There is a house up the street from me that is being gut-renovated. As you walk past it, you can see the sky out the back, because walls are knocked out that much. I’m told that the owner doing the work has been offered $30 million for the place.
I don’t know who made the offer. I do know that someone paid $35 million to combine two houses across the street into one. Clearly, there is a group of people who an spend an eight-figure sum on a house in Manhattan.
(Confession: A part of me — the greedy part — wonders if this means my apartment is now worth proportionally more.)
At the same time, the average American is barely able to get by. We are working longer hours for less pay and benefits. I don’t know why we do this. It can’t be so the bosses can buy $30 million dollar homes on my street.
The poor are doing even worse. People who are working as hard as they can, with one and sometimes two jobs, cannot afford a home. Think about that. You’re working two minimum wage jobs, and you still have to go back and sleep with strangers in a homeless shelter.
We’re heading into Congressional budget talks (or, as it looks from the outside, hostage negotiations), There is also a great deal of discussion about raising the minimum wage. At the same time, House Republicans want to sharply reduce or eliminate the food stamp program. Reasonable people of good will can have a variety of opinions about these issues.
However, here are some things that are true, no matter what one’s personal politics:
- Food, housing, and medical care cost money.
- Someone has to pay for them.
- If a person is unable to pay, that person (and possibly that person’s family, including minor children) will be out on the street, starving and sick.
Because I’m assuming that, whatever our political persuasion, we are people of good will, I’m also going to assume that we don’t want starving sick people on the street. So, what can we do about this?
- We can see that everyone who wants to work and is able to work can find a job with a salary (including benefits) that meets that person’s needs, at least minimally.
- We can train those who are trainable to be able to work, either through government programs or private charity.
- We can provide for those unable to work, either through government programs or private charity.
Personally, I think it’s more efficient to ask the government to run most of these programs, not because I think the government is a perfect entity, but rather that expecting private charity to do the work is wasteful, with myriad groups re-inventing the wheel to find solutions in every case. A central government has the advantage of an economy of scale that local groups cannot match.
The arguments against raising the minimum wage tend to be in two camps: those jobs are for kids during the summer, or we want to encourage people to get better jobs. These might be fine arguments when there are better jobs. At present, the policy largely benefits the bottom lines of the corporate entities that employ those workers.
If a person working full-time or more at minimum wage still needs food stamps or housing assistance, I’m paying for it. I can pay for it by spending more when I purchase the goods or services that support the minimum-wage job, or I can pay for it with my taxes. If I pay for it with my taxes, I am, in effect, subsidizing the corporate profits of Papa John’s, Macy’s, Wal-Mart and the like. It seems to me that those who want to keep taxes low would support an increase in the minimum wage.
My apartment is great, but I wouldn’t mind having a house. And if I ever have the money, after I’ve solved world hunger and cured cancer, maybe I’ll have $30 million left to spend. But it will be in the South of France, where the wine and cheese are good, and the health care is better.