End of the line.

So, a lot of you have been here or passed by over the years to indulge and humor me on topics mostly revolving around my own experience. I’ve used this blog as a refuge when a catharsis can’t find a place because i couldn’t really face down a lot of what i’ve been going through over the years. I’m proud of it, for what that’s worth. I’m proud of myself and i can’t tell you how much i appreciate the encouragement, appreciation, and help i’ve received over the course of this little corner of the internet i use as an extreme form of therapy but i have to be honest with myself. This isn’t necessary anymore. I’m shutting it down in lieu of something better for me and kinder to readers. I’ll have something up in the next few days or linked to the facebook page.

I’m a writer, not a basket case. It’s about damn time i started writing instead of just thinking out loud and praying that’s enough to quiet my mind. In future i’m going to be writing shorts and sharing passages and ideas that have been floating around in my head for years now. I can’t keep focusing on what’s broken anymore, i want to create something. Thank you all for being here for me and waiting patiently while i figured myself out. It’s been a hell of a ride getting here with you.

Matt’s big-ass poverty wage post.

As of late there has been keen attention paid to the issues of labor and wages in my circles of online travel. This is a topic of interest of mine and something i’ve taken a great deal of time looking in to over the years. It’s a baited topic i can’t really stay away from for my own reasons, but that’s not the point of this post. This post’s intent is to organize my thoughts on the subject, present the information which forms my opinion on the matter, and basically consolidate my time and effort whenever i feel myself inclined to take the bait.

We’re going to talk about some common tropes among those who defend the current status quo. We’re going to talk about history. We’re going to talk about self-worth. My goal is to create and continue a dialogue on this matter. I’m not going to lie, your eyes are probably going to glaze over more than once if you make it to the end of this. Hopefully you come away from it with more than a headache. Credit where it’s due: Full disclosure someone recommended i do this in passing the other day during a conversation, so i took the advice. – To make a case for the minimum wage as a living wage one must first understand it’s history and intent.

The history lesson:

Once upon a time (1912) in the tiny little state of Massachusetts a commission was organized to recommend non-compulsory wages for female and child workers. Apparently this idea caught on, within 8 years 13 states as well as the District of Columbia had adopted laws of the same type. It’s important to keep in mind these movements and laws didn’t spring forth out of altruism, there’s a storied history of strikes and riots which destabilized regions of the country from The Great Strike of 1877 to the Pullman Strike/Riots in 1894. Just as an aside i live in a part of the country where people wear the term “redneck” with pride out of some misplaced sense of accomplishment about being a biggot. Imagine how aghast some of these folks would be to find out that the term they so love actually owes it’s genesis to the coal labor strike movements in the Appalachias.

These early dust ups were mainly contained within the coal and rail industries but manufacturing bases were not untouched and the general outcome tends to set a rule that businesses will be as draconian as allowed until such time as the laborer completely flips out and forces the federal government to step in and set rules so everyone plays nice. At least that’s how i see it, unions did and should serve this same function ideally. Although, it’s my understanding that this isn’t something you should hope to set your watch by. Anyway, at the time the Supreme Court consistently invalidated these state laws when challenged because the prevailing thought at the time was that it interfered with a contractor’s/employer’s right to negotiate wage contracts with employees. Now, you have to keep in mind this is 1912-1925ish, right? History books, documentaries, and sweet misty eyed grandmothers will tell you you could still trade a chicken for just about anything you needed save a good shot of gin for a rough couple of years. Keep that in mind once we fast forward to your life.

The first attempt to establish a federal minimum wage came in 1933 during the height of the great depression and with one world war only a decade or so in recent memory (A 4 year long war, mind you). Up until now you can pretty much read anything i’ve told you off wiki. What you can’t read there is that at the time it’s estimated by The Bureau of Labor Statistics that 12,830,000 persons were out of work in 1933, about one-fourth of a civilian labor force of over fifty-one million. March of that year being a record breaker, with about fifteen and a half million unemployed. (Source: http://www.dol.gov/dol/aboutdol/history/chapter5.htm). We peaked at around 20%. Not exactly a great time for the economy regardless of what wrung of the ladder you found yourself at. The dollar was deflated (even though a dollar in 1933 would net you 18 and change today) people were standing in soup lines and generally pissed off. So here comes FDR with his New Deal (entitlements!) which included The National Industrial Recovery Act – which basically expanded executive power to include regulation of business in order to raise prices, the ultimate goal of which would be to fight deflation and stimulate economic recovery.

As part of The NIRA the National Recovery Administration (NRA) was formed with the goal of eliminating cut-throat competition by bringing everyone involved to the table and negotiating fair practices and set prices. The framework of the NIRA provided a framework for codes of fair competition within an industry as well as minimum pricing for goods sold. You may ask yourself who decides what constitutes fair. Near as i can figure the intent was for everyone who came to the table to come out a winner as opposed to racing for the bottom which was exactly what had the economy in free-fall at the time. This was widely embraced for about a year until business opinions soured, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, and it got mothballed never to be replaced. Fancy that chronology.

