Why Adequate Pay Solves Just About Everything

I have mentioned the strong evidence that improved equality improves just about everything else wrong with the world. I have also said that inequality like we have in the US right now makes people unhappy. We get really angry when we read that some grossly overpaid exec makes in two hours what we work hard for a whole year to earn. It’s not the exec’s gross overcompensation per se as that the inadequacy of our own income seems to be a direct result of his ridiculous pay, and makes our life unnecessarily difficult.

In our heart of hearts, we know it’s really true that money isn’t everything. In fact, in ongoing surveys of national happiness, countries with large segments of poverty sometimes score more highly than far more affluent countries. But in the US, in addition to the excessively wealthy and the growing inequality, half of our population is having difficulty just making ends meet. The culprit is the inadequacy of income for half our population.

Half of our population is having difficulty
just making ends meet.

As I see it, there are two elements to this condition. Insufficient pay at the bottom; gross overpayment at the top. Distribution of the wealth of the nation is unacceptably out of balance, and this has occurred because for the past forty years the most wealthy among us, and their Republican pets, have systematically arranged laws, taxes, and regulations in order to transfer more and more money to themselves. The rest of us have no such influence. When money goes to the rich, it comes from the rest of us. In Washington, there doesn’t seem to be anybody left to represent the poor and the struggling lower half of the population. Congress is wholly owned by the super-rich, who spend half a million dollars a day on lobbyists to influence them. Few in Congress have incomes remotely close to the rest of us.

This is exactly opposite to the direction we should be moving. The very wealthy seem to believe it’s important that they become ever more wealthy, but the fact is, it is not important at all, even to them, and it’s causing great problems for the country.

Congress is wholly owned by the super-rich,
who spend half a million dollars a day
on lobbyists to influence them.

The time of powerful unions and excellent jobs in American manufacturing will probably never return. But what has replaced it—low wages, poor benefits, few jobs—is unsatisfactory. Each degree of increase in the inadequacy of pay further depresses our future, which we will pay for one way or another.

Suppose it were not that way. Suppose, for some reason, the overpaid began to realize that their excessive money wasn’t really improving their own lives, and was worsening everything else. Suppose our polluting industries actually realized that what their advertising claimed was true, that a clean environment improves life for all. Suppose everyone realized that substandard income for half the population was creating national weakness, not to mention costing us an arm and a leg. Suppose we devoted the coming political era to redressing this shortsighted inequality.

A large part of the problem is that we as a nation do not adequately value the work that lower income people perform. Take any poorly paid job you can think of—hotel maids, cafeteria cashier, convenience store clerk, cleanup people of all sorts. What would happen if there were inadequate numbers of people available to perform these jobs? Well, your hotel bed would not be made, the cafeteria might just close, along with the convenience store, various services would be slow or non-existent, and everything would get dirty and stay dirty.

That’s unpleasant, but there is a more serious consequence of inadequate income. If people are underpaid all their lives, they will not be able to afford college or medical care and will not be able to save for retirement. Better jobs requiring more education are forever out of reach. When they become ill, it is the state that will have to pay. The rest of us, that is. In the end, we all pay, and the nation is weaker for the inequality we could have fixed less expensively.

We as a nation do not adequately value
the work that lower income people perform.

Look at the opposite situation: the richest-of-all-time dial it down a notch or two, and everyone is adequately paid. What would happen?

It’s easy enough to see. The rich would notice no difference in their lives. The poor would make a quantum leap into a far more decent life. They will suddenly find they lack for nothing significant. Nobody would die of poverty. (This is not hyperbole. The ultimate price of poverty is poor health and early death.) Life ceases to be a constant struggle to pay for essentials, and everything important is available to them. The entire country becomes healthier. Everyone can retire in reasonable comfort when the time comes.

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