On Dignity and Comparative Wealth

Repost from another part of the Topic For Discussion debate on Economic Undertow, this time trading ideas with Sandor.

Discuss this further inside the Diner


Sandor says:

I like the platform, however I doubt that more than 5% of Americans will. The culture rejects the notion of ‘limits’ and ‘you can’t do that’. Responsibility may be the root virtue, but our culture misinterprets this concept as ‘guilt’ or ‘lawsuit’ or ‘superiority’.  Most Americans eschew the idea of responsibility from the get-go. They want to be irresponsible, to consume 25% of the global energy supply, and face no consequences. Even the Occupy Wall Street crowd doesn’t get it. They seem to think that all deserve $20/hr because they are… American. Never mind the $2/day laborer in India.

There are several third parties in this country already. Why are they marginalized in a ‘free press’ culture? Inertia, herding instinct, the embedded value of money channeled through familiar channels. Most Americans are not idealists or philosophers. They want their goodies. Now they want their jobs back. But not at $5/hr. That’s ‘unfair’. The first step I’ve taken with other Americans is to suggest boycotting all Democrats and Republicans, period, no exceptions. If you do that, then you have to start *thinking* beyond throwing the light switch on or off. If you can get that far, then start talking about the dangerous and seductive lie of perpetual ‘growth’.

I actually think if you can write an entertaining screenplay for a risk-taking, savvy Hollywood producer starring teenagers or superheroes that introduces these concepts and follows the thoughts through, you will have a far greater effect on the political discourse of the future than trying to jumpstart a better Tea Party.

  • “Even the Occupy Wall Street crowd doesn’t get it. They seem to think that all deserve $20/hr because they are… American. Never mind the $2/day laborer in India.”-Sandor

    No, I think 99%/OWS/J6P feels he deserves $20/hr because Jamie Dimon takes home $20,000/hr.  If the economy is structured so you NEED $20/hr just to meet the bills, then yea J6P deserves that for his work.

    What does $20/hr buy you Sandor?  That translates to around $40K/year, of which you lose $10K right off the top in taxes.  Then pay your medical insurance, fuel bills yadda yadda and if you can make ends meet without going into debt you are doing pretty good.

    The economies of places like Egypt where people subsist on $2 a day are entirely different in structure.  If that is what J6P will be paid here, your RE valuations are going to have to drop [b]substantially[/b], more than an order of magnitude since they are already unaffordable at $20/hr.  Really, you couldn’t even FEED yourself here on $2/day, even buying the cheapest foods on the Walmart Shelves.

    Not saying that J6P would be happy living on a $2/day wage, but he might live with it if Lloyd Blankfein is not out there pulling down $20K/hr for sitting on his ass and losing taxpayer money.  Inequitable Wealth distribution is the driver behind the $20/hr “demand” of OWS/J6P.

    As long as there is enough wealth out there, EVERYBODY deserves a wage that will allow them to live with some dignity inside their economic system.  A system which allows a few to take great wealth at the expense of the many is not sustainable, and will not be sustained.  Count on it.


    • Sandor says:

      My point is that OWS is using the wrong metric. It doesn’t matter what Jamie Dimon makes. It doesn’t matter that there are billionaires. What matters is how many people are on the planet, how much energy needs to be converted to maintain the ‘dignity’ you speak of for all 7 billion people. The unemployed living off the govie dole in the USA have it better than billions of ‘hard-working’ people on the planet. If by dignity you mean a job that doesn’t involve indentured servitude, there are plenty of places in the world where one can apply physical labor for 8-12 hrs a day every day of the year and live a subsistence lifestyle with ‘dignity’.

      OWS doesn’t get it. Americans, for the most part, have elevated expectations of ‘dignity’. That’s all fine. Aim high, etc. It’s all about ‘fairness’ until you start talking about the $2/day Indian. Then the concept of ‘fairness’ goes right out the window. It’s shortsighted and hypocritical. If there are more people than an economy needs, the people need to move, or they will have to be fed the scraps. And paying people not to work breeds a dependent underclass of people who lose hope in themselves.

      I have no objections to a Swedish style system with far greater income equality. But even they have wealthy industrialists. Income redistribution in and of itself is not the answer. The values of the culture have to change. American workers don’t want income ‘equality’. Not really. If they did, they wouldn’t vote for the clowns who hand out tax breaks to corporations and millionaires. Most Americans have refused to engage the issue of overconsumption and energy waste. And even many who do continue to support the corporatocracy because they ‘have to work with the system to get anything done.’ Steve’s Responsibility Party wants to get people to say ‘the (binge) party’s over’ while the music still plays and the booze flows. Buzzkill. Chicken Little doesn’t score big points in the USA until the sky falls. Americans will probably have to hit bottom before a third party is welcome with open arms.

      • “My point is that OWS is using the wrong metric. It doesn’t matter what Jamie Dimon makes. It doesn’t matter that there are billionaires. What matters is how many people are on the planet, how much energy needs to be converted to maintain the ‘dignity’ you speak of for all 7 billion people.”-Sandor

        It DOES matter what Jamie Dimon makes.  1 person making $10M/yr is the equivalent of 1000 people making $10K/yr.  People who see that and the wasteful and consumptive lifestyles of the rich and famous don’t see why they should not have a piece of this pie also.  Your not going to encourage conservation when those at the top waste the most.

        Dignity is a relative thing in a society.  In a poor farming community in the 3rd world, you live a dignified life if you have a hovel to sleep in and can keep a decent part of the produce from the land you work.  You do not live a dignified life if its taxed from under you or you can’t sell the produce at a price which allows you to buy the other items a dignified life requires in that society, like clothes.  Some societies don’t even require clothes to live a dignified life, but they are few and far between these days of course.

        Inside the society created during the Age of Oil, a dignified life meant having a house powered by electricity with a refrigerator to preserve food and hot and cold running water and flush toilets.  I remember when I was a kid recently returned from Brasil when we didn’t have a car.  To get our groceries, my mom would walk 6 blocks pulling a shopping cart.  Relative to the norm around us, this was undignified.

        In my mother’s youth, she lived in a cold-water tenement on the lower East Side of New York, and her mother ran a rag shop to make ends meet during the Great Depression.  Relative to the Fat Cats on the Upper East side, they were living an undignified life.

        Cross culturally speaking, obviously we cannot all afford the energy required to live a dignified life by the standards of the Age of Oil, the problem would be working the society back toward a situation where living in cold water flats and pulling your groceries in a shopping cart is relatively dignified.  This is not going to be the case if right under your nose the Elite of your society a Globe Trotting in Gulfstream V Private Jets, so what the 1% STEALS here is very important.

        Before you can lower the expectations of the society as a whole, the leadership of that society needs to come back down to earth and land those Private Jets.  Until then, J6P will EXPECT a $20/hr wage to live a dignified life in this society.


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