Have We Lost Touch?

By Brian Sahd

Why it is always us verses them? Why do those, usually those on the left of the political spectrum, see everything as a zero sum game?  This type of argument is too simplistic and in fact disingenuous.  The current President uses this type of argument all the time creating needless class, race and societal divisions. Banks are too big; the rest of the economy too small. The Fat Cats are getting too rich; the rest are too poor. The Universities are not teaching correctly; our students are failing.  The 1 per centers on Wall Street are forcing the other 99% to live horrible lives.  And now, according to DeRienzo, workers are not making $15 an hour because the CEO of McDonald is making $13 million.

Despite what we hear from naysayers these days, America is still the land of opportunity.   There is no doubt that we are living in tough economic times, good jobs are scarce and people are struggling, especially those living at or below the poverty level.  It is equally true that there are many opportunities out there; if a person works hard, he or she will not be making minimum wage for too long.  But current rhetoric is stuck on raising the minimum wage.  Workers, the argument would seem to suggest, are entitled to higher wages; as if more money is the answer to today’s socio-economic crisis.  Could it be, just perhaps, that the pendulum has swung a bit too far this way?  What happened to the notion of taking responsibility for our own destiny?  No longer do we believe in ourselves as individuals in charge of creating our own destiny.  It is time to believe again that anyone can seize or create opportunities; and yes, even those of us at the lowest rung on the wage ladder.

We cannot be a society where people feel entitled for more and more government assistance and hand outs (I include big businesses – car companies, banks – and well as individuals). Limiting these handouts and assistance does not equate to economic injustice or oppression.  Let’s be perfectly clear: No person in any way is demeaned by the work he or she does; just as no one is a better person because of the nature of their work or how much compensation they make.

The real problem is not wages.  The real problem is that we live in a world society that is based on unlimited consumerism; one that drives us to live beyond our means.  If, as DeRienzo argues, government mandated higher wages would lessen the need for credit, education would be cheaper; there will be fewer trucks to congest our highways.  Perhaps, but I don’t think so.    We as Americans, at all income levels, have become out of touch with reality.  The more stuff there is, the more we need it.  Credit will not lessen with higher wages as some would suggest, it will increase; there will be more trucks on our highways transporting the increased number of products – not less as DeRienzo and others would contend.  Don’t get me wrong, people should be able to spend their money on items they want to purchase.  The issues arise when the consumer (or the business) spends money he or she or it does not have.

When I was growing up our family was not well off, we did not have much money, but we were far from destitute thanks to our father’s work ethic. My dad worked hard at many jobs to feed the family.  And my mom worked just as hard to stretch the money that put food on our table, keep a clean house and maintain a safe and happy environment for her children.

So we did not have much in terms of material items. But the valuable lesson that our parents taught us is still worth its weight in gold today:  live within one’s means.  If I wanted to buy something I needed to earn the money first.

Times are different now, of course. When I was growing up we had limited choices in jeans, toothpaste, and most consumer products; toys and gadgets were much simpler.  Am I advocating turning our collective backs on advancement in technology? Of course not.  Am I suggesting folks shouldn’t be able to make higher wages or that consumers should stop spending? Absolutely not.  What I am saying is that it is a fallacious argument to believe that all we need is more money; that an increase in the minimum wage to $15 will solve our current problems.

I suppose that it is possible that if consumers have more money in their pockets, as mandated by a $15 minimum wage, he or she would spend less on the latest iphone, or attend fewer concerts, or not purchase the latest fashionable item from Sean Combs or see fewer movies.  I suppose that it is possible that if consumers have more money they would cook at home more, and have a healthier lifestyle. I suppose that if consumers have more money there would be less obesity, reducing the rate of diabetes and health costs.

And I suppose if the CEOs and the entertainers who make $200 million a year received less money there will fewer trucks on the road transporting of our food across the country, and lower credit card interest rates, more charitable contributions and lower rents.

That depends on one important factor: will more money in the pockets of consumers provide the impetus to take individual responsibility for their spending and not get sucked into a culture of spending to keep up with the Jones?

Enough of this us versus them fallacious dichotomy.  If we want a more livable society we need to address the existing consumer mindset that pervades our society at all levels of the economic spectrum.

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