Thursday, November 26, 2015

Would the 99% Even Know?

There's an old saw among conservatives about the most effective way to deal with liberals. It goes like this:

Q: How do you turn a liberal into a conservative?
A: Give him a million dollars.

If, by some broad stretch of the imagination, you missed the joke, the thinking is that once someone has attained wealth, he'll do whatever he can to protect those assets. Liberalism, it contends, is for the have-nots, many of whom identify themselves as "the 99%" who don't control the vast sums of wealth owned by the top 1%. After all, it's a lot easier to receive a handout from the rich, but only if you're not among them. Then things change. In fact, one of the reasons why conservatives can be so fierce in their opposition to liberalism (often euphemistically referred to as progressivism) is that they feel they've worked for what they have. Most conservatives believe that "This is America. If you want to have a lot of stuff, you're free to work hard and earn it. Then see how you like it when the have-nots and the government decide to simply take it away from you."

You don't have to be extremely wealthy to be a conservative, by the way. That 1% thing is a social construct that has been dumbed down to the public for easy digestion through the media. The truth us that you don't need billions or even millions to espouse the conservative philosophy. What you need is a goal for which you and your family are willing to work toward. For most people, that means a home of their own and the ability to pay their own way. Maybe saving up to help the next generation of their families get on their feet, too.

But not everyone follows that path. The most vocal of the 99% don't accumulate wealth, because according to them, they can't accumulate wealth -- nobody is sure exactly why, but there's plenty of blame to go around: race, privilege, more race, sexism, conspiracy and of course, race. The 99% want free education. They want to take out student loans without having to repay them. They want higher wages without qualifying their reasons for demanding them. Meanwhile, their purchases of mobile phones , Nike footwear, large screen televisions, hover boards and video games continue to fly off the shelves. This strikes me curious, which prompted me to try something I suggest you attempt next time you're accosted by a self-proclaimed member of the 99%:

Ask him what he'd do if he were given a million dollars.

I'm not kidding. Ask him in all seriousness. His answer may surprise you. Because of all of those whom I've asked, not one of them could supply an intelligent, rational response, let alone the correct one. To a man, they responded with lists of items they'd purchase for themselves, or in an effort to appear less selfish, buy for their friends and families. Not one of them could even come up with the correct answer:

I'd turn it into two million.

And that's the real problem with the 99%. It's not that they don't have wealth; it's that they have no ideas, plans or motivations to attain wealth. All the free education in the world won't teach them
what they don't want to learn. It's so much easier for them to cloak their wants and needs as "basic rights" and entitlements. But while those are politically attractive they're not at all practical and do
nothing to solve the true problems of the 99%. That's why the one percent will continue to accrue wealth while the 99% will continue to hold out their hands for donations. It's all they know or care to learn.

That, and the cheat codes for Candy Crush.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Other Side of Minimum Wage

As we careen through the next election cycle, glancing off of every special interest group wrestling for dominance on social media, none has as widespread appeal as the question of increasing the minimum wage.  The issue attracts a lot of interest because it affects both sides of the commercial world. Theoretically, laborers want the minimum wage to increase, while employers generally don't want to be told how and what to pay their employees.

The entire issue is grossly misunderstood by the general public, who tend to confuse minimum wage with the living wage.  The minimum wage was designed strictly for entry level, unskilled jobs that used to be filled by young kids who were still living with their parents. The primary benefits of the minimum wage were twofold: the employee got to earn while he learned and the employer got a chance to test cheap labor for a possible future hire.  A living wage, on the other hand, is simply a government statistic, a calculation to give policy wonks and economists a benchmark against which they can ply their models.  Much like the poverty line, the living wage moves up and down, usually according to whichever political party happens to be at the controls.

Personally, I think the original purpose of the minimum wage is still the best one. But it only works when both employer and employee understand that it's a starting wage. The whole idea is that the better the employee does, the more productive he becomes. The more productive he becomes, the more profitable the business is, allowing the employer to reward the employee that much sooner with a higher wage.

Unfortunately, that's not how things have worked out. Because somewhere along the way, people decided to forego their apprenticeships and decided they were entitled to have the higher wages right off the bat. They wanted the higher wages sooner because they wanted the lifestyle afforded by higher wages sooner, too.  Cars, apartments, groceries, insurance, medicine -- it all costs money. It's stuff that can't be had on a minimum wage and anyone who expects otherwise is simply detached from reality.  However, sticking with the program actually works if your expectations are properly aligned.

Ah, I can hear the objections now. "You're so elitist! Check your white privilege!"

Sorry to disappoint you, but even if I were elitist, it wouldn't change the truth. Long before I ventured into elitism, I worked several minimum wage jobs until I found the one that clicked.  It worked. But it doesn't work that way anymore.  Not because the model is flawed, but because the people's expectations are.

Today, I was at a local Chipotle restaurant.  The staff was in a cheery mood and inadvertently turned up the music to a deafening level. I politely asked them to turn in down a bit. One of the girls touched the dial, but didn't lower the volume.  So I politely asked again. This time, there was a noticeable drop in the level, so I thanked her, but not before a rotund, beastly assistant manager began lecturing me about talking to the employees with respect, "or I'll have to ask you to leave." I was bewildered and responded there was no cause for her interference.  Needless to say, the situation escalated. I was not about to have my taco bowl experience ruined by some uniformed half-wit. At this point the dope, whipped out her cell phone to call someone. "Call a cop," I responded as I continued with my lunch.  When I was almost finished, she waddled over to me with a "to go" package and asked me to leave yet again. I told her I'd leave when I was good and ready. Then she launched into an automated response to anything else I might have said: "Thank you. Have a nice day sir." Over and over, whether I spoke or not, the refrain was the same.  "Thank you. Have a nice day sir."

This is an employee who probably cannot be fired. This is an employee who should never have been hired, but was given the benefit of the doubt and paid a minimum wage until she proved her worth and value to the company. But she's failing that test and actually costing the company money.  Someone like this should be paid a minimal wage until she either makes the grade or flunks out, keeping the employer's risk to a minimum. 

Now take that same circumstance and apply it to a local micro-business. The local mom and pop hardware store has a completely different structure than Home Depot. One wrong employee could drive away enough business to kill it. It has far less financial stamina and much higher risk of failure.  Should that little Main Street store -- even with as many as three or six locations -- be subject to the same arbitrary pay scales as a national brand? Especially in an environment that makes it practically impossible to fire an employee, even with good cause?

The American system of enterprise is not an entitlement program. The guy down the street will hire, but only what he can afford to hire. If you make it too expensive for him to hire, he simply won't hire. But if you allow him to invest his money -- and a minimum wage employee to invest his time -- the partnership can and does work out well for both.

Oh yeah, work. Now there's a concept.