Saturday, July 18, 2015

"My idyllic life as a child of badly-paid parents"

"We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip!"
"My parents and I used to live on $15,000 for the three of us. We clipped coupons, shopped at Goodwill for clothes, and made do with a lot of used things. And it was a very good life; we had great times; nobody complained or felt they were entitled to something more."

Kinda reminds you of the "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch Monty Python used to perform on tour, doesn't it? I wish I could draw a Vanity Fair-type cartoon, featuring an employer telling a worker: "Sorry, I can't afford to pay you more than minimum wage. But look at it this way: thirty years from now, your children will marvel about what an idyllic life poverty was for them."

Whenever I read someone who trots forth the Idyllic Poverty-Stricken Childhood narrative, I desperately want to slap the taste out of their mouths. The Idyllic Poverty-Stricken Childhood is worse than the Working Poor Are All Ignorant Slackers Who Deserve to Starve in Third-World Conditions argument, because these people know better than to trot out that line. You know they're not saying all that crud in front of their own parents.

"Yes, yes, poverty was great for you. Your mother and I tried our best to make sure you children were happy; that you had food, clothes, and a roof over your heads on the little money we made. To make sure you were happy, we didn't show you all the anxiety and heartache we went through. You don't know about the nights your mother cried herself to sleep over how we were going to pay the rent. You don't know the difficulty I had sometimes just getting out of the car to go to work at the shithole job I had. You don't know how many trade-offs we made in the course of a week, a month, or a year; how many times we had to rob Paul right after we'd already robbed Peter; how many times we were just $20 away from a major financial disaster. You don't know how many times each of us despaired, how close either one of us came to ending it all. You didn't know that because we didn't think you needed to know it. But don't think that because we didn't publicly shed any tears, we didn't feel any pain or shame or distress."

And there are far more children whose lives in poverty aren't so blissful.

A living wage doesn't mean annual vacations in St. Thomas. It doesn't mean everyone drives Lexuses. It doesn't mean everyone lives in McMansions in the 'burbs. It doesn't mean regular dinners of Chateaubriand and lobster thermidor. It doesn't mean paying janitors and fast-food workers the same as CEOs — although, if we paid CEOs at a more reasonable CEO-to-employee median of 30:1 instead of 300:1+, we might be able to pay janitors and fast-food workers more.

What it does mean, in terms of "how much" and "for what", may be hard to determine. However, it does mean recognizing that the people at the bottom of the pyramid work just as hard as do the executives, that they do jobs the company needs done but the executives can't do, and that they contribute to the success of the enterprise every single day just as do the executives.

It isn't a matter of entitlement — it's a matter of basic economic justice. And defrauding the worker of his just wages is one of the sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance.

That is all. Carry on.