A rebuttal of Stefanie Williams: America can do better than capitalism
Eric Gross
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I can’t tell you how happy I am to be reading things like this from an ostensibly left-wing perspective. You’ve done an excellent job of outlining where the problem is, though I disagree in part with your solutions.

However, as soon as you stopped harping on some pretty standard left-wing stuff, and started talking about market-based solutions to the natural inequality of corporatist policies enacted nationwide, I got truly excited. It’s great to hear ideas that offer a more equitable distribution of the good stuff without having to call the jack-booted thugs to make sure everybody plays nice.

It makes much more sense to find a system in which rising tides really do carry all ships. I’m not mad that the rich have so much money — they could have fifty times as much, and I’d still be fine. Just as long as there’s enough for everybody. And your essay makes it sound like you agree with me.

BUT!

In the case of Talia Jane, the story is rather different. I’m guessing that when reading her letter, it fit a narrative you’d already embraced regarding her so-called plight (and that of many others like her).

Since you seem rational (mostly, at least!), I think you might find this next paragraph enlightening.

I am a Millennial, too — in fact, Talia’s situation sounds eerily like mine. I’m 26, and years ago left pursuing an English degree because “I already know how to write.” I worked as a freelancer, put in some serious hours behind a register, moved to Los Angeles with a girl, moved back East (because the rent was too high, no less). I got stuck in my parents’ basement for a long time. And the place where I work? Oh, just a groovy little tech startup that, when I started work, paid me… exactly $12 an hour. Well, plus commission. I sat at a desk talking on the phone all day, and getting up every couple hours for a round of Ping-Pong in the breakroom (sounds familiar, right?).

But I didn’t write any open letters to the CEO. I would never embarrass him like that. It’s called ‘airing your dirty laundry in public’ and it’s a classless move coming from anybody. I can’t imagine the kind of gasket he would blow if he was getting phone calls from customers about some open letter published online regarding his management style and the company pay scale. It’s bad for business, and what’s bad for the business is bad for me. If it didn’t work that way, I’d have to spend some extra time in the mirror asking myself what I was doing at that company.

I know that’s true, because I’ve done it. Most of the time, the jobs making me to ask hard questions of my reflected mug were low-wage, blue-collar stuff. Waiting tables. Making coffee. Washing dishes. Average pay rate, in “No. 1 for Business” Georgia? $8.25 an hour — and there are people out there making less than that.

And all of it was hard. I left work on a daily basis with blisters on my feet, a soreness in my back, in a bad mood because the 12-top of hillbillies fresh from that Saturday’s NASCAR at the local track sent their milkshakes back 4 times then didn’t leave a tip. But it never occurred me to that any of this was anyone’s *fault.* That there was something inherently wrong in a system where, at the very bottom, the hours are long and the job is difficult and unpleasant.

It’s weird, though — if you just keep your head down, pay your dues, and make the most of the situation at hand, you can most certainly unilaterally improve your lot in life. I don’t mean “you can do whatever you dream!” either. If I could have what I most wanted in the world, I’d conquer a couple hundred miles of national forest with my private army of ultraloyal fanatics and spend most of my day making artistic changes to our official national T-shirt. But come on — it’s not like the Social Justice Warriors of Harvard are convening any task-forces to make sure my needs are met.

So no, I don’t have much sympathy for a girl who dropped out, moved to one of the most expensive cities in the world, took a low-wage job, and paid for the whole thing with somebody else’s money (a credit card). She put herself in the situation she’s in, not anybody else. No evil billionaires forced her to do any of those things. The role of society is not to make up for one person’s poor ability to make decisions.

If she can’t afford to move to San Francisco and work at Yelp, the unfortunate truth is that she’s probably just going to have to stay wherever she is and take whatever she can get. And yes, it might be a little more than *a single year* before you get your dream life*. Nobody owes you anything. You’re not ‘entitled’ to anything, Social Security notwithstanding. That, to me, has always been the thing about the American ethos that made us awesome. You take the pieces you’re given, and construct the best artifice you can to your own abilities. The system shouldn’t work against you, but if a medium-sized wind blows you down, it’s nobody’s fault but your own. And that’s not sniveling. Where I come from, we call it tough love.

So you’re on the right track when you talk about a society’s responsibility to ensure that wealth is equitably (or, more accurately, *fairly*) distributed. You’re also right that it’s unfair and unhealthy for the nation when a select few in society can reap far more than their share of the spoils while paying far fewer of the costs. And you’re right that the best solutions to these problems are probably social and economic, not legal or political. But if it’s wrong to coddle billionaires for their stupid mistakes (bailouts), it’s also bad to coddle twentysomethings for theirs (entitlement).

But perhaps the best thing we can do to ensure that people like Talia get a fair shake is to spend less time worrying about microaggressions and Donald Trump’s wee-wee and more time educating high school and college kids on the things that really will improve the quality of their lives. Why are kids spending time learning how to recognize the six major families of German dipthongs — or whatever? They should be learning how credit cards work and why an apartment that costs 80% of your paycheck is A HORRIBLE IDEA.

*I almost lost it when I read that she was mad that she’d have to work in her current job for a year before she could move over to the media department. If a year is as long as you’re willing to hold out for the job you really want, I have an application for a job at CVS you may want to fill out — because that’s where such thinking leads.

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