Capitalism? I don’t think so

March 9, 2014


By T.W. Burger

One of the interesting features about getting to what used to be considered “retirement age” is that you realize that you have seen an awful lot of this stuff before.

Take the current furor over raising the minimum wage to something over $10 per hour.

“It will destroy the economy!” scream critics of the idea, mostly well-to-do white people. “We’ll have to lay off workers,” they moan.

Excuse me. Couldn’t you guys (and it is mostly guys) at least come up with some original gripes?

I am about to turn 65. When I entered the work force, the minimum wage was $1.40, or $56 per week. It had just been raised from $1.25. Guess what the opponents said.

This is why I giggle when the well-to-do and fatheads like Limbaugh say that the poor would be better off if they would just manage their money. As in, “I wonder how I can fit this grand piano into this inflatable lifeboat I’m clinging to.”

The “manage their money” stuff comes to us from people who are standing on top of an ever-growing mountain of money.

My pay covered my rent, which was $50 a week, and my car payment, which was the same. After groceries and utilities, there wasn’t a lot left to “manage.”

Something is clearly amiss.

A young man, a freshman at Boston College who plans to major in economics, told me recently that in just about any economic system, most of the money and power ends up in the hands of the one percent anyway.

I’ll give him that point. In all those other systems, though, we usually call that one percent the bad guys, or words that mean pretty much the same thing.

So, how is it that our American one percent is anything other than the bad guys?

Yes, I’m being overly general. There are members of the one-percent who are good people who try to give back to the people who made them rich. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and a few others come to mind. I don’t think they are in the majority. Think of the Koch brothers and their ilk, and their efforts against organized labor.

Before my conservative readers jump on the “unions ruined everything” bandstand, even Samuel Joseph Wurzelbach, aka “Joe the Plumber has said he had no problem with unions….the problems arose from corrupt and greedy leaders.

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s, My parents’ generation worked in factories, offices, and taught school, and most of them belonged to unions. The town where I was born boomed. Almost nobody in my family drove a car that was more than two or three years old. Everybody had a nice house.

Fast-forward. The big wheels at the local steel mill refused to update their aging equipment and siphoned of really big helpings of the income. The Japanese, with new factories and equipment, made steel more efficiently, and the industry here in the U.S. started to die. Finally, the local steel company was raped and murdered by a corporate raider who very nearly managed to make off with the former workers’ pensions as well. I think similar stories have been written all over the country.

The minimum wage has been raised several times since the late 1960s. Between 1978 and 2009 it increased eleven times, to $7.25. Guess what the opponents said.

Under the system that “floated all boats,” many of the smaller boats started to founder. In time, the storms worsened and increasing numbers of ever larger boats took on water and sank.

Yeah, there were rich people and poor people when I was a kid, but most of us swam happily in the middle, and the rich people were only 40 or 50 times wealthier than the folks in the middle class. Now, their wealth is measured at hundreds of times greater.

As I said…I’m no economist. If I had the solution, I would be both rich and famous. In any case, what I posit is this: Any economy in which all the wealth flows in one direction is stagnant, dysfunctional, and evil. I don’t know what to call what we have now. Most keep calling it capitalism because that title still has a cozy ring to it. But what we have is not that. What we have is broken[jam21] .

Back to minimum wage: The argument that a wage increase will kill jobs doesn’t hold water, not in the long run. Remember, Henry Ford famously paid his own factory workers more than most people made in similar jobs. He realized that if workers didn’t have any money, they couldn’t buy cars, and selling cars was sort of the whole idea.

I think that people having money to live decent lives and be able to better themselves was the whole idea overall. Has that changed?


© 2014 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

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 [jam21]I’d like to see a little discussion of why the “job-killing” argument hasn’t held water. Something along the lines of how many people were laid off the last time minimum wage was increased.


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