The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘wealth’ Category

THE POLITICS OF POVERTY

It is certainly a tribute to my parents that neither Mom nor Dad ever encouraged me to choose, as my life’s goal, finding the lowest paying job that was on the market.  In their view, low-paying jobs were the rightful province of the uneducated.  Mom could speak to this from personal experience as her father was one of those poorly educated men who dug ditches in New York for a dollar a day – that is, when the work was available.

Because my parents recognized that education was the gateway for a child to achieve the American dream, they made sacrifices in order to send me to private schools.  Mom got a job at a time when most mothers stayed at home and ultimately she owned her own business.  Dad was in sales and traveled forty weeks a year.  I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t fully understand what they gave up in order to give me the best opportunity to do something productive with my life.

I grew up at a time in America when people generally understood that opportunity was limited only by a person’s initiative, optimism and perhaps a little bit of extra insight that others might not have discovered in themselves.  It was a time that while each of us worked to get a little bigger piece of the pie, we also knew that there were many pies that had yet to be baked in which all of us could share.  It was a time of personal accountability and a time when we recognized and applauded each other and were recognized and applauded by others for personal achievement.  It was a pre-socialist, pre-Obama America.

Obama and his party of the left will spend much of this year talking about social inequity and financial injustice.  The centerpiece of this conversation will revolve around increasing the minimum wage.  The argument being made is that it is inhumane and certainly un-American to pay people less for their labor than what is necessary for their survival.  It’s hard for me or for anyone with an ounce of compassion to refute that – unless we scratch the veneer of that concept.

Let’s consider a basic principle.  Why would any rational person accept a position at a level which forced him to struggle for mere survival if he could work at a better, higher paying position?  Despite my best efforts I have been unable to come up with an answer to that question other than that the person holding what we used to refer to as an “entry level” position does not have the skills to hold a better paying job.

Let’s look at the person who is, as an adult, trying to survive, holding one of these minimum wage positions.  He or she is in a job that has little or no opportunity for growth either in responsibility or in earnings.  This person’s only prospect for making more is finding a second job, probably at the same low wage, the beneficence of his employer increasing his hourly rate or the intervention of some governmental jurisdiction passing a unilateral increase in the wages of him and all others in his earnings class – in other words, an increase in the minimum wage.

Whether or not we pass an increase in the minimum wage which will do little to alleviate the plight of wage earners who are cheering for such an outcome,  this debate does raise several important issues.

The first is that we are not preparing a significant segment of our population through our educational system to do anything other than the most menial, unskilled work and are consigning them to a life of impoverishment and envy of those who are more successful – which by definition – is everyone who is earning anything more than they are.

The second is that they have no future and no American dream – at least not one in which they can have a hope of participating through the old principles of self-sacrifice and hard work.  What incredible psychological damage that must cause.  And as a result we should not be surprised that those who have no hope of succeeding through traditional, legal means turn to violence to seize what they envy in others.

Sadly, astute political manipulators – and we have far more than our fair share of them – recognize that an uneducated mob can easily be swayed with small sops and shallow promises.  If we wonder why our educational levels have slipped so dramatically we have only to turn to the lessons we learned from the slave owners in the pre-Civil War South who made it illegal to educate their human chattel.  There really is no incentive for the new slave owners to improve the educational quality they offer their human livestock, their public outcries about the shocking state of education notwithstanding.  Their real goal is to keep their constituents ignorant – and they have done well in achieving that goal.

Many of those minimum wage, uneducated workers live in our inner cities.  That is if they are not part of our vast minority population whose unemployment rate is nearly twice that of the general population.  We have designed massive programs which bleed the productivity of those who work to “assist” these poor souls in their impoverished condition – a status which has now become generational in nature.  Meanwhile those who purportedly champion the underclass that they have created can be assured that they will continue to be re-elected to political office by their barely literate electorate.

So now these good liberals, portraying themselves as the benefactors of the poor and downtrodden are offering up an increase in the minimum wage.  And those who need opportunity and education far more than a few extra dollars which government will ultimately suck out of their pockets by encouraging them to play the lottery as the path to salvation will wave their handwritten signs as they picket the only businesses who will hire them.

