It’s a daft debate, and a deceptively strong red herring. The left-wing (i.e., socialist) stance is hobbled by magical thinking about money: that businesses have bottomless reserves of it, that its value doesn’t naturally and inevitably float to adjust to prevailing economic conditions, an important one of these being whether anyone is willing to do any fucking work around here. (In the United States, the answer is generally not so much. More on this shortly.) The right-wing (i.e, libertarianism for rich people) position is quite often advanced by high-hats who would shit enough bricks to build an old-timey German brick shithouse in Over-the-Rhine (median household income as of a few years ago: $4,999) if they were forced to try to make ends meet with minimum-wage jobs. (#TeshTips: The streetwalkers and the prostitution abatement officers are built no less sturdily, although the producers try to choose hawtter cops as leads on Police Women of Cincinnati.) Many of the activists behind the push for a $15 an hour minimum wage are actually trying to make ends meet on much lower wages, usually in cities with high costs of living. Whether their argument is germane is a matter of personal feeling: it’s based on the elementary school mathematics of much expense subtracted from not much money yielding a negative number at the end of the month, but their opposition is full of the kind of people who would take William F. Buckley seriously if he returned to this side of the veil to intone about the household budgeting incumbent upon the poors, etc. ad nauseam.
I mentioned in passing that this debate over the minimum wage is a huge distraction from more important policy matters. One of these, as Jimmy McMillan likes to say, is that the rent is too damn high. He’s an unabashed clown and a black Lorax, but let’s face it: he’s right. Why does such a straightforward and valid position have to be advanced by a thundering crackpot of a minor third-party candidate who shows up at debates every few years to provide comic relief and momentary distraction from the impending reign of, say, the current Cuomo? Ask the governor. While you’re at it, ask him why he has to disgrace his father’s legacy by being an ethical failure and an oily, histrionic schmuck.
Here’s what’s even crazier than Jimmy McMillan’s facial hair: his position isn’t nearly as pie-in-the-sky as it sounds. Ironically, it’s less valid in his hometown, Brooklyn, than it is in most of the United States. New York City has a genuine housing supply shortage, and it will for as long as it remains a center of commerce and culture where huge numbers of people want to live. Fort Wayne has lots of culture and world-class transportation infrastructure, too, if you believe the promotional literature from its business development poobahs. For example, it is home to Northeast Indiana’s premier deepwater port, the Port of Fort Wayne, which I just made up. Don’t worry, though: you’ll see crazier shit than that in actual business development pitches in the average in-flight magazine. There’s no level of dissembling to which the pitchmen won’t stoop in their efforts to convince executives that their employees will want to relocate to some fourth-tier micrometroplex in the middle of nowhere because it’s actually really close to stuff that they weren’t planning to visit anyhow.
Housing is rarely cheap in these places. It’s relatively cheap, but houses still often cost several times the local median household income in places where no one really wants to move. The truly inexpensive exceptions are often in war zones like Detroit, an excellent city for the gentrifying hipster who wants to live in a failed state with Ontario’s weather but not its provincial police. House ownership (home ain’t for sale, asshole) remains out of reach for the poor in all but the most ruined local economies, but even in these, the bargain basement prices are a moot point because they’re beset either with severely degraded housing stock (e.g., the foreclosure tsunami in Slavic Village) or exceptionally ruined local economies (most American ghettos).
Jimmy may be out of his damn mind about viable policies to reduce the damn rent, but he cares. Most elected officials don’t. Genuine concern for the affordability of housing would raise the ire of the realtors, who want to keep their commissions up, and existing householders (or homeowners, if one must be so unctuous), who want to inflate prices so that they can do a convenient long-term pump-and-dump when they’re ready to sell or, better yet, “flip” investment properties in the real estate equivalent of day-trading on margin. The vested interests are deeply corrupt, numerous, and politically engaged. Renters don’t vote. Homeowners, as they’ve been so assiduously taught to think of themselves, do.
The situation with healthcare in the United States is even worse. It’s an unbelievable national embarrassment, really. A cabal of private insurance companies have corrupted the national government over the wishes of its citizen constituents, who overwhelmingly want not to be bankrupted by health insurers with the legal cover to hire physicians and nurses to tell other clinicians to deny medical care (in blatant, direct violation of the Hippocratic Oath), hospitals in the administrative vise grip of useless eater MBA’s, and the occasional (or more than occasional) predatory surgeon who operates solely in order to bill all billable parties within reach. Unlike the housing pump-and-dump racket, there is no broad American middle class that wants this evil or asked for it. There is a disturbingly broad middle class of jingoistic ignorami who believe that the United States in fact has the best medical care in the world because Murica Fuck Yeah, but this class is diminishing as more and more Americans hear of or personally experience horror stories involving the bottomless cruelty and rapacity of the racketeers who have hijacked American medical care. What we have as a nation isn’t best-in-class medical care; it’s worst-in-class care. We’re rapidly losing ground to Mexico, according to Fred Reed, and in rudimentary primary care we’re even losing ground to–I’m not making this up–Rwanda. There are many countries in the Third World whose governments are hopelessly corrupt but whose medical personnel are not. Stateside, we like to believe that our government and our doctors are as pure as the driven snow, or at least our government and our doctors like to believe this. The critical mass of concurring laymen is diminishing.
