A few stories on the news cycle have caught my attention. First, the fight discussion about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Then the not so revelation that we live in an oligarchy and not a democracy. Finally, the third National Climate Assessment released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Put all of them together and things do not bode well for our young heroes.
There is a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Well, it doesn’t get more interesting than this. Luckily, I feel there is a glimmer of hope. It’ll take blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice. But perhaps we’ve lived too long in somatic comfort and we need a wake-up call. Here it is:
Corporate capitalism has failed our workers, our environment and our freedom.
Hence the fight for a $15/hr minimum wage. Opponents shout “job killer” and “socialist” and “anti-American.” The truth is that currently, unless you’re making $15/hr a family of 4 isn’t even scraping by. In Washington State (where I live) the “living wage” for a family of 4 is $19.63/hr working full time 40 hours a week with benefits. This is just to live. Not to get ahead. Or save for college. Or deal with unexpected medical emergencies. Or a broken down car. Or to put a down payment on a home.
This is unacceptable. In a country as rich in resources, talent and technology as ours there is no reason a person working full time 40 hours a week shouldn’t be able to improve their circumstances. The most basic worker should be able to afford housing, food, education and be able to put a little aside for savings. The fight for a minimum wage just forces the issue because it’s been proven corporations and their owners are unwilling to pay a living wage.
Why? Because corporations care more about profit than they do about human beings and the communities they do business in. They don’t care about the worker, the family, or quality of life. They only have one mission: to provide executives and shareholders with growing profits. That’s it. Once upon a time, corporations used to serve the community. No longer.
Another ramification of the gradual personhood of corporations is the destruction of our ecosystem. Oh yes, Americans have benefitted from this with our enormous cars, bottled water and cheap Wal-Mart goods. We’ve grown fat off our consumption so we don’t care about (and some even deny) the impacts our consumption has had on the environment. Don’t let the facts get in the way of MY lifestyle. Unfortunately the facts are forcing the issue.
As long as corporations (and the people behind them) only care about profit, environmental sustainability and human freedom will always take second seat to minimizing costs and maximizing returns. Remember, extreme wealth only exists because 1) it was built on the backs of workers 2) we allow money=speech 3) we let it exist.
Now we are faced with a choice. Either drastically change our behavior, or face a future of extreme weather, rising sea levels and an increasingly uninhabitable world. This means learning moderation. Saying “no” to 60” televisions and fancy sports cars and million dollar mansions. Realizing that the community is just as important as the individual. Learning how to be content with $40k/yr, and changing the system so that $40k/yr can provide everything we need and a few things we want.
If we don’t change, it’s our children who will suffer. It’s my child who will suffer. Hell, a lot of people are going to suffer. Most of them poor, vulnerable and working so I can have a smart phone and designer clothes. I’m just another guilty man caught up in our economic machine. I’m trying to change; reducing what I consume and learning to live happily with less. But every small step I take towards economic justice is another small battle won against tyranny. I only hope people are walking with me.