Ok, so we’re getting FDR and his New Deal. He wins. The public signs on to this solution. Everybody knows about The New Deal, right? Yeah, well i’m gonna tell you about it anyway. So the economy’s all screwed up, nobody’s working, the money might as well have the monopoly guy on it, the government stood by and watched while idly circle-jerking in the corner, and here comes this guy preaching “Relief, Recovery, and Reform.” Now just take a deep breath and say those three words real quick. That’s right. Relief. Recovery. Reform. Don’t you want some of that in your life right about now? Of course you do, turns out people during the depression did too. So they voted this guy in and he got a shot at un-fucking a running nightmare in progress (sound familiar?).

FDR’s kind of a hardass, he campaigns for the wage portion of the new deal by stating quite flatly:

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”, “By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.”, and “Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day, who has been turning his employees over to the Government relief rolls in order to preserve his company’s undistributed reserves, tell you – using his stockholders’ money to pay the postage for his personal opinions — tell you that a wage of $11.00 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”

Honestly, i don’t think anyone’s been as harsh on the top income earners in this country since then with the possible exception of Matt Taibbi (who should totally run for president.) So the minimum wage gets established, right? Wrong! Well, sort of. It does but then some jackass chicken company decides to take their case to the Supreme Court and that goes out the window with the NRA circa 1935. Do you see a pattern here, yet? Any Deja Vu? There was a clear vote for recovery and no question on public opinion as to the policy to pursue, but a year in this thing is getting gutted.

Not to worry, though, in 1938 we adopted the Fair Labor Standards Act which re-established the minimum and upheld it under the constitutionally protected commerce clause when challenged. It’s worth noting, however, that although 3 years had passed there was no increase from the original .25¢/hr ($4.54 in 2015 dollars). Well damn it, now i have to go into the FLSA, don’t i? You can thank the FLSA for your 40 hour work week, your time and a half, and the fact that your child isn’t expected to work in a textile mill before they can count to 10. This was actually a proposal from 1932 that sat around for 6 years because people weren’t comfortable with the original draft which limited the normal work week to 30 hours. FDR praised this as the most significant piece of legislation since the Social Security Act of 1935 which took a roughly 50% poverty rate among elderly citizens and reduced it to just under 9%. Let’s not forget that poverty in 1935 pretty much meant standing in line for soup or bread before dying in the street if you weren’t in a poorhouse when the reaper found you. Don’t know what a poorhouse or a soup-line is? Thank FDR and company and yell at your local high school history teacher.

So there’s some history for you as it relates both to how we got a minimum wage and to a lesser extent why it was so important to people at the time. Minimum wage increased in 1939 by .05¢ to .30¢, then again in 1945 to .40¢, and once more in 1950 – and this is the super-important one considering recent protests – because in 1950 Harry Truman increased it to a total of .75¢, almost doubling the previous wage. Why is that so important? Adjusted for inflation it’s worth noting that in 1950s dollars the protestors currently are asking for a .75¢ raise, which is just slightly over double that of the current $7.25.  It’s interesting to note that in the intervening 15 years between a .25¢ minimum wage and a .75 minimum wage productivity actually dropped roughly 4% (Source: Market Services and Productivity Race 1850-2000 – Cambridge studies in economic history). Comparatively since 2000 workers have tripled productivity during a massive recession (during wartime!) with no appreciable pay increases – worse, it’s not just over that 15 year period, wages have actually been stagnant across the boards for half a century and productivity is way up (unless you’re a CEO), we’ll get to those charts later. I’m going to break here for a minute to talk about entitlements as a concept.

As noted above this all happened – this orgy of domestic spending and budding “entitlement” programs – during what is arguably the shittiest time for the American economy ever. Well at least until recently, on paper. We didn’t quite feel the pinch as hard as they did but that’s modern living for you. Half of this country’s grand and great-grand people who had just spent half a decade fueling the war effort were shit out of luck. If you were fortunate your family took care of you, if not you died in the poorhouse. That should give one pause for thought. The poorhouse isn’t a metaphor for your trailer or crappy apartment. It’s a real place they used to store poor people. That’s where we were;  Kids in factories and grandma dying by the roadside for lack of catfood while paw stood in the work line or soup line doing whatever they could to get by. As if all this crap wasn’t bad enough the first droughts which would usher in the Dust Bowl were kicking up ready to cripple the country and set the stage for another reformer to step up and handle it.

Anyway – the point is people voted for this. They voted for the people who proposed, fought for, and in some cases died for these ideas from the random joe to the union leader to the politician of the day. Those people won. We got what they wanted, what we’ve done with it since is quite frankly by my estimation nothing short of obscene. Further, how we treat those who rely on those very programs and institutions, including the minimum wage, is nothing short of shameful. Americans saw a problem and they saw how to fix it, they didn’t spend 7 years bitching back and forth about who deserved what and they certainly didn’t wait 40 years or better to make it right after the writing was on the wall that shit wasn’t working. In short, unless you lived it you really don’t get to bitch and moan at those of us who read up on it and paying lip-service to the very real struggles of both then and now only serves to insult your heritage as well as compromise your future. Have some respect, if not for yourself than for those who wanted better for you and attempted to cement that will through democracy. I mentioned this earlier to a friend; it seems to me like dangerous idiocy to assume that once you’re a generation or two removed from polio, soup-lines, and child labor suddenly we don’t need vaccines, welfare, or access to education. Now let’s break into the charts, shall we?

