Apparently all those greedy poors who dispense saturated fat to the masses want to be paid a living wage. They seem to think that if their employers are making bajillions, then it's reasonable to do the math of fast-food-profits, divided by employees, divided by hours-worked, and come up with something more like fifteen dollars an hour.
Which is, of course, ridiculous.
If they'd wanted to make more money, those poors should have had the decency to be born into wealthier families that lived in better neighborhoods with better schools. Those poors should've had the self-respect to be raised in more well-adjusted, two-parent homes, where there was enough encouragement and opportunity to go around.
Instead, they foolishly chose the circumstances they're in, and to work for employers who fix the schedules so that nobody'll ever get overtime, nobody'll ever get enough hours to be considered full-time, and nobody'll ever qualify for any useful medical benefits. It's no wonder they end up owing their souls to the company store -- they deserve it.
Pause. Watch "Minimum Wage Music Video" to Shift out of Sarcasm Mode:
One thing I know about my own economic situation is that free will is important. I make financial choices, and those choices lead to results. If I spend money that I have on things I don't need, like cinnabons and other forms of slow-suicide, then I no longer have that money for things I do need, like my heating bill, or a computer and internet connection so I can work my way out of my crappy economic reality.
But I am also aware that the range of choices available to me has a lot to do with circumstances I cannot control. I have been handed a path-of-least-resistance, and the more I deviate from it, the more difficult it gets to move. I happen to be one of the relatively fortunate ones: white, American, educated, child of still-married parents, et cetera, so all I have to do is follow my path of least resistance and I'll probably be all right, economically speaking.
You want to know something kinda devil's-advocate-ish?
So will most of those fast-food employees -- even the ones who have to use food stamps to eat -- because the poors in this country are far better off than the poors in a lot of other countries, and most of the poors throughout history. The reasons for this are legion, but they include the fact that A. They happen to have been born a part of the world's most powerful economy, which means they do benefit from the way that economy treats the economies of other countries (as chattels), and B. Their ancestors in this country often fought hard against the path-of-least-resistance, so that our in-country economy would be a bit less unjust.
Sure, unions have had their excesses, and governments have overstepped reasonable bounds. But there was a time in this country (not so long ago) when the quality-of-life for the average citizen was roughly the same as the quality-of-life for an average citizen in many modern-day, "third-world" countries.
When I hear the cries for a higher, more reasonable minimum wage, I grow frustrated with the implicit assumption that we somehow deserve better, just because we're Americans. When President Obama goes off in his speeches about American exceptionalism, I do sometimes throw-up a little in my mouth. How could I not? I was raised in a country where hungry kids watched me through the restaurant windows as I ate, and begged me for my table-scraps when I had finished. I was raised in a country where the kids I played soccer against on Saturday rooted through my garbage pile on Thursday, looking for something they could use, sell, or maybe even eat.
But that doesn't mean I believe that one economic injustice deserves another.
The current Pope says that "Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape." He's right, and that marginalization and exclusion is just as bad when it happens in South Carolina as when it happens in South America, where I grew up.
So I'll side with those working to rectify economic injustice in my birth state, even as I advocate for a global re-calibration that most of my fellow Americans -- poors and richies alike -- would probably find repugnant (because it would cost them something).
I'll do this not because I have a lot of faith that the selfish, fear-driven, prideful path-of-least-resistance we're all riding can be repaved to the benefit of everyone, but because without the hope that it's at least possible, I don't know how to keep a smile on my face.
As limited as free will is, it is there, and it is one of the most beautiful things about our race.
We can hope.
We can imagine.
We can aspire to be more than we are, and then work to make it so.
My role in this, I think, is to be a storyteller.
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