Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lip Service Again

President Obama is trumpeting a “progressive agenda for the middle class” which consists of taxing the rich, raising the minimum wage, and providing free community college education. Other than the last, which has some tangible potential but is small and only a temporary fix, the agenda is his usual empty rhetoric.

There’s nothing wrong with taxing the rich but it should not be part of an "agenda for the middle class," since it does nothing to improve the their status. It does not raise their wages, provide them with better jobs, improve their access to truly affordable health care, or improve the conditions under which they work and live. In any case, Obama is talking about one or two percentage points of increase, and a truly progressive tax policy would raise the upper tax rates by twenty points or more.

Leadership should not be talking about minimum wage. Leadership should be demanding that no one in this great nation who is supporting himself, let alone a family, should ever work for minimum wage, regardless of what that minimum wage is. To insist that minimum wage should be sufficient to constitute a living wage is to have given up on restoring the middle class, to have surrendered the whole concept of general prosperity. We are not a minimum wage nation, and we should not be accepting, which we are beginning to do, that minimum wage is our standard of living.

In third world countries people live on minimum wage. In this nation we do not. We live better than that. We probably have to live differently than we do to assure a sustainable planet, but that’s a different issue. The point is that “minimum” is not in our vocabulary.

Free community college is a worthy concept provided that the community college is providing training in trades which constitute preparation for productive career jobs, not four year degrees that cater to the modern life goal of accumulation of wealth. There are job openings right now for welders, millwrights, pipefitters and other “skilled trades,” and providing access to training for those jobs is applaudable.

But more needs to be done to create more such jobs in the future, because the market for those jobs is temporary, caused by retirement of baby boomers and not by market growth. There is growth, but it is not sufficient to keep up with the population, and we cannot settle for the status quo. Once the current job openings are filled employment growth stalls again unless we have done something to create economic growth that is based on real production instead of being merely the manipulation of numbers in financial institutions.

We need, specifically to re-empower the working class so that paid sick leave, vacation and employer-provided health care are not issues mandated by government, but are benefits negotiated by workers because the workers have to power to do so as they once did.

We need to bring back production which has been offshored, so that this nation makes what it needs and wants, and so that the prosperity generated by our consumption is for the benefit of our own people and not squandered abroad.

Instead we get more lip service from our leaders, and we don’t need lip service and platitudes. We need real solutions offered by leaders who have vision and courage. Anybody?

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