The Data

This is all pretty simple stuff to understand, but out of spite i’m going to throw in some mixed metaphors, draw some possibly sketchy conclusions, and load you down with graphs, links and pictures of where we’re at right now and exactly why this is a bone i can’t help but gnaw on. I’m actually using a piece from Business Insider (http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10#) for the bulk of this because it’s got all the charts in one neat little place for me to latch on to.

Spoiler alert: If you’re going to ask me if the data gets better in the couple years not graphed, it really doesn’t. Surprise!

Here we see the unemployment rate. It’s been really high for a long time. In fact it was the highest numbers we’ve seen since that mess i described above outside of a blip in the early 80s which will get blamed on Reagan, Carter, or Obama depending on who you ask.

Below we see participation numbers – AKA the people they stop counting after 6 months because most of them have abandoned all hope and or slipped into the ether of sleeping on a bench. Is that because they’re lazy? No, well ok maybe some of them are but the simple fact of the matter is there weren’t jobs to be had. I can speak locally to watching no less than a dozen businesses close shop never to be seen again around my area. Moreover, we’ve got tons of college grads out there now with no market to pay back that degree on.

Lots of them took their time holding out for that career only college could get you that everyone kept yelling at them to get when they were flipping burgers. Tons of them defaulted. Those who weren’t students took their pink slips and held on for dear life while prospects dwindled, foreclosure notices came, and they waited for unemployment to run out while nobody showed interest in their resumes, changed pay/hour scales to avoid overhead thereby reducing pay, increased workloads on current employees, and generally did the smarmiest things possible to keep shareholders happy while everyone else’s assets went to pot.

It wasn’t just students, sales, or construction that took the hit either. Everyone who suddenly found themselves behind the 8-ball wound up sticking around for the view for a really long time. Well, the view and impending crushing poverty.. That 9% unemployment rate equates to roughly 14 million americans out of work, by the way. Remember the height of the great depression topped out at 15 and people were lining up for soup and dying in poor houses… who needs those safety net entitlements, really? I mean the nerve…

It’s worth mentioning the definition of “unemployed” is fairly strict. The numbers above don’t take in to account part-time seeking full-time employees and those not looking anymore, as mentioned. The real numbers were closer to 17%. Roughly 1:5 Americans. I don’t recall this dip in economic performance being the fault of those same workers who tripled productivity in the past 15 years, but they sure bore the brunt of it. Last i heard those responsible got a bonus for their part.

This was, in fact, the lowest percentage of Americans with jobs since the dip in the early 80s. The bump in numbers previous to this was when women entered the workforce circa 1970. Coincidentally this is when everything also began to fall apart thanks in large part to the two-income earner household model- more on that later. So that’s a bleak picture, right? You don’t need me to tell you that, you lived it. How about that part you didn’t? Corporate profits are through the roof:

So through the roof, in fact they’ve out-performed profits from 1950 (the “golden age of the middle class”) and greatly outperformed the margins from the entire intervening half century.

Since 1990 alone , in fact, corporate profits have doubled while worker pay has only increased 4%. The minimum wage, adjusted for inflation over this time, has actually dropped.  In the meantime cost of living has increased thanks largely to the housing bubble.

Average hourly earnings have gone absolutely nowhere for 50 years adjusting for inflation alone. That’s not counting all that productivity workers have been providing which has enabled record breaking corporate profits for years now even though their labor base is increasingly incapable of affording the very goods they produce.

The short version is those at the top made out like bandits trading paper while everything went to hell. As a percentage of GDP wages now play a less significant part now than in any point in our history.

Now let’s really rub salt in that wound and bring it back to the history lesson some: Like i said, chances are you didn’t live this side of it. The top 1% of wage earners in the country now account for more of the pre-tax income of the entire country than they did before the great depression, which is exactly what set the damn depression off in the first place.

So there’s a big-ass wage gap, so what? We’re still the best country in the world for making money and having opportunities, right? Ok well, sure in the flag waving simplistic sense yeah – you got me. The hard numbers on that don’t back it up in the slightest, but ok. If it makes you feel good. (these are per household/family numbers, not individual incomes. Spoiler alert: the individual income disparity numbers don’t come out with us as #1 either.. not by a long shot.) We’re 93! We’re 93! Behind China, India, Iran, and Russia. Ouch.

