Thursday, July 2, 2015

Minimum Wage and the Laughable National Post. . .

The National Post Editorial of June 30th which argues that the performance of Rachel Notley in Alberta is a good reason not to vote for the NDP in October is a excellent performative demonstration of just how thin the arguments of the rightwing are when it comes to attacking the centre left. I only offer the link because it reminds me of how overwhelmingly weak the right's talking points have become and how dramatically the neo-liberal discourse has broken down. Let's put aside for the moment the fact that NDP governments actually have the best record of balancing budgets in Canada. Let's put aside too the fact the federal NDP has moved so far into the centre that they can't, by any significant standards, be called a "leftwing" party. The National Post editorial is so risible because, with nothing to grasp at but straws, the Post has staked its significant national resources on arguing that the effort to raise the minimum wage in Alberta is some kind of ominous move toward fiscal irresponsibility and (though they obviously don't use the word) socialism. Perhaps the most laughable part of the Post's argument is the hackneyed one that raising the minimum wage simultaneously raises unemployment (their beautiful, rightwing, journalistic phrase is "suppresses hiring.) The fact that this is simply straightforwardly false, does nothing to dissuade the Post from using an age old lie. Despite generations of effort on the part of rightwing ideologists to lie with statistics, there is not a single credible piece of evidence that a higher minimum wage drives overall unemployment. Nothing, nada, zilch, zippo…you get the picture. And, ironically, there is a growing body of evidence that raising the minimum wage has directly the opposite effect. However, as embarrassing as it is for a national newspaper to rest its argument against the NDP on this age old untruth, there is something more interesting for us here, and this is the claim that raising the minimum wage will do nothing to alleviate poverty. There is an important sense, though not at all the way the Post intends, that this is true. Raising minimum wage WILL, in fact, alleviate poverty, if we understand by that expression that it will make people's poverty a little less painful and difficult. A slightly higher wage might make it a little easier to make rent or allow a low-wage worker to eat a little bit healthier, but unfortunately it won't raise them out of poverty. The logic here is hardly complicated, and even the rationally-challenged National Post editors can understand it. If you raise the minimum wage from, say 12$ and hour to 15 or even 20, it is still a poverty wage. Thus, raising the minimum wage will do little to alleviate the numbers of people living in poverty. There can, however, be a knock-on effect, because if you have a family of two wage earners with one making a decent wage and the other at minimum wage, the small raise, may actually bring the family from just below the so-called poverty line to just above it.

Ironically, however, this is not the reason that the Post attacks the minimum wage. The Post doesn't really want to remind us that people are living in poverty and that raising the minimum wage won't address this problem, because any proposals for a rise in the minimum wage wouldn't be enough on their own to take workers out of a poverty level wage. In this sense the National Post is right for entirely the wrong reasons. The reason that raising the minimum wage won't solve the problem of poverty is not because raising the wage is a bad idea that will lead to an economic slowdown, but because minimum wage earners will still be living in poverty even after you raise their wages! Because of this basic fact, there is a second irony here; it is the fact that voting for a left of centre party like the NDP does nothing to threaten the basic structure of corporate power or the intentional maintenance of a low-wage labour pool. The ironically-challenged National Post editors don't get a very basic fact about capitalism, social-democratic efforts like those of the NDP are not meant to be a serious challenge to the capitalist economic system, rather they are meant to make that system a little more tolerable. When you think about this seriously it is quite hilarious because social democrats are much better for the long-term survival of the capitalist order than the rightwing. In the long run the rightwing agenda will increase poverty and inequality and thereby make it more unstable and will grow a basic dissatisfaction with the underlying economic relations. The social-democratic strategy will make the system more livable in the long run and people will be much less likely to rebel or challenge the economic relations.

Here's the thing that neither the editors of the Post nor much of the mainstream NDP supporters want to think about - the cause of poverty is, more than anything, about the overall inequality in an economy, and raising the minimum wage will only address that inequality in the most superficial sense. Even many poorer countries have enough overall resources to end poverty, the problem is that the resources are amassed in few hands. It really is as simple as that, despite what the National Post or rightwing economists want us to believe. If 95% of the wealth of a nation continues to be held by 5% (or even less) of the population, there will be ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to seriously alleviate poverty in that nation. If you lived in a family of five, say, with an income of 250 thousand dollars you would expect everyone in the family to be living well. However, if that wage was only earned by one of the family members and he or she lived in a huge mansion, eating caviar everyday, and he or she made the rest of the family live in a small concrete room in the basement eating Kraft Dinner, then the 250 thousand would make little difference to the other four members of the family. Here is the simple proscription - you have to share the money to ensure that everyone is living well!

The minimum wage is a very small effort to alleviate poverty and by itself it will do almost nothing. Contrary to what the National Post (and the rest of the rightwing) would have us believe, raising the minimum wage will do nothing to hurt an economy, but they are unintentionally correct in saying that such a move will do little to alleviate poverty. Much to the Post's chagrin, to actually address poverty we have to do a hell of a lot more than raise the minimum wage! We actually have to take a significant amount of wealth out of the hands of a few ultra-rich families and spread it though society if we actually want to alleviate poverty,

Here's the kicker - no political party has any kind of serious plan to do this.

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