Perhaps, if they have even thought about it, they believe that if their employers fire them or they are replaced by automation, their “friends” in high places will develop even newer and better programs to allow them to live at the subsistence level which they and their parents have endured and to which they condemn their children.

What they don’t realize is that what little they have comes from those who have been productive and who are becoming increasingly resistant to contributing even more than they have been conscripted to donate.  And when the tipping point comes, and it is near, even those who are most generous will hold up their banners with the phrase, “Enough Is Enough” inscribed on them, the spigot to the Fountain of Freebies will run dry and all of us will be expected to be productive to survive.  And that will include those who are in the pulpit preaching their dialectic on the Politics of Poverty.

THE SQUIRREL AND THE CAT

There was once a common gray squirrel who made the acquaintance of a beautiful Angora cat.  They lived in the same area, although the squirrel made his home in a very old elm tree and the cat lived in a ritzy garden apartment.

Come rain or shine the squirrel could be seen scurrying about the neighborhood, looking for acorns or anything else that looked nutritious.  The cat had no such concerns as his mistress put out his meals on a regular schedule and provided all that he wanted to eat.

The cat found the squirrel’s constant comings and goings to be not only dizzying but quite inexplicable.

“My friend,” he said.  “Why do you go about in such a constant frenzy?  Your continuous scurrying is causing me to have a headache.  Settle down for a bit and let’s have a nice chat.”

“I would love to,” said the squirrel.  “But if I did, I would not have enough rations to make it through the day.  So I need to keep foraging to stave off starvation.”

The cat thought this was very peculiar.  He had never known a moment when his food was not provided for him and so, naturally, assumed that was the way it was for all creatures.  In his heart of hearts he thought that the squirrel was making a joke at his expense.  But being a polite sort of creature, he did not mention his suspicions to the squirrel.

The cat sauntered outside one day after his mistress had just finished brushing him.  He always enjoyed a good brushing and looked absolutely glamorous.  So when he saw the squirrel hastening by, he couldn’t help comparing his appearance to that of his friend’s.

“My goodness,” the cat thought to himself.  “My poor friend is looking rather shabby.  His coat has got little parts of plants stuck to it.  He really should take better care of himself.”

Well the squirrel, pre-occupied with the necessities of gathering food, had little time to try to look chic.  In fact, the concept never even crossed his mind.  He was totally focused on his mission of surviving.

Things went along in this way for quite some time until something unexpected happened.  One morning when the cat went into the kitchen to get his breakfast there was nothing in his dish.

He went into his mistress’ room to find out why there was a delay but when he jumped up on her bed he found only her lifeless body.  He began meowing as loudly as he could, hoping this would revive her.  But nothing he did could bring her back to this world.

So the cat jumped through the open window of the garden apartment and happened to see his friend the squirrel engaged, as usual, in looking for his own breakfast.  The cat couldn’t help but notice that the squirrel, while still sporting the vestiges of plant parts all over his fur, was quite plump and seemed to be doing an excellent job of providing his own food.  By contrast, the cat’s stomach began to growl and he was feeling a little faint.

The squirrel greeted the cat as he raced by.  He had just spotted what appeared to be a very choice acorn.  And the cat began to wonder what he would do for food since his mistress was no longer there to set out his meals.

Suddenly, it occurred to the cat that his pampered life was over and he would need to fend for himself.  The thought of that sent a terrible shiver down his spine.  And he began to think how fortunate the squirrel was that he had enough to eat.

When the squirrel came back with his acorn and began to munch on it, the cat, in a moment of self pity said to him, “My friend.  All the time I’ve known you, I have always thought how fortunate I was that I didn’t have to do anything and yet my food magically appeared.  In honesty, I looked down on your abject need to have to provide for yourself.  But now things have changed, and I must admit that I envy you.  You are, indeed a lucky creature.”

To this, the squirrel made a reply which is the moral of our story:

“There’s something I’ve noticed in going through life.  It seems as though the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

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