“So what?” You say. If you work hard you can still rise above it. Well, no, actually. You can’t. Social/upward mobility is… well… dead. This is kind of one of those cornerstones of capitalism along with what’s called “creative destruction”, if those aren’t present your capitalism is broken. You need a new one. If creative destruction sounds like some bullshit i just made up ask google about it. Think tapes replacing 8 tracks, cds replacing tapes, and bluray replacing… well never you mind about bluray. Remember the NRA people from the New Deal? Their job was essentially to keep these things working at all costs because left to their own devices businesses were racing to the bottom to out-profit each other at the cost of national stability and public safety. A practice many businesses and states are still quite thoroughly engaged in. So to recap: Shit wages, shit prospects, no way out. Huge profit. Awesome.

There’s a couple of charts here talking about who owns what and how much and that’s all well and good but as it relates to the conversation it just reads like material envy so we’ll skip those – this should chill your blood though. So those guys got all the money, right? They should have a larger portion of debt, wouldn’t you think? Yeah well you’d be wrong. They hold 5% of the debt, regardless of the fact that millionaires walked away from mortgages at a higher rate than any other income bracket during the housing bubble collapse and that’s what this all gets blamed on. The bottom 90% income earners hold 2/3rds of the debt in the country – And average income people wonder why they can’t get a loan or mortgage approval, am i right?

But what about the tax situation? Surely this increased wealth means there’s increased tax expense, right? Nope. Not at all. All but the lowest top rate on record. By the way, look at that big ass top end bracket from 1932 until about 1970 when things begin to go to hell with wages, profits, and the stock market on a regular basis. Again i need to point out that intervening time frame is referred to as “The Golden Age of the Middle Class.” I mean for the love of all things holy Reagan, Clinton, and Bush all ran higher top ends and raised taxes on everyone else throughout their terms. Taxes overall are actually really low by historical comparison, but if you’re in that top bracket life’s never been better. Chances are you’re paying less as a percentage of income than the guy who only pays sales tax and has no other liability because he doesn’t make enough in wages to pay in.

To illustrate that point among those who do have a liability the spread is only 15% which can vanish in the stroke of an accountant’s pen or a few well placed investments. Besides, you probably don’t care at this bracket anyway because only the first 100k of your annual income has that 30% applied.

But they pay most of the taxes! Yeah, because they got all the damn money.

The rest of the charts from the source page regard the banks blowing up which i really don’t think we need to cover totally but the short and sweet of it is during all this crap the banks closed shop with regards to the average American citizen. The credit crunch compounded by the reduced value of collateral thanks to the housing bubble, falling wages, and high unemployment made most applications look like joke when analyzed for risk. What they have spent their money on is risk-free bonds and securities, collecting interest on “excessive reserves” for not lending, borrowing at zero interest, lending said borrowed interest collecting reserve funds to lend back to the government for a percentage at a profit, and that’s been propping up the financial sector boom ever since and by my estimation is artificially inflating the market all over again with paper that doesn’t actually have value. Some of you may remember those “toxic assets” we kept hearing about in 08 that are in large part still being shuffled around under this new bubbling current of fiscal bullshitting.

“Why is creating value for shareholders such a stupid idea?” You may ask. Honestly i don’t know in detail but this guy does and it has a lot to do with the financial sector creating an environment with no ethics, counterproductive motivation, and the phenomenal cosmic power to all but destroy the economy on a rough trading day. Jack Welch, supernaturally successful GE CEO, actually coined the term the article references and spoke up time and gain about this practice of investment backed market-based cannibalism. Zero fucks were given then as now.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/11/28/maximizing-shareholder-value-the-dumbest-idea-in-the-world/

Those are the charts. Let’s move on to the word-of-mouth propaganda making the rounds these days just as they did in 1933, and 1950, and every other time the minimum wage has been increased, shall we? We’re gonna try to make this short and sweet, because honestly everything you need to know is in a chart above us:

The Excuses

“Cost of goods will increase!”

Really? Does the cost of goods increase when the guy down the road gets a raise? Did they increase when Bush raised the minimum by $3? Do countries who pay a higher minimum wage pay more when you adjust the currency? I have an answer for all this and more! Behold! The Big Mac Index: http://www.economist.com/content/big-mac-index See all those countries under us? They pay less for a big mac. Of course they do, right? Vietnam, Russia, Ukraine, Sri Lanka – that makes perfect sense – smaller economy, less wage protection, and so on…

But what’s that? Australia(min wage: $14.81),  Germany (min wage: $11.60), New Zealand (min wage: $14.75 US), Most of the EU wages are more than the US minimum wage (http://www.businessinsider.com/minimum-wage-europe-2011-2) and yet they pay less for a big mac than you do by at least 10 cents. How is that possible? They pay double what we do for production workers! Worse, adjusted for GDP per person cost for us has been on the increase regardless of the stagnated wages… it’s almost like the wages don’t have a damn thing to do with the end cost of the goods, or at the very least don’t effect it to as large an extent people who raise this point understand. If they weren’t still turning a profit do you think they’d be in business in those countries?

“But inflation!”

