Thoughts on Wage Standards, Employment, and Social Politics
There is a war being fought, perpetually. The people fighting this war are neighbors and family, friends and relatives, workers and colleagues. They share dinner tables, work, play, and socialize together. After they exchange socially acceptable pleasantries in neutral territory, they retreat to their respective camps to amp themselves up for battle.
This war is the political and social conflict of conflicting political and social ideals. It has a vast landscape of shifting battlefields, that run the gamut of every conceivable issue of interest.
Those who foray out into the front lines of the vast landscape of shifting battlefields, might be either brave or foolhardy. One issue that serves as a recurring driver of conflict are labor standards, and specifically, minimum wage.
For most people, this isn’t actually a life or death issue, and it doesn’t have to be the focus of social reform. The New Testament’s Jesus taught many powerful principles, one of which I find myself considering again and again. This was his response to the tax collectors and political authorities of his time: “Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s”.
Jesus was a real person, but it’s hard to tell what he was really like. I’ve heard that the New Testament was written at least partly by people who actually knew him, but many years after the events and stories it describes. If these stories happened at all, we can’t be sure how accurate they are. I suspect that one reason why we have “Alternative Facts” today, is because we actually have the tools and means to investigate third hand stories we hear, while historically most people had little choice but to live with nebulous details and accept the general consensus. But even with the ability to “Fact Check”, most of us look for evidence to affirm our beliefs, instead of evidence that challenges incorrect opinions.
Such biases are not entirely unjustified. We have limited resources, and it makes sense to focus our time and energy on things consistent with our current perception of “facts”. At the same time, I find it irresponsible to never consider an alternative perspective or never critically examine and audit the reasons behind your core beliefs.
When it comes to minimum wage, context is everything. A standard is something intended to be universal, but I find that most people claiming something is “universal” are limiting their thinking. In political discussions, people intentionally narrow their thinking when it serves their point.
Every time you say “All People” you should think about what that means in a biological sense. The history of Homo Sapien is obscured by the past, but this class of organisms emerged through violence, conflict, and competition. That is our legacy.
Most people see attempts to affirm universal commonalities of mankind as something noble. However, these attempts are often flawed. Mathematics could be described as the pursuit of universal truths, but nothing irritates a mathematician more than a hasty generalization.
What we should consider in evaluating policy, is its impact on individual lifestyles and group social relations. Minimum wage can certainly make otherwise acceptable minimal lifestyles impractical and impossible. This is the aspect of minimum wage I find very restrictive personally. I don’t need much money to live comfortably.. Income is a constraint, and lifestyle is the objective. Minimum wage limits my choice of lifestyles available. But it is really only one of the many political conditions I have to accept to survive, and many of these other political conditions are much worse than wage standards.
In a particular context, standards can be a powerful social tool for fighting domination and oppression. I said that our legacy as humans is one of violence, conflict, and competition, but it involves a great deal of cooperation as well. If our ancestors’ paradigm of living had been one of completely autonomous individuals fulfilling individual needs, they would have never survived.
People both supporting and opposing wage standards will often cite statistics supporting their position. On both sides, I find most of this discussion flawed, because it doesn’t recognize the adaptive nature of social survival.
The impact of wage standards on employment, may not be reflected in conventional statistics in a straightforward way, because people, as I have learned, must adapt to their political and social realities. If it becomes harder to find appropriate work, people will keep their jobs longer, or find a different role that is appropriate.
I am inclined to grumble about “productivity quotas”, and “pricing poor people out of buying labor”. With high wage standards, it forces us to serve those who have lots of money, instead of serving those who have pressing needs.
If I would summarize my views, I feel that wage standards have many positive effects, especially in certain contexts, and yet they can limit acceptable lifestyle options and make communities more uniform in a materialistic sense. Wage standards can increase consumption levels and reduce employment choices without necessarily reducing employment levels.
I feel strongly that people shouldn’t be forced into a minimal lifestyle out of deprivation, exclusion, or discrimination. Those who want to live with less material and less income should do so willfully, because they find the lifestyle appealing. This is why I support public job programs and contextualizing wage standards if at all possible. I recognize this may not be practical or appropriate, so in the mean time I will just have to adapt to the political conditions of labor and income that exist in our world, as I have been doing.