You might wonder if a discussion of government and governing is philosophy; I believe it is. The Cambridge Dictionary online defines philosophy as:
I sometimes think I'm a little obsessed with topics such as politics and religion, and perhaps I am. I don't wake up to think about things; an event usually triggers it, or a news story, or something I've read. When that happens, my brain begins to whir, and I evolve an idea, opinion, or philosophy.
That brings me to the subject of this post, the philosophy of government. At the simplest level, we have two basic philosophies, progressive or liberal and conservative. Both are dominated by a school of thought that is itself founded in beliefs, values, and principles.
Generally speaking, the liberal philosophy seems to be based on the notion that all people are created equal and thus should be treated equally or as close to that as possible. This philosophy is based on compassion and understanding that humans succeed and fail. That those who fail may be entitled to some special considerations to ensure they do not suffer extreme hardships. Liberalism believes in the rule of law but prefers those laws to focus on creating positive results rather than punitive measures. It tries to be a peaceful philosophy that is opposed to war and embraces the idea that we should be able to communicate with each other and resolve our differences. In summary, liberalism is a philosophy of trust, compassion, and progress toward a better world for everyone.
The conservative philosophy seems to take a harsher view of the world and humans in general. There appears to be an attitude that if you are in dire straights, it likely is because you made bad decisions or did something wrong. This philosophy seems more combative and ready to impose penalties on others. Conservative philosophy tends to want to dictate certain aspects of society, often based on religious principles. The conservative philosophy appears to be less tolerant of discussion and reaching a consensus on those issues about which they feel strongly. The conservative philosophy takes a hard line toward foreign policy. It insists on an active military to back this approach to governing. To summarize conservatism, it is a policy based on distrust and on the idea that strict rules and harsh punishment bring about better results than caring and compassion.
Let me remind you that I stated I'm talking in generalities. Both philosophies are on a bell curve with adherents ranging from liberal to conservative within their philosophical curve. We, humans, are nothing if not diverse in thought and deed as well as our physical and cultural differences.
I count myself among the progress/liberal faction, so let me give you an example of how we might resolve one particular problem in society. I'll use the debate over the minimum wage (MW for brevity), an issue that roils emotions from the local to the federal levels of government. This is a complex issue and one I won't try to cover in excruciating detail, but in a way that I hope demonstrates a progressive approach to problem-solving and government. I'll use the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour as an example since the minimum wage is all over the map at local and state levels.
The argument that we consistently hear from the conservative side when talking about raising the MW is the impact on small businesses, and that is true. I think there is a general agreement on this notion of a liveable wage. In a perfect world, everyone would make a liveable wage, if only we could find an approach. So, how do we alleviate the poverty of those in the MW world while not breaking the back of small business people? Here are a couple of ideas.
The poverty level income for a family of three (two adults and one child) is $21,330 per year at this point. Working a full year is considered 2,020 hours a year, regardless of whether that is one job or two jobs. To reach the poverty level of income, you have to make $10.32/hour. Remember that only brings you up to poverty - that is not a liveable wage. Per the Living Wage calculator, in the state of Washington, and Seattle-King County, that family of three has to make $30.84/hour. The poverty level is $7.91/hour, and our MW stands at $11.50 as I write this. That means our MW is just over 1/3 of what is considered a liveable wage. You can use that calculator to look at any state and county in the country. You will find a broad variation depending on the state of the economy around our nation.
Back to Seattle. I'm now a small business owner. Let's say I have a pizza restaurant that is also serving sandwiches, salads, soft drinks, and beer and wine. I'm working in the kitchen. I have a dishwasher and a server in the front of the house. Remember, I'm trying to keep this simple without getting down the weeds on the cost of pizza sauce, etc. I open at 11:00 am to catch the lunch crowd, and I stay open until 9 pm. My day crew (dishwasher and server) work the 11 am to 4 pm shift, and the night crew comes on and works until 9 pm. So, I have four employees besides myself, who are each working 5 hours a day, and I'm open six days a week (closed on Sunday). My crew is working a total of 20 hours a day times six days for a total of 120 hours a week, and I'm paying them the current MW of $11.50/hour. That puts my payroll for the week at $1,380/week. But...
If you're in business, you know there are overhead costs and state taxes, etc. I ran a pretend set of numbers for my pizza shop on something call T-Sheets (by QuickBooks) to estimate the labor cost with all the other things rolled in; something call the wrap costs. With the numbers I used for rent, insurance, etc., my cost per employee came to $27.99 per employee, and remember I'm paying them $11.50 per hour.
I said the liveable wage in Seattle was $30.84/hour for a family of three. We'll assume all my employees are married and have one child. When I kick the wages up to that number, my total cost per employee per hour goes up to $48.81/hour. That's an increase of $20/hour, and that is hard to absorb. For my crew of four, my employee cost went from $167,940 per year (that's four people working 1500/hours a year and costing me $27.99/hour) to $292.860 or an increase of $124,920 per year. That's not small change.
Any plan has to look out for the employees (trying to get them to a liveable wage) and the small business owners. It should be possible to do a ramp-up to the liveable wage at a rate that get the employee to the liveable level in a reasonable time, while not breaking the backs of small business. The goal is to build something into the taxes that give the small business owner relief for helping our country bring people out of poverty and up to a liveable wage. There could be tax breaks or subsidies paid to the business to ease their burden.
Yes, this all comes out of taxes, but if we straighten out our tax system instead of letting billion-dollar corporations off tax free, it can be done. This is an example of seeking solutions that work for everyone. It moves us toward being a nation that tries to ensure that the working class doesn't have to rely on food stamps and Medicaid to survive. There would be significant reductions in those services, and that money could be redirected to the small business subsidies. As this all sorts itself out, and it will over time, then these programs can be reduced or dismantled.
These are not simple problems, and there are no simple solutions, but these clowns in DC are pulling down $174,000 a year to find answers. It's time they earned their paycheck. What might the conservative plan look like?
I think and write and talk and then do it all over again.