But of course we have no fucking idea what we’re doing. Mitt Romney is closer to the American Tommy Douglas than Barack Obama. Neither of them will admit this, Obama because he fancies himself a “progressive” (i.e., a socialist) and Romney because he fancies himself “severely conservative.” Romney is too intractably chickenshit before GOP primary wackos to say, “Mr. President, you took my healthcare reform policy from Massachusetts and goofed it the heck up.” Peter Shumlin, meanwhile, was too much of a policy milquetoast to channel Tommy Douglas and actually try to implement Green Mountain Care. Tommy wasn’t all like, “Gaaaaah I want to be an effective socialist but Saskatchewan politics are le hard.” No. His deal was, “Son, I’ve preached the Gospels, and there’s nothing in them about denying care to poor children in fealty to market-based healthcare solutions unless you’re an asshat who wants to deny medical care to poor children. We are now at the political juncture at which crackas gonna get them some Medicare.”
It was wrong of me to attribute such an egregiously hayseed parlance to the good minister and to insinuate that Canadian voters fall for that sort of transparently phony shtick. In my country, however, many voters fell for only marginally less ridiculous country boy acts by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. And of course, this vulgar false modestly is consistently used to help crackas get them some market-based solutions in search of problems, the better to rob the little people. Also in my country, Tommy Douglas’s grandson plays a torture-happy FBI agent in an utterly bullshit terrorism drama instead of asking why the fuck every politician in a country that borders Canada and has ten times the population is half a century behind his grandpa in effecting healthcare policy that isn’t depraved. It’s just that taking a stand for something principled and worthwhile isn’t what one does when one is Terry Kath’s widow’s ex-husband, Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland. Yes, that’s all one person, and yes, Tommy Douglas’s lineage is one of the select few that has managed to descend from politics into something dishonorable. Canadians always go stateside when they’re looking to do something that’s too crude and wrongheaded for their home and native land.
Okay, not Pickton. I’ll grant that much.
Canada has been fucking up the housing price thing on behalf of current owners for a decade or so now, especially in Vancouver. It must be nice to have a major city that doesn’t serve as an outdoor subzero freezer every winter. We have dozens of them in the US. Then again, we have all the scary-ass politicians. Don’t try to tell me that Stephen Harper, Stockwell Day, and Rob Ford put together are a better reason to expatriate from Canada than Todd Akin alone is to expatriate from the United States. And it’s much better to have an unsustainable housing bubble in parts of one’s country but a well-run national health insurance system than to have an even crazier housing bubble (Silicon Valley) and a worst-in-class privatized health insurance system whose operation would get high corporate officers sent to prison in many countries.
As a country, we don’t want to confront any of this. Canada at least tackled the healthcare problem and doesn’t seem to have a leadership class that flips its shit over the existence of public housing, like it’s a moral hazard for the poors. There seems to be much more of a national sense that Canadians oughtn’t screw each other over in seedy, heartless rackets, eh. The lefty activists up there may be even dafter than ours, but at least they’re backed up by leftist politicians who aren’t abject milquetoasts or cryptobourgeois supremacists or world-class specimens of corruption.
And, as I just mentioned, we have a right wing that is absolutely batshit fucking crazy. It isn’t just crazy about the classic culture war wedge issues, either. It’s also out of its mind about economics. One example is its common insistence that there is no longer any poverty or privation because things like televisions and clothing are cheap. This can be expanded into an endless list of consumer goods that have become dirt-cheap without accounting for the little matter of things like healthcare, education, and housing having been taken over by racketeers and mountebanks and priced beyond the range of normal Americans because MUH FREE MORKETS. Of course the asshat right wing (as opposed to conservatives, who seek to defend and promote actual positive values that are worth more than a pot of shit) wants to elide the continued existence of poverty, and especially its use as a way to criminalize and humiliate those suffering from it. Unabashedly wanting to shit on the poor just because they’re poor is generally considered bad form, even in the most morally degraded parts of the United States.
The asshat right in the US gets away with this elision in large part because it’s so skilled at flat-out making shit up and, crucially, getting goobers to believe its straightfaced lies. This is a country where cocksuckers like Matt Walsh are taken seriously in many quarters. I might mention that bitch, I’m spending six days a week stooped over blueberry bushes this summer, but he’s my moral superior, you see. He has the Absolute Truths, and the prime Absolute Truth is that Matt Walsh is not about to explore the nobility of work for the sake of work as a seasonal picker of the noble highbush blueberry. Kevin Vickers looks like he’d rather pick some berries than tell his countrymen to do so, and Rob Ford would probably call in drunk because damn I took too much whiskey and base last night, partner, but that’s fair enough. Remember, though, the United States was assembled out of slave colonies and Canada wasn’t, and a slave state is the last place one can expect the citizenry to live in truth.
I’ll be back at work in just over twelve hours, again to listen to the poor crackers of Linn County tell cool stories from the internet about the chimp-like qualities and horrific anti-gun socialism of the Obamas, and about how the Ferguson protests were actually riots by gaslighting kill-whiteys, and how there’s never any coverage of the shootings of “white police officers” by black assailants. Liquori Tate was assassinated in the line of duty, too, in case #BlackLivesMatter, but whatever. I can drop details about the Ferguson Unified Command at a moment’s notice if these fools insist on pressing the subject another day because LinnCo just has to be that powerfully fucked. My country, meanwhile, will continue its daft discourse about the minimum wage and leave talk about why the rent is actually too damn high to a former stripper and postal worker, and our bosses will continue to pay us a quarter or a third of the minimum wage because we’re part of the serf caste, not the warrior or merchant caste.
Let’s get rich by singing gratingly twee ditties about buying our parents houses in the South of France. It pays better than picking blueberries, m’cracka. That’s why our rulers cultivate a rural fascist cryptopeasantry to do the dirty work. We need more Tommy Douglas and less Kiefer….Sutherland, but we’re Americans, so hell will freeze over before the infinitely recursive moral and economic parasitism that keeps our country running fades into something conscionable. The good jobs pay a lot better than minimum wage, but there’s no need for the little people to think about that when they can instead think about guns and Jesus.