Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Launching a Discussion

      So the U.S. House, on essentially a straight party vote, defeated an attempt to raise the   minimum wage on Friday(3-15-13). On the flip side there is no maximum wage and the ratio  between the highest and lowest has grown exponentially as marginal tax rates on the wealthiest among us have been diminished dramatically since Eisenhower left office.

      Where are our religious leaders on this extraordinary concentration of wealth and extreme inequality? Are they beholden to the wealthy like so many other institutions, that they dare raise their ire? Justice requires courage.

      It’s time we discuss a national wage ratio. Rich people can get richer under such a plan only if they bring up the poorest amongst us. What’s a reasonable ratio 10:1? 20:1? 100:1? Let the discussion begin, but the 1 per cent and the 0.1 percent have too much in a world where too many struggle for enough.

This was the 150 word letter to the editor sent Monday upon reading about the House vote. I've decided to face my own question head on. 

Let's start the bidding here.  I propose a 50:1 ratio between the highest income and the median household income. The median U.S. household income for 2011 was $50,500. That's the point above which 50% of the population lives and below which 50% of the population lives.If we round it off to $50,000 it makes any calculations a little easier. I cast my vote for taxing all income above $2.5 million at 100%. There is no justification that I can dream of that one individual should make more in one year than a typical family in our society makes over a lifetime of working. But in a world where so many have almost nothing, and so many are in constant state of insecurity, how can such wealth accumulation be morally upheld?

I've been listening to my first audio book [the print copy was checked out] by Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Sandel seems to argue (I'm not through yet so perhaps there's a shift coming) that when we put a price on everything there is a danger that we erode the norms by which we value things. While economists can find winners when we offer incentives, Sandel suggests we lose as a society, or at least that's what I'm inferring. He may be more cautious in making strong judgmental statements than I am here today. It would seem to follow that such emphasis on measuring everything in economic terms, with emphasis on its 'price', will diminish how we value things and demotes we humans to roles simply as  consumers. This would be problematic even in a world where everyone had enough and where there were no finite boundaries. But on the singular finite planet we share, with increasing extreme inequality, this seems like utter madness to this writer.

The discussion of a maximum-to-minimum or maximum-to-median income ratio is likely not sufficient in itself to change our economic system towards a more sustainable one. But in the spirit of how I'm reading [listening to] Sandel, and before him Charles Eisenstein, Mohandas Gandhi, James O'Dea, Meg Wheatley, George Vaillant, Parker Palmer, Robely George, Amartya Sen, Raj Patel, Susan Davis, Jared Bernstein, Peggy Holman, Susan Neiman, Thomas Pogge, and Chris Uhl [see his just released book Developing Ecological Consciousness I blogged about yesterday] and others who have shaped my thinking the past few years, it could nudge us toward a new norm that aligns with Uhl's  subtitle for his new book : The End of Separation. Bernstein  made a similar distinction in his book All Together Now: Common Sense for a Fair Economy  between YOYO's and WITT's - You're On Your Own versus We're In This Together. Until that shift of norms take place I'm afraid we're moving towards a precipice the looms ever closer. 

Any action that can help us towards that new norm is likely a good move. That's my intention in opening the discussion on How Much is Enough and How Much is Too Much? All creative ideas welcome. The status quo is not acceptable.