$15 per hour: How’s that going to work for you, Seattle?
Marchers have their say on a Seattle issue. Credit: John Stang
Maybe our society needs a refresher course on just what supply and demand means in order to fully understand what has created both the May Day demonstrations and the push for a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle.
It has been well understood that if demand outpaces supply, costs rise.
But that understanding seems to have faded. In today’s world dominated by political and economic thinking that believes unlimited growth is possible — even as demand inexorably continues outpacing the supply of all resources — that economic truism has faded from consciousness. To pursue this growth is the basis of our economic policy. Those with money and political power push for whatever fuels demand-enhancing rapid population growth, while ignoring the fact that the demand is created amid an ever-diminishing supply.
So we print more and more money inflating the value of the top few percentages, and that makes the unrest among the increasing numbers on the margins understandable. And this is exacerbated politically as the more malleable middle class continues diminishing.
This increase in demand has made a mockery even of the use of the word inflation. It is probably why we put out “official” statistics on inflation that essentially ignore most of what people spend money on, from food and energy to living quarters, and we constantly ignore the meaning of compounding.
The compounding of the rate of growth means that what appears to be a small percentage gain, say 2 percent, actually produces a doubling of growth that will occur in about a third of a lifetime. One becomes two, and 150 million becomes 300 million in 36 years. Thus a small sounding percentage gain sounds like minimal growth when it actually is producing rapid growth.
Rapid growth profits those who have at least some form of ownership over extensive resources, whether money, land or industrial capability, and the political and economic system makes sure their interests have a constant priority.
The push for more of everything, and the thinking that abundantly available people provides what is needed, permeates every level of society today. Consequently there is a push for whatever policy maximizes access to more and more people. Because this population creates ever-more economic demand while at the same time providing profit-enhancing cheap labor, it develops special traction. All these economic and political forces are now mobilizing behind the banner of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a kind of Obama “reform” that is a regurgitated George W. Bush reform. It would change our past inundation of illegal immigrants to a policy of legalizing the status of millions of those immigrants every year while also significantly increasing legal immigration.
This results in population growth at an “explosive” rate, and that causes essential resources to be consumed ever more rapidly. To understand how absurd our policy is, consider two things: The explosive population-growth rate provides the biggest contributor to our poverty rate while at the same time it rapidly increases ecological degradation. And ecological health is the most essential factor necessary for an expanding population.
What does this have to do with a $15 minimum wage?
First, in order to societally finance the accumulation of debt that results from maximizing this demand, we ignore the relationship of money to value. How much we can “borrow” is now determined by how much “value” we can declare already exists — by printing more money, we give that value an appearance of being. As a consequence, a 1 percenter millionaire from the 1940s now has to be a billionaire to be a 1 percenter. And those 1 percenters now allocate to themselves whatever they wish, and this especially involves ignoring limits.
Second, the knowledge of this has slowly sunk into the 90-plus percent who find themselves slipping downward in value. Believing they have a voice in an assumed democracy, they now use whatever is at their disposal to get at least some room in the trough. Thus, previous promises of democracy — that a society is of, by, and for the people — justifies making and demanding more.
Given that everything in the society is driven by a mandate of seeking more, and given an assumption of being in a democratic society, why not demonstrate?
In the Seattle area, which provides many lucrative rewards for maximizing both legal and illegal immigration, two of those who are leaders of the entitlement charge are immigrants. Kshama Sawant and Pramila Jayapal, both immigrants from India, have acquired the power to make the demands for higher wages possible if not probable. Jayapal gained public policy credibility because the corporations and chambers of commerce poured money into her efforts to legalize illegal immigration. As a City Council candidate, Sawant took advantage of the power available to someone who can dominate the media's shallow attention. Plus, she was helped politically by the obvious fact that ever-more people are affected by rapidly growing poverty due to the ever-greater demand for less and less of what is available.
Sawant and Jayapal ignore the impact of $15 an hour on illegal workers who are brought here primarily because they are profit-enhancing cheap labor. They also ignore the fact that, with the higher minimum wage, some businesses like restaurants may be inclined to hire people who can provide more effective help because they can speak English and have more educational credentials.
And, believe it or not, this occurs while Obama pushes on the national level for a business-driven immigration “reform” that legalizes illegal immigration, which drives down wages — while at the same time pushing for a higher minimum wage of $10.10 per hour.
The push for unlimited economic growth is unsustainable, because the increasing weight of population growth impacts all aspects of human life. This is now creating unrest among the masses on all continents. Drinking water is diminishing, and all the oceans' habitats are being polluted, and the arctic ice is being darkened by the pollution, adding to the ice's absorption of heat. And agricultural land is rapidly being eaten up by growth-mandated projects. Whatever allegiances — ethnic, religious, language — that people have are becoming magnets for shared power and coping.
Somehow this escapes being put into perspective
Because we don't look at the bigger picture, we continue to turn to amelioration tendencies like printing money to maintain the appearance of value. And policies like providing $15 an hour to people with few skills and little education are now popping up everywhere. Our whole society is left to struggle to adjust to rapid economic change.
Check out Crosscut’s City Beat page for all the news and commentary about Seattle.