Minimum wage

“History is written by the rich, and so the poor get blamed for everything” ― Jeffrey D. Sachs

Martin Luther King talked of ‘two Americas’. Two Americas divided by wealth and opportunity. And it isn’t only that the rich can buy more stuff than the poor. They can also buy better criminal justice and political results.

Rob a bank and you face a federal mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. Fix commodity prices and the minimum is one year. And that’s if you’re charged. Financial shenanigans caused a global financial meltdown and yet no executive of any financial institution was ever held criminally liable.

Contrast the likely outcomes of some poor white trash selling meth and a rich white radio host ‘doctor shopping’ for painkillers. Hint: Rush Limbaugh has done no time.

Imagine a poor black 17-year-old, already cited for the possession and consumption of alcohol by a minor, drinking and crashing a pickup truck. Imagine that the crash kills 4 and injures 9 – paralyzing some. Imagine further that he had a BAC 3 times the legal limit and was driving 30 MPH over the speed limit. Now imagine his sentence.

In Texas, a rich white boy did exactly that. And due to the infamous ‘affluenza’ defense avoided any jail time – receiving only ten years probation.

Conservatives bemoan a ‘mainstream media’ that thinks that profit is a dirty word and that wealth is evil. But few people are against profit and wealth. Why else would so many buy lottery tickets? People are against greed and stacked decks.

Conservatives salve their conscience with a belief in the “American Dream” – the idea that with pluck, luck and diligence poor boys and girls can climb money mountain and plant their flag at its peak. The dream does exist – only it’s in Europe. Americans are far more likely to die in the economic class to which they were born than Spaniards, Swedes or Scots.

The expense of education causes much of this social ossification. Most civilized countries provide free or heavily subsidized university learning. In the US college costs are north of $200,000. And conservatives cheered as the interest rate on student loans doubled. Elizabeth Warren proposed that youth should pay the same for money that big business does. The right sneered.

Conservatives complain that the wealthy pay most of the income tax. They do. They have all the money. The complaint also ignores that, for the poor, life is both relatively and absolutely more expensive. The cost of car registration is the same no matter the price of a car. A poor woman working and driving to three jobs pays the same the keep her car 20-year-old Tercel on the road as the trust-fund baby does for his brand new Bentley.

Even getting paid can be expensive for the poor. Unqualified for a checking account they pay check cashing fees. Some firms pay with reloadable debit cards – which carry fees for issuing money, low balances, replacement or inactivity.

Attempts to rein in this financial abuse of the poor – say in the form of a consumer protection agency – are fiercely resisted.

The upper economic classes bar the poor from their club. Seas of money in American politics keep economic conditions rosy for the rich. And endless war to defang regulation makes profit easy. The rewards flow to the capitalists. The taxpayer shoulders the risks.

Even this beneficial financial ecology is considered too harsh for the sensitive fat cat. Conservatives spring to shield the ‘job creators’ from even the lightest tax burden – so considerate are they of the working class.

Their treatment of the working stiff, however, belies this solicitousness. Leading GOP presidential candidate, Wisconsin Governor Scot Walker, is positively giddy when describing his triumphant take down of union labor. (Excepting the police and fire unions – reliable conservative voters.)

Even the humble minimum wage is garlic to the Republican vampire.

For all the Republican talk of the love of labor, their actions speak of a profound disdain for the poor. Any money that makes its way to the needy is considered blood funds. The right wing does not like this America.

It’s short sighted. Demand drives the economy. If the ‘other America’ has no money, they can’t buy things. And eventually the profits will go away.

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