The Holiday Season creates plenty of opportunities for sitting around and talking with people you don’t see on a regular basis. Here in Canada, unlike our neighbors to the south, we can still enjoy polite conversations with people of other political leanings. Of course, in British Columbia, having just come through a campaign on Proportional Representation that at times got heated, we tend to be a little more polite these days. Nonetheless, in my holiday circle those conversations did take place.
And I couldn’t help but notice that my more right-leaning friends, gentle and thoughtful though they may be as individuals, unthinkingly espoused several concepts that are cruel, unproductive, and ultimately false.
First Myth: The Poor are Lazy
Discussion of Ontario’s plans (now in limbo, of course) to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour in the near future brought the expected response: “Now nobody is going to want to work any more.”
In actual fact, the only people that show the symptoms of laziness are the chronically depressed. That’s what depression does to you; it reduces your motivation to act, and your output drops. When it comes to the unemployed, it’s a vicious cycle. An unsuccessful job search is one of the most distressing activities you can undertake, and the resulting depression makes it even more difficult to get up the gumption to keep looking. And yes, over time this can become a chronic situation.
But the point to remember is that the victim started out wanting to work. It was the lack of success that caused the depression and subsequent lack of motivation.
Successful businessmen do not have the corner on pride. Yes, even the poor are proud of themselves when they earn a day’s wages and support themselves. And since the level of wages they earn is rather arbitrarily set by social and economic conditions beyond our control, raising the number of people who are supporting themselves through their own efforts can only have a positive effect on those people and the economy.
Second Myth: Wage Support is Wasted Money on People it Won’t Help
Somehow, when the topic of a guaranteed minimum wage came up, the conversation immediately jumped to the homeless, and how giving them a whole lot of money wasn’t going to make any difference.
This is partially correct. Giving extra money to the homeless isn’t going to help them. Their problem is most likely addiction and mental health. A lack of ready cash is an effect, not a cause. In fact, the homeless already cost society far more in medical services, policing, crime, and other social output than any other citizens in the country.
The myth is that a guaranteed minimum wage will go to these people.
No, a guaranteed minimum wage is aimed at the working poor. These are the people who are trying, who are successful to some extent, because they have jobs. People who want to work.
And as far as wasting government money, it hasn’t escaped my notice that extra money given to the working poor goes into groceries, entertainment, and other local services, putting the cash right back into the regional economy. It also goes into better nutrition, recreation and childcare, which results in better mental and physical health and less need for expensive government services down the road.
Third Myth: Living Off the Suffering of Third-World Workers is Acceptable
While discussing the world economy, I couldn’t help but slip in the fact that our North American lifestyle is dependent on Asian products created by semi-slave labour. Just to see what people would respond. Nobody denied this, but two immediate defenses bounced up. “They need us because we’re their market,” and “Their cost of living is much lower.”
Both of which are true. But that’s not the point. We are living the good life directly because of the suffering of others. Colonialism has not ended, just morphed into a less political mode. How can thoughtful people ignore this?
And on the topic of politics, the only defense average citizens have against the multinational corporations that are taking over the world is a strong democratic government that will speak for us. As long as workers in the Third World can be kept poor, uneducated and powerless, those corporations can continue their reign. And face it; the sooner wages increase in those countries the better. It will make Canadian workers competitive again.
I’m not saying that we should all get out and do something about it. This is a worldwide problem that only time will solve. But at least we should pay lip service to the fact that it is a problem. If you deny it or ignore it, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Worst Myth: You Deserve What You Get.
I’m not saying that my friends don’t deserve their comfortable retirements. They have worked hard all their lives to earn what they have. But the most societally destructive myth of all is that the reverse is true: that those who are poor deserve it.
Because the vast majority of them don’t. Oh sure, some do. Some people don’t want to work and would be happy if the rest of us would take care of them. I would remind my better-off friends that there are people like that at the upper end of society as well; it’s just that their families can afford to support them. For the rest of us, our position in society is mostly a matter of family, education, genetics, choices and just plain luck. The whole concept of living in a society is for insurance — to spread the luck around so that no individual has to accept the full damage of the bad luck that might hit any of us. But it follows that you shouldn’t take all the credit if you happen to have good luck, or blame the person who has bad luck.
The Bottom Line – Get Rid of the Poor
And whether they deserve it or not, the poor are a drain on society; we would all be better off if there were fewer of them. And one of the best ways of getting rid of the poor is to pay workers a decent wage for the work they do. Yes, the price will be passed on to the consumer. We know that. But so will the benefits.