A Living Wage for the Economically Defenseless

Death of Anne Boleyn by Robert Lowell
Summer hail flings crystals on the window-
they wrapped the Lady Ann’s head in a white handerchief…
To Wolsey, the nightcrow, but to Anthony Froude,
stoic virtue spoke from her stubborn lips and chin-
five adulteries in three years of marriage;
the game was hotly charged. “I hear say I’ll
not die till noon; I am very sorry therefore,
I thought to be dead this hour and past my pain.”
Her jailer told her that beheading was no pain-
“It is subtle.” “I have a little neck,”
she said, and put her hands about it laughing.
They guessed she had much pleasure and joy in death-
no foreigners admitted. By the King’s abundance
the scene was open to any Englishman.

It is ironic, of course, that in the Terri Schiavo case, the Republicans fell victim to the thing that is usually their principal advantage: an uninformed public. Most of the public would be appalled if they saw films of Terri Schiavo sitting up and interacting with her parents (albeit at an infantile. or perhaps advanced Alzheimers, level), because most people assume what they think they have been told: that Terri Schiavo is a vegetable in the Karen Ann Quinlan sense of unconscious and hooked up to machines that go beep (or worse, that the court order precludes attempts to feed her by spoon). None of this is true, of course. Most Americans would be appalled if they saw a severely retarded, conscious person as a candidate for euthenasia– and apparently a rather bitter and spiteful one at that. Liberals (yes, you know who you are) to their nearly universal discredit (Jesse Jackson, btw, called the Terri Schiavo situation “nothing short of murder” and now Ralph Nader has demanded that feeding resume immediately) will either point out irrelevant or hotly disputed facts (such as “the MRI” that purportedly shows a liquified brain) or just deny the actual facts (did you know that liberal darling Michael Schiavo euthenized Terri’s cats as soon as she got sick?). But I tip my hand and show my own bitterness here, which doesn’t help…
So let me just repeat: if liberals could have shown this kind of discipline on anything else— I mean ANYTHING else– we would now control all branches of government, as we did back when our party stood for something besides the killing of the inconvenient (and don’t think for a minute I don’t mean what you think I mean.) We’d have energy independence, universal health care, affordable housing… you name it. In the end, the Republicans will play this to their advantage. It’s a fool’s errand to think otherwise. But I digress…
So… I guess its up to heretics and apostates like me to try to bring the debate back to anything meaningful. We’ll start today with a plan for the living: specifically, a minimum, living wage package. Maybe later we’ll talk about things like… energy independence, affordable food and housing, etc. But will start with this.
Ostensibly, I propose we amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to immediately adjust the minimum wage to $7.50 per hour (from a pathetic and unchanged in over 10 years $5.15/hour), indexed to increase each year, automatically, at the same rate that social security benefits are increased, or to 50% of the median national income, whichever is greater. Because of the perverse way we collect taxes, this will automatically have salutory benefits for both social security (this one measure may singlehandedly save the program forever) and the deficit in general. A business that cannot afford to pay its workers at least $7.50 per hour in the United States right now should not be in business.
But wait, that’s not all. Any worker that works at least 250 hours per quarter will also be entitled to a minimum health insurance plan, set as the most basic health care plan available to employees of the federal government, employer paid, with the option to pay more, of course, or at least to have the employee pay for more coverage (such as family coverage). No longer will there be any excuse for a hardworking American not to have health insurance. It will, quite frankly, be against the law. With every working American required by law to have health insurance, the number of uninsured will duly plummet, taking awesome pressure off the Medicare system (which, btw, will be better funded because of the higher minimum wage).
Don’t accept for one minute the right wing horseshit that this will cost jobs: the entire nation has been operating as a skeleton crew since the first President Bush. The fat has long been trimmed out of this economy. Anyone working at all is critical to their organization. And if their organization is not in a position to pay its workers $7.50 an hour and the basic federal worker health plan (a cheesy HMO, btw, but at least SOMETHING), than my answer is: GOOD. SUCH AN ENTERPRISE SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO BE IN BUSINESS, if it can’t even pay its workers a poverty-line wage.
The other argument: how dare your business dump things that it should be providing workers (like health care, or the ability not to have to rely on food stamps to eat or public housing to live in) on the social services system, where other businesses that do provide these things have to subsidize it.
This minimum package is, of course, a joke compared to how things are done in every other industrialized nation (which has things like 35 hour work weeks and 6 week vacations mandated), along with generous health packages, pensions, public education, etc., etc., and frankly, higher taxes which most people mind less than we mind our substantially lower taxes here. But at least this minimum package will immediately improve the lives of millions of Americans, and start many people on the road to a decent life, if not the promise of obscene wealth.
Of course, I’m dreaming with all this, as Republicans are trying to bring back the golden age of work-houses, and unless I can tie this to abortion, Democrats are not interested in any of this. But I can dream, I guess.