This is short and sweet. Inflation, my dear friends, has been on quite the anemic growth path for a few years now. In fact we’re deflating. Not to the tune of 10 points circa great depression fame but that was a big chomp and we didn’t have stop-measures in place at the time. As is the gutted ones we do have barely protected us from a run on the banks the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 20s. Besides, i don’t remember anyone giving a flying rat’s ass when Bush handed out his “i fucked up” unpaid tax credit to everyone in the country who filed on his way out while we were crawling over 6%, now all of a sudden asking hugely profitable companies to kick back on their windfall due to increased production is somehow going to screw everyone up? You do realize that the people who make this money spend it almost immediately and hold all the debt, right? If you’re looking for people to buy the shit you make and pay that debt off so credit is more widely available i have to think raising their pay is going to help. As illustrated in the charts above, the wages and tax rates in this country were solid as a rock for almost 20 years and we had the money to go to the moon right before everything went to shit. Regardless of all this inflation is only a concern if you’re introducing new currency into a market, not seeking capital that is already consolidated within it. http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/inflation/historical-inflation-rates/

“That’s not skilled labor!”

What the hell really is these days? There’s just as many dinosaurs out there who can’t turn on a desktop making out fine as there are college kids holding a degree they literally don’t know how to use. It’s a push-button society. The waters are muddy. What is clear is that FDR and those who voted for him to do his thing didn’t really give a shit what you did as long as you were working. I look at it like this: Digging a ditch isn’t particularly skilled labor. It’s not hard to figure out, but it’s hard work. Those who do hard work are just as valuable as those who do smart work. If neither group does their part everything goes to shit for everyone. “In my Inaugural I laid down the simple proposition that nobody is going to starve in this country. It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white-collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.” – FDR

“Get an education!”

Yeah, i’m sure in hindsight people who couldn’t find a job in the shittiest market in 100 years love being told this after having gone into the most student debt of any generation and having literally nothing to show for it but a net loss. Clearly what people should do is take on more debt for a job that probably won’t exist in this country 2 trade deals from now. That’s been working out swell.

“Move!”

As above, these people can barely afford to take a dump without using both sides of the paper – you really think this is a particularly realistic or a genuinely good idea? “I made minimum wage through High School/College and it was fine!” Yeah, in 1968 you were making $3/hr more than people make now and the economy hadn’t just completely fucking imploded. Count your stars instead of throwing rocks.

“Get a better job!”

In my area the average wages for healthcare support, protective services, transportation of materials, warehouse work, factory assembly, office and administration, service, personal care and services, and sales among others falls in between $8.63 and $14.61. (Source: http://livingwage.mit.edu/places/4709340000) The minimum wage is quite literally everywhere but particularly in right-to-work states it’s becoming all too popular to single out one profession, fast food workers (AKA the lowest common denominator between us all when it comes to work because we’ve all been there), and bitch and moan about how they deserve more than the people who make their food, clean their messes, and tally their totals because… And that’s where the logic stops. There is no because. I mean, there is, people invariably find a justification to holding others down out of spite because saying it like that just makes you look like a dick. But that’s all it is.

I think it’s more of a problem over perceived stations in life. How dare THOSE people ask for more. I mean you never hear anyone say the truck driver hauling your shit around to stock your store doesn’t deserve more, they don’t talk shit about the nurses or police officers making 11-14/hr around here working 2 jobs to afford a mortgage in a real estate market losing 2% annual, they don’t gnash their teeth at the IT professional being paid HALF of the industry standard in good old Knox-Vegas who is drowning in loans and helping the folks cover the bills. Based on one single industry’s participation those people are rendered collateral damage. They’re so convinced of their worth over an entire swath of workers it doesn’t matter who else falls in to that gap with them. Those people got better jobs, oddly enough better pay didn’t really come with the territory nationally or locally.

“It will hurt businesses to raise the wage!”

As FDR noted, and i’ll paraphrase, any business who can’t offer a living wage doesn’t deserve to be in business in this country. I’d imagine the fact that profitable businesses get tax kickbacks as well as subsidies would make the man projectile vomit were he alive today. That was one of the founding principles of the wage issue as it pertained to the new deal that everyone decided was a good idea and thusly “entitled” themselves to. A living wage is not the bare minimum by this definition either, FDR was very clear; “By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” Again, i can’t stress this enough, people ate that shit up and it’s not a stretch at all to say it absolutely worked as intended even for all the gutting the legislation took afterwards – like i said, you didn’t hit up a soup line after the last crash, now did you? It’s not as though businesses are on their own on the provision of wages. There are cuts and breaks available to provide for owners who need to meet the legally required wage during a proposed increase. More people would know this if they actually remembered an increase occurring, understood the tax code, or ran a business. Unfortunately the public isn’t known for it’s long term memory or inquisitiveness.

“It’s not intended to be a living wage, it’s a starter job!”

