Monday, March 12, 2012

FAIR WAGES: If Wishes Were Horses

We hear a lot about "income inequality" these days. Framed that way, it sounds suspiciously like mere bitching about the vast amount of money going to the so-called Job Creators. Although that is certainly true, I'd rather focus on the fact that real wages for most Americans have been driven down over the last thirty or forty years, mostly as a favor to those job creators.

Last Sunday I watched some of Fahreed Zakaria's CNN show, and he posed a trick question for the audience: what is the price of a gallon of gas in Norway? The answer is just short of ten dollars, and the instant message was that we are wrong to complain about the price of gas in America. For me, though, the real question was: how can they pay that? The answer is FAIR WAGES (with an assist from a good, comprehensive, heavily subsidized public transportation system).

I recently spoke with a Norwegian vacationer in Krabi, a divorced guy traveling alone. Nice fellow, his English was pretty good. During the cold season (i.e., almost all year) he worked at some kind of wildlife related job out in the wilderness; the remainder of the year he had an infrastructure maintenance job in the city. His annual salary came to about 90,000 a year, honestly I forget if this figure was in dollars or euros. He said that was about typical for a working man in Norway.

He also said that he paid almost fifty percent in taxes, but he wasn't complaining at all. No, he was perfectly satisfied with that combination of 1) Fair Wages; and 2) high taxes.

No surprise, really. He obviously had the money to enjoy nice vacations (not to mention more than a month of vacation time in which to enjoy them). Those are high service, high benefit societies. Medical care, retirement benefits, income interruption protection, handicapped assistance, all that and more are taken care of. Not like our own miserable country, where they are all huge sources of stress and insecurity.

Oh, sure, you say, that's okay for Norway. For one thing, they have all of that North Sea oil, and for another they have a small homogeneous population. But really, what country has more natural resources than the United States? Are there any that can say they do?

And why should a lack of homogeneity be a problem for us? Whatever the Kool-Aid drinkers might allege, aren't we all Americans here? The great variety of us is a fact on the ground, it exists already, and usually it seems that we all get along okay together. Most of us, anyway.

Make no mistake, our lack of fair wages and adequate protections derives from unstated policy decisions that are not in the best interest of the great majority of Americans. The benefits accrue to blah, blah, blah, because, etc. You fill in the blanks.

So, what about those Fair Wages? Any hope of progress on that front? How about greater security for working people? Any hope? One can wish for these things, but as my mother-in-law used to say: if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

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