Saturday, February 8, 2014

Who needs a break?

So we have two very interesting articles in the papers today. Colin Espiner at Fairfax thinks our minimum wage should be $16 and Damien Grant at NZ Herald we should cut tax cheats some slack because they contribute to society. This divide created between the job creators and the job doers suggests that one is more superior to the others. When Elizabeth Warren in her famous quote said that the so-called job creators didn’t just do it on their own, she was telling the truth that those at the top and their advocates do not want to hear. From the day labourer to the PHD, everyone contributes to society. It’s off the backs of their hard work, their education, their brain, their hands, their words that we as society get to develop, we get to progress, we invent new things, we mass produce those inventions, we come up with new ideas, we get interesting novels, movies, tv shows and songs. Sure the marketplace has decided that laptops are more valuable than chocolate cake and maybe they are, but the marketplace has failed spectacularly when it comes to compensating for ‘hard work’ fairly. Maybe the 85 people who have the wealth of half the world’s population really work as hard as half the world’s population and had exactly the same opportunities as half the world’s population but somehow I really doubt it.

Last night I started reading Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness” where she suggests that society sees industrialists who make a fortune and bank robbers as equally immoral because they both seek wealth for “their own selfish benefit”. This is factually incorrect. We put bank robbers in jail and we give tax cuts to industrialists. The minimum wages is not designed to vilify business owners, it is designed to make sure that the power imbalance created by using wealth as the yardstick does not lead to exploitation of the wealth-vulnerable. When I graduated from University and made the choice to work in the public sector I had to take whatever that was offered to me. Otherwise I would be destitute and on the benefit. In fact, if I turned down a job because the pay wasn’t good enough in my opinion, I would be kicked off the benefit. But when it came to getting the Chief Executive for the Ministry of Education, we had to pay top dollar to someone from the UK to mess up their job on epic proportions and still get an amazing severance pay. This is something that would never happen to a lowly analyst working the same hours. Sure the responsibilities maybe ‘less’ but they actually do the grunt work that makes the CEs look good but when they get fired, they get nothing.

In our society, we have minimum wages but we do not have maximum wages. Profit margins are morally more important than paying someone a decent wage to feed their kids. Some of us are against raising the minimum wage because our muffins will go up by 10 cents (Remember the 2011 election?). We also live in a society where workers' breaks are actually being curbed away. You know who needs a break? Someone who is on their feet 12 hours a day not tax cheats. I personally do think that the state has a responsibility in protecting its citizens – not from just terrorists attacks and health scares and natural disasters but from poverty as well. But I do not believe that the state should be subsidizing employers to do so. A representative democracy represents its citizens not corporations. I do think business owners should construct their business plans according to market factors and one of those factors should be wages. If they cannot afford to pay their workers, they should re-think their business model. If they can afford to pay their workers they should re-think their profit margins. And maybe I have those beliefs precisely because I am selfish. I don’t want to live in a society where there is widespread poverty. I don’t want kids growing up in poverty that increases their chances of being part of the justice system. I do believe that most people who are on the benefit are there because of circumstances beyond their control. And please don’t lecture me about the one person who has been on the DPB for 20 years because that doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme. How astounding to say that beneficiary cheats contribute nothing to start with – assuming that everyone on the benefit is always on the benefit and always was!

The GFC was brought on by people at the top who made very deliberate bad decisions to game the system for their gain. It was not brought on by people on the minimum wage. Yet they are feeling the brunt of it. I don’t remember people in the lowest rungs losing their jobs getting government bailouts. No, what they got was austerity measures, benefit cuts, and services cuts. I remember CEOs going to spas and playing golf on their government bailout money – taxpayer subsidized party for causing one of the largest financial crises of our generation. The lost generation of people who tried to enter the work force between 2007 and now will pay the cost of this failure for the rest of their lives.

So no, I don’t think tax cheats should get a break. If you believe you deserve a greater pay for greater responsibilities, you have to take that responsibility when you mess up. 

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