Not according to the man who authored it or the people who supported him enough to make it happen. Certainly not based on the fact that it’s the fastest growing wage sector in the country since everything went to shit in ’08. People took what they could get, what they could get was very much by design. It’s probably not in anyone’s best interest to kick them even harder just as things are barely beginning to look up as far as a recovery goes that any one of us without a broker would feel. I mean, i’m just saying – you could go with that, but it’s sort of a dick move all things considered. Whereas i would be willing to concede a minimum wage isn’t intended to support a family i don’t think it’s out of the question to assume that a single person should be able to afford a single bedroom apartment in one of the worst markets in the south (losing 2% annual, yay us!) and reasonable expenses. Being as generous as i could be i ran the numbers down based on apartment listings for the area and all i could do is laugh. Being as generous as i could (40hr week/good mileage/low insurance/$500 rent) you had $300 left after handling rent, insurance, and gas. Good luck, buddy. More realistically you’re barely clearing rent with your $800 monthly after taxes, work 30-32 a week, and are on assistance.

On a personal note: i’m living in a state with the highest state sales tax on record, highest bankruptcy rate in the country, among the lowest educated, among the most ill, among the lowest wages, among the lowest growth in any sector save healthcare, with just under 1/3 (1.5million people) of it’s population on welfare, and a 45 billion dollar debt. Do you know how completely infuriating it is to hear these people blame democrats for their problems when there hasn’t been one doing anything around here since Al Gore? It seems like unless it involves looking down their nose at the less fortunate, which is a hell of a trick in this southern-fried baptist hellhole, nobody wants to touch a damn thing outside of maybe posting pictures to facebook with tiny little vapid tag lines aimed at bitching at someone else for trying to explain how we got here and how we can get out of it. All consideration to academic analysis seems to get thrown out the window based on some insane notion of “belief” as though we’re talking about a god damn magic trick nobody can explain – Because what i really want to do is trust the gut-checked knee-jerk reaction of an asshole living in the equivalent of a crater in a civics graph happier than a pig in shit. Thanks but no thanks.

“That’s more than i make!”

So fucking what? Honestly. If you had paid any kind of attention you would have noticed the people setting the low bar being shafted actually does impact your life. I believe the technical term is “bellweather.” Canaries in the coal mine. As i said, everyone got the shaft. In a perfect world everyone would see increases to scale, but the world isn’t perfect. Someone gets hired or fired every couple minutes in this country. Raises and pay cuts fall like raindrops. The simple fact of the matter is someone else getting hired, fired, a cut, or a raise doesn’t effect you in the slightest.  If it did the price of milk would change by the fucking hour. I’m sure there’s more, if anyone happens to think of new ones let me know. I’ll shoot those down too, it’s actually pretty easy if you know how to use google and have some free time to actually take in more than a headline or 30 second soundbite.

I mentioned earlier about the two income model shift in 1970 and while i would like to expound on that with my own words a bit i don’t think there’s a better lecture on the subject than one Elizabeth Warren gave as a Jeffersonian lecture back in 08 which i will link below. The long and short of it is this; The reason the good old days were the good old days was largely because one earner was capable of making that happen. All that nasty bad shit above? None of that was really happening during this time, roughly 50-70. The economy was doing fine, wages were in line with cost of living, inflation and productivity, and the banks weren’t just in it for themselves. We actually had a manufacturing base. Tuitions weren’t as high. On and on and on with how much different the landscape was.

Anyway – one earner made that shit happen. Donna Reed didn’t fucking work, bro. June Cleaver? No pay stubs to speak of. Ruth Martin (Lassie) didn’t do jack but tend the farm. Lucy got a job every other week but only as a gag. Everybody did just peachy. Then as now media was a reflection of identifiable reality, if it wasn’t it wouldn’t sell. So what happened? Well you would have thought that incomes would have doubled, right? I mean one new worker per household that’s twice the income, right? Nope. In fact what happened was a decrease in household income averages, a 25% increased tax burden per capita, decrease in savings, increase in spending, decrease in flexible expenditures (elective purchases), increase in inflexible expenditures (shit you have to pay), decrease in investment, increase in divorce rate, increase in household debt, new expenditures which didn’t exist previously (hello daycare industry), and overall dismal performance on just about every single economic indicator on the spectrum for individual baseline incomes. Households and those who live in them also took an incredibly hard hit on a resource i think matters more than anyone talks about: Time. In short, and i don’t say this lightly, everything quite literally started to shatter from that moment on.

Elizabeth Warren makes incredibly salient points in this lecture all sourced from information you can find yourself by using any of the relevant government agencies who report these numbers or via the congressional library if you’re so inclined. From this income model decision onward the new normal stated you had to have 104 checks annual to compete instead of 52, regardless of whether you’re in a single income situation or not. The market norm is 2 earners now making less than they would have 45 years ago, as such costs raised to reflect the intent but never really got back to reality when it didn’t pan out. Personally i think this is one of the single most important points to make regarding wages, income, and labor to people. Give it a watch, it’s not partisan. There’s no finger-pointing or wagging. It’s just a breakdown of how everything went to hell right before it happened. I hate to follow-up and hour-long read with an hour-long video but it’s worth the time.

