Friday, May 1, 2009

A Just Society

Some thoughts on wage equity, fairness, efficiency, and our societal structure during this period of budget cuts, cost-benefit analysis, and general search for cost efficiency:

I feel an honest day’s work deserves and honest day’s pay. Yet those with the most back-breaking, demeaning jobs are also paid the most demeaning wages. While those performing in the most reprehensible and unproductive ways (Citigroup, A.I.G., et al) are paid the most spectacular sums.

The wealthiest never have to worry about their health care. And they don't seem to realize the connection between their earnings and a healthy workforce. Single-payer or universal health care would allow a more healthy and productive workforce by enabling workers to see a doctor whenever they feel "under the weather," rather than struggling through illness, missing more work, and, in the end, losing more productivity than they otherwise would have. This would also help decrease the present astronomical cost of health care.

Next, we should strengthen Social Security, making it pay more of a livable stipend for retirees. This could be accomplished by removing the cap on the amount of income taxable for Social Security. Alongside this, we should reinvigorate the pension system as a supplement to Social Security. And, if workers chose, they can also put aside a percentage of their income in 401Ks. This would, no doubt, improve the stability of retirement for a majority of citizens. It would also permit many to retire sooner, allowing younger workers earlier entrance to decent paying jobs. This too would help cut costs. New workers are not paid as much as someone who has been on the job for thirty years.

Another easy cost-cutting measure is the removal of the bloated fringe benefits that now seem to come with every two-bit "management" position. Unless a person is on-call, needs to make communication every hour or so, needs to drive to various locations daily for their work, etc. – car and cell phone allowances are perks that could be immediately slashed from public and private budgets. Most working people already have a cell phone and a car. Those that drive occasionally can turn in an expense report for the miles of gas they use at those times. The same can be done when one makes a business call from their cell phone that is absolutely necessary.

We have deluded ourselves into the belief that we cannot get by without every pampering of modern-day society in every moment of our daily lives. Every manager, executive, council man, and the like, does not need a car allowance, an expense account, a business-paid cell phone, and on and on. This is terribly inefficient and encourages wastefulness. This is especially true in a country that preaches to the rest of the world about how cost-effective we are.

Next, there are managers and executives that are making five or more times as much as their underlings, usually simply because of seniority. Now, I agree seniority, time, and experience should count for something. But should they even make twice as much? The public sector seems to manage this somewhat well – because they have to directly answer to taxpayers. But the private sector is out of control (even though the public sector heavily supports them through exemptions, tax breaks, subsidies, etc.). What they add to the real economy in no way justifies their pay. How (by anyone thinking sanely) can millions of dollars in bonuses be given to the workers of a company that is essentially bankrupt (hello A.I.G.)? How is this justified?

The same can be said of most of the private sector which, unbeknownst to most citizens, is indirectly massively financially supported by taxpayers: oil companies, sports teams, the entertainment industry, Wall Street – to name a few.

We’ve essentially structured our own warped caste system here in America. The majority of workers – the 85 percent making under $100,000 – must continually pay more in health care costs or go without, take pay cuts or see no wage increase at all, and continually (due to our volatile economy) fear for the security of their job. Conversely, those at the top of the ladder are continually subsidized, given bonuses, bailed out, allowed to take huge pay-days (even when they oversee a fall in their company’s stock value), and make obscene amounts of money, that their workers (the ones actually allowing them to exist) can only dream of.

The solutions to this travesty are not complicated. It would involve the Masters of the Universe trimming back on their decadent lifestyles and redistributing some of the bounty, but since they also control governments and world markets, they will not allow this to happen. This is class warfare. Until people realize this and use their representative democracy to install politicians and policies that regulate and redistribute for a more equitable society, we will continue to see this volatile, topsy-turvy economy that benefits the few while punishing the rest.

Until we curb corporate greed, workers will be forced to make all the sacrifices and take all the hits. Until corporations are made to pay their fair share of taxes, workers will continue to bear the cost of a semblance of a just society. Until corporations are regulated in a manner consistent with our principles, they will continue to pillage and plunder, reaping all the rewards while leaving all their mistakes to be cleaned up by the taxpayers.

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