without legislative approval if need be...that has been on my mind and I'm sure the mind of any socially conscious person: income inequality.  The first step will be an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for government contract workers.

You can already hear the cries of "socialist dictator," can't you?  Well if that's what he is then he's pretty bad at it.  Not only is Wall Street reporting record numbers, Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any president of the past 125 years.  Maybe he's got something sneaky planned as a surprise over the next two years, but somehow I doubt it.

Fact is, socialism does not work as a political system.  One needs only look to history to see that.  At the same time, however, capitalism is not sustainable.  A system that basically says "get all you can, while you can, and find ways to keep others from it while your at it" can't work in the long term as the divide between rich and poor grows.

When I made a cold, frozen drive the other day, I listened to an NPR program about Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle.  The book, a muckraking classic about the Chicago meatpacking industry, focused heavily upon the Lithuanian immigrants that worked in the slaughterhouse plants in godawful conditions for both humans and...especially...animals.  The program had a guest commentator who was of Lithuanian descent.  Naturally, this woman said she had been raised to hate socialism and communism as the Soviet Union absorbed Baltic nations such as Lithuania and destroyed their cultures through ugsome practices.  When this woman first read of the wages and labor conditions in The Jungle, however, she could see how something such as socialism got its start.

Wait, aren't we supposed to "stop whining and work harder?" Well, the people who worked in those slaughterhouses worked very hard.  Harder than I ever have in my entire life I'm willing to bet.  You're supposed to be able to make progress when you work hard, right?  I thought that was the idea...not acquire enough wealth to buy senators and get your own rules made.  I know things are much different now than as described in that book.  At least on the surface, but then you may wish to read Fast Food Nation and then ask yourself how much has changed.

No, socialism doesn't work.  Neither will capitalism in the long run.  No such system can when it produces a wide disparity of haves and have-nots no matter how well intended it may be, especially when system allows the wealthy to dictate terms.  What may need to happen is a sort of "hybrid system"cobbled together from the pieces that do work.  I'm not envisioning a utopia with no work involved or country club living for everyone.

At this point, I'm sure many would be happy with earning pretzels and beer.

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1 comment:

  1. On FB, Frank said: "It seems that in the US, at least, our laws and practices seem to favor the concentration of wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people. While I can expect the members of Congress to be well-off, learning that nearly HALF of them are millionaires is a shock to me."