I believe we’ve become too accustomed to letting bad ideas proliferate unchecked. Too convinced in the lack of value in our work and ourselves as anything other than a low-rent corporate commodity, it’s sad and more than a little sickening. There is no value in holding people back out of spite or regret and the fact that the least among us are the first to recognize things aren’t working is not to be confused as avarice – they’re simply the first in line with nothing left to lose. This isn’t about equality, it’s about fairness. Fairness was interrupted in this country and i think it’s long past time it was given the consideration it’s due within the confines that it can be demonstrated that the game has been rigged. Hopefully someone made it to this point without nodding out, even more hopefully some folks want to talk about some of the points here – maybe add a little food for thought. I’d like to see this built into a stronger jumping off point over time. If nothing else now i can just link this and not be driven insane by the simple reactions of others on a point by point basis in what is ultimately a futile and useless conversation on the individual level. That’s all i have for now, i’m sure there will be edits as time wears on.

I did us both the favor.

We almost had that talk again.
The one where it’s my fault i’m sick.
The one where i’m guilty for being unseen until it’s already too late.
The one that forgets i’ve been fighting this for longer than i haven’t.

I’m so tired.
I can’t keep this up.
You exhaust me worse than whatever is ripping me apart.
I stand only because every fall could be my last.

I stand because no one can pick me back up.
Nothing will ever make me whole.
I’m not strong, or stubborn.
I’m not lazy, or unthinking.
I’m terrified.
I’m weary.

I’m alone.

I almost let you suck me in.
I started dusting off tired truths
and every tumor
every infection
every wound became fresh.

I wasted more than half my life in that breath.
Lost somewhere between a scream and a whimper.

What the hell are we doing?
It’s never not been my fault.
I can’t apologize.
I did us both the favor and cut the conversation short.

I love you. Goodbye. We’ll do this again some other time.

Wand’ring Aloud

She doesn’t like it when I call myself a writer in public, but it hurts less. The words ease the angle of my back, the pop of my fingers, the bruised feeling I carry in my chest. It’s a white lie. A half truth. I speak, I’m a speaker. I think(,) i’m a philosopher. I write, i’m a writer. It’s a low bar to hurdle for a little self respect, but it doesn’t impress the bankers. Nothing impresses the bankers.

I just need to tiptoe around today and let my headphones drill for gold. Start listening for it, stop looking for it. There’s never enough volume.

I don’t know where I was going..

Leverage

I used to believe, as you can read in previous posts, that mundane clichés like avarice  or base humanity were the root of all evil but I’ve come to understand over time that it’s not either. It’s their function. The function of leverage. Control. Holding the destiny of another human being or even many in your hands. For all my loathing i must profess a certain high or thrill from manipulation. It’s an incredible thing to pull someone’s strings, but once in a while those strings snap and what you’re left with ultimately is a useless marionette that will never quite dance as it used to before rough treatment. I suppose that reads a little sociopathic, so be it. I’ve found myself in such a moment this evening and I am still wholly unsure who represents the puppet and who the controlling hand is at this point. Perspective on such things is only granted by hindsight, unfortunately.

Grand gestures have a way of robbing one of sleep – of peace – until their conclusions. I am not a bluffing man but I am constantly put to the test regarding my levels of tolerance. Whereas I might be prone to lashing out I rarely make good on the words evoked from the heated passion of any given moment. But there are times… my resolution has become a frayed threat… thread. I am one pull away from broken and fiercely protective these days. My tolerance for disappointment is as low as it’s ever been. In these moments I am gripped by such a rush of shame, doubt, excitement, and resolve that I have no time for trivial things like sleep, nourishment, distraction. It’s become a bit of a hellish compulsion, to be quite honest with you. But one I find myself constantly enduring in good faith that things will get better – that people will get better – some day. Any day now. But I’m so tired.

One may chance a bluff in these interpersonal situations but it’s never quite clear to either party whether this is folly until the deed is done. It’s quite the gamble in the small-scale. In the larger sense it’s quite easy to fool people into a particular set of actions. The easiest way to begin is to leverage the outlets of one’s trust. Orson Welles stays at the tip of my tongue as an example of this kind of control always. Just a few men, a broadcast tower, and a well written story drove many into frenzied panic. It’s quite a marvelous moment in human behavioral science, really. Probably one of the first social media experiments. Like a flash mob of horror. Anyway, the point I’m drilling out here for my own peace of mind is that you can only use any given set of manipulations or leverages on a person for so long before they crack and become useless to you. History bares this out so many times it’s nauseatingly boring to cite examples. All it takes is time and pressure and what you get is a diamond forged of frustration which will cut you as immediately as the opportunity presents itself.  Every year I’ve lived has added a new facet. Another edge honed for the purposes of reflection and destruction. After a time this type of stress and angst becomes a semi-useful tool, if a bit off-putting in the social sense. With enough time on your hands it’s possible to see the process at work within yourself and others and a transparency develops that, in my experience, tends to embitter one to the entire plight of humanity. It all becomes so boring when you get right down to it. Uselessly futile, control. Order is a myth, or rather a little lie we all agree upon until such time as one member breaks the narrative and is either held up as the new standard or castigated for their efforts and extraordinary purpose.

