All the talk of the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement has me thinking, along with many others in the States. I will confess, I tend towards a Libertarian bias on things, mostly because I have seen the inefficiencies that Government is capable of up close and personal. In all fairness, I have also seen it when it works well for people, and when it does it's a wonderful thing. Government is no more always the problem then it is always the solution. One of the most frequent demands from the Occupiers I have heard tossed about is a 'living wage' for everyone. The question is, at least in my mind, is such a thing truly possible?
I can hear the liberals in my social group, which is most of them, perking up without even reading this. The idea that we can set a magic number where everyone will have everything they need to live comfortably is a long standing Liberal tradition. I am forced to concede that at some point it will be possible that this could happen, but I am not convinced at this time that we are there. Confused? Let me try to explain.
Every economy is capable of producing a number of resources. Defining that resource exactly is difficult, because it changes minute to minute. People leave the workforce, people enter the workforce, for unpredictable and varied reasons. People learn new skills, or gain new addictions that hamper their abilities to do their jobs. In general and on average, barring major accidents or natural disasters, production values will climb over time, but there's always the chance of some critical skill being lost, or someone in charge screwing things up royally. All of this serves to complicate things that most people, I call them the sane ones, would want to be nice and simple.
So, in essence, every economy can make X amount of food and goods, consumes Y amount in order to survive, and the leftover, call it Z, is luxury. Given that we currently have more people die in this country from obesity then we do malnutrition, I think it's safe to say we're safely producing a good amount of Z. It's fairly easy to argue that everyone in America in one way or another gets Y. It might be through working, it might be through food banks, or through Government programs like Food Stamps or WIC. Please understand, in this case Y does not mean you're not going hungry from time to time, it means you're getting enough to keep living.
So, the debate shifts more to the 'quality of life' issue, which is why it becomes muddled. Watching your kids go hungry, even on an infrequent basis, because you don't have enough money to feed them is a horrific experience I wouldn't wish on anyone. So does 'living wage' mean enough money to feed a family off of two incomes? What about the people who want to have one parent stay home with the children? What about people who need special medication, or others who need someone to live with them full time to help them medically? What about the family that chooses to not have children to avoid the expenses involved, should they be required to pay more in taxes because the family down the street chooses to have seven children?
I honestly believe that there are very few people out there who want to see anyone go hungry. No sane person wants to go back to the era of the Great Depression where starvation was a real and serious danger in this country. The problem is, that is one of the driving forces behind the conflict. Both sides are fighting hard to prevent economic collapse, the problem comes in that they fundamentally believe in opposite methods of doing it. A 'typical' Liberal believes that Government is the best solution, while a 'typical' Conservative believes more in the Free Market.
What no one seems to want to admit is that neither solution will work because people are involved in both. Feel free to take a moment if you want and go back to my earlier post regarding Wil's Laws. So what is the solution? Guess what folks, we're living it. I don't want to talk anyone out of hating it, because that's how things change, and it's through that change that things get better for a little while. Could the whole thing blow up in our faces? Sadly, yes. What's worse is that sooner or later it will. Things get too out of balance and it either crumbles from the bottom or falls over from the top and you have a Great Depression or a French Revolution, or some other upheaval.
Our current system is not a fair system, it's not a perfect system, but it's the best we've been able to do so far. Humanity is more prosperous now then it ever has been in the past. Things previous generations could only dream of are being accomplished, and there are signs of more to come. We are on the edge of potentially limitless energy, and with it the potential for amazing jumps in the average prosperity level throughout the world. We do need the people protesting in New York and around the country, to make sure that the benefits of the amazing advances that may be about to come are not squandered on a few select people, but the thing to keep in mind as you go about your day, is that we need the people they are protesting against just as badly. Their drive, their ambition, the very things that some of those people hate them for, are the very things that may well lead us forward into an era where the dream of a 'Living Wage' is open to everyone.