Politics of Fast Food Wages, Part III: What is a Living Wage.

So what’s a “living wage?”  How much space does one need to live “comfortably?”  In New York City, a 300 sf studio apartment inhabited by one person is considered by some as luxurious.  In Seattle, most would consider such a space as cramped.  Avant-garde architects have been designing 150 sf houses, offering them as appropriate for most people.

How much and what type of food does one need to eat well?  Should shopping at Whole Foods be a “human right?”  Two hundred bucks a week for a family of four?  Or would four dollars per week be enough?

Should everyone be entitled to drive a Lexus, one of the safest cars available?

In another post, I asked:

Imagine a world where everyone you consider poor no longer exists.  Would that be the end of poverty?  Or would those you consider middle-class become the new poor?  Now ask yourself if you prefer to be Charlemagne, who ruled France from 768 to 816 or something, or would it be better to live in the present, in Seattle area, making $20,000 a year as a McDonald’s cook, no children, basically living what many would consider a lower middle-class social and economic life? Would you prefer to be king in a world without plumbing, electricity, autos, planes, modern medical care, or internet, or would it be better to be almost “poor” in present day Seattle?

That poverty is a relative concept and “poor people” is a social construct aren’t new ideas.  In fact, it’s obvious. But too often, how we analyze and interpret the world is framed by academic readings of government created constructs such as race, gender, economic class.  I’m not arguing that these constructs are useless.  Nor am I saying that these constructs necessarily foment racism, sexism, class warfare, nationalism, and so forth. They’re, when used appropriately, very helpful — think about why your doctor asks you to categorize yourself in terms of race, age, gender, etc.  But these constructs can also make it tempting to confuse cause and effect and difficult to find patterns of behavior that traverse social identity and place. It can spawn asinine public policy concepts such as “living wage” that ultimately promote a sense of helplessness among those who identify as or feel poor.

So called  middle-class life today, with its near constant access to the Internet, may be considered unacceptable — perhaps barbaric, uncivilized — to another society. Later in the article:

Being “poor” or living in “poverty” is an attitude, a mindset, not an economic condition.  It has nothing to do with how much money one has.  Someone with poverty mindset may only be able to get a candy bar out of a dollar.  Another person may be able to make a feast of stone soup, enough to feed 10, out of same amount.  There’s no limit to what the human mind can create. The possibilities are endless. There’s no such thing as a “living wage.”  We don’t know what someone can do with a square foot of living space.  We don’t know how many meals someone can make out of a dollar.  By insisting there’s such a thing as a “living wage” and a “poverty line,” we give a lot of people an excuse to be envious, miserable, wasteful, and passive instead of grateful, optimistic, frugal, and creative.

Point is, “living wage” is a ridiculous concept.  I’m ok with socially constructed categories, some of them are useful. Like race, class, and gender, however unstable and problematic they may be.  “Living wage” only serves the interest of the government and gives many yet another reason to beg for life.  It frames and limits what’s possible in life.  It crushes the spirit and will to live of those who don’t make a “living wage.”  And nearly every business owner I’ve met has spent a few years not making a “living wage,” some not able to feed their young children “properly.”

Do business owners deserve a “living wage”?  Absolutely not.

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