So maybe part of the problem is that human beings are entirely too human, but I think so less and less each day. I’m starting to believe that humanity doesn’t have a thing to do with it. It is both inhuman and inhumane to treat a man like a marionette. It is counter to our nature, in my opinion. Whereas I used to delight in this kind of behavior on various levels it sickens me by the day. I find myself nauseated by it to the point of intolerance and repulsion. Although any behavior can appear natural with enough practice, there’s still the matter of feeling. Not emotions but just the right and wrong of it. I do not feel human when I personally manipulate and bend another human being to my will. Some days I feel more than that, increasingly I am the lesser for the effort regardless of righteous purpose or indignation. When I see others doing the same the rage and indignation of my youth has slowly eroded into a mournful pity not only for the whole of humanity but for the dear-sweet images and illusions I have built around myself as insulation. Cruel gods made of flesh staring down upon me with their promises of looking out for my best interest. Constructs of my own imagining. People placed on pedestals so high I’d never thought of the inherent dangers of them toppling down upon me. Nor had I considered the possible freedom in living amidst their rubble. The idols we make will come back to break us. As Pahlnuik put it ‘The things you own end up owning you.” That’s half of it. The people you own end up owning you. Everyone has someone they’ve placed above themselves. Someone they kneel to not by command but by choice. Fealties we leverage on ourselves. These are the hardest habits and illusions to break and the most hurtful to let go of.

As these moments of clarity have crystallized over time I’ve become more resolute in how I’ve begun to handle this frustration and pity. A few of you may have noticed we no longer talk. It’s a small list but it’s purposeful and the few I have in mind know exactly why we don’t talk because I told them flatly before burning bridges. Probably nobody who pays a second thought to my ramblings here. But I have changed over this past year to be sure. I am moving beyond leverage. I, nor you, are bound to anyone. You, in fact, do not have to put up with any of it. You simply must decide not to anymore. If you honestly believe you don’t deserve your lot then for god’s sake step up and say so and let the chips fall where they may.

So that’s my thousand-or-so-word rant from 4:30 to 5am today, the first in a while. Please remember to tip your waitresses and as always pay no mind to the man behind the curtain.

8-bit Nostalgia

Remember when the world was all in 8-bit?
And losing a life didn’t require going apeshit?
I remember reading issues of Nintendo Power.
Fold out level guides taking up the evening hours.

It’s dangerous to go alone, here, you need to take this.
It keeps your dreams from winding up like a hot mess.
Keep that third eye open and try ABACABBA
It’s just as good for what ails you as abracadbra.

Remember when nothing in life was hairier
than trying to land on that god damn air craft carrier?
Or whipping by walls fast as you can go
Trying not to make a quick splat of your battletoad.

What ever happened to that old Justin Bailey guy?
And can that space-princess come and give me a try?
What ever happened to humping double jump until broke your rump and wound up slumped over sweaty at the cabinet?
How about asking for another quarter and not having it? Can you imagine it?

Where’s my X-man quartets?
And my Golden Axe war vets?
Where’s the Afterburner flying aces?
Or the Street fighter total disgraces?

How about the kids raised in Aladdin’s Castle?
They’re out living in the chatrooms causing hassles.
Standing up shouting from a comment box.
Coming hard, mad as hell, punching long clocks.

Show me a fist held high clad in a powerglove.
Give me the mobs sporting ‘staches showing mushroom love.
Because I’m not sure living life pocket-sized at this resolution
Is leading to any higher form of human driven revolution.

Music

I turned on Bowie and sat stoically trying not to explode. It was only about 7:30PM but I was ready to call it a night. Hell, I’m ready to call it a year. A lifetime. Just turn the lights off as you leave, I’m done here. That kind of thing. The day’s stresses had worn on me; Broken this, increased rate on that, someone’s picking your pocket again. My hand is a hat rack. I’m more a tube of toothpaste than a man these days.  It’s hard not to feel like the only person in the world who feels like this when you’re right in the middle of it. If the music doesn’t wash it away it’ll leave a stain and I won’t know what to do but get angry.

I take a deep breath and expel smoke as men on fire often do. The bass and drums hit me, slowly caressing my wounded pride and standing me back up straight. The background piano, organ, woodwinds, and brass float through raising my chin. The lead guitar and singer close my eyes. I’m lost. Thank god. It’s just this wonderful noise and the nothingness at the end of the day. Outside these headphones the world lay silent, harmless. The pricks and pokes, the heartless stabs of the working and waking world locked firmly behind fastened windows and secured doors. I feel hidden now.

Finally a breath for what seems like first time today. Low. Slow. Deep. Smoke turns to steam turns to ether. I slip into Kashmir without noticing until halfway through and become distracted by the idea that the world may not be ending. At least not this week. My left eye gets something in it, maybe the last thought made me a little sad or it’s just dusty – but either way I have a small laugh at the sentiment.

Maybe it should, maybe it will. “Hey Joe…” a voice asks, “Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?” Anywhere but here, Jim. How about I put this down somewhere safe and we just have a smoke and calm the fuck down for a minute? Nothing’s gonna change my world.

-This post brought to you by my need to avoid a complete breakdown right now and Pandora. Pardon the theatrics, I’m in a rough spot tonight.