Something called a ‘living wage’ has been coming up on the news a lot lately. It’s another liberal idea on how to ‘cure’ poverty, an additional welfare tax for the taxpayer to righteously oppose. If citizens get too careless about who they vote into office, this tax proposal will become a reality, to the looting of checks, pay stubs, wallets, and bank accounts everywhere. I have heard the living wage being proposed federally, provincially, and even municipally. If implemented federally, the living wage would cost taxpayers, bottom line, thirty billion dollars per year. That is the estimate given by Conservative Senator Hugh Segal (CBC Radio, October 13th, 2013.) He says that the cost would actually be less than that because this tax would offset other welfare taxes already in force. But since tax figures are always low-balled, we might as well dismiss the opinion by Hugh Segal that the living wage would cost less than thirty billion. It would cost much, much more. Tax proposals usually overrun.
The living wage is explained by Senator Segal as a top-up plan that will bring everyone up to a certain wage (Ibid.) Really, this is just an evil kind of Robin Hood scheme that will take away the proceeds of hard-won success and deposit them, through a tax, into the hands of those who have succeeded less or don’t even try. Redistribution of money not only robs people of their right to self-made wealth, but in doing so, it slays personal industry by killing incentive. Incentive to be industrious is in peril when the gain that would accrue from industry is swiped off the top by government strong-arming. And redistribution of wealth without replenishing production is death to an economic system.
The living wage, or something comparable to it, is forwarded as a solution to poverty by persons in high places. That is the reason why we should especially fear the proposal. Senator Hugh Segal seems to be the chief advocate in Canada for it. And not only does he want the living wage idea enforced, he does not want the recipients of the money to be scrutinized in any way! (Erin Anderssen, Globe and Mail, November, 19th, 2010.)
He sees the government as some sort of mother, I suppose. He does not want this mother to negotiate money to her kids through plexiglas, he says (Ibid.) He would like the money to be given unconditionally. Throw away the notion of imposing a burden of responsibility on the recipients of this money. This is what he is getting at. But listen: “Dr. Karl Menninger suggests that one of the principal reasons for the rapid rise in mental illness in our society is the decline in a sense of individual responsibility and personal worth…He argues that people have always learned more from their mistakes than from their success; but when the ‘price’ of mistakes is eliminated, the result is confusion and a loss of motivation to ‘do better’” (Warren T. Brookes, Goodness and the GNP, in Is Capitalism Christian?, p. 35.) Think about all the people on Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped in Alberta on account of mental disorders. Some are faking it, some are not; but all would do better if they were held responsible for what they do with their time and what they spend their money on. What have we often heard from persons who suffered want in the dirty thirties or during WW2? They say that they never considered their want to be poverty, and that this want helped them become stronger, wiser, more appreciative people. Even Alice Munro, a liberal who was raised in the thirties, confesses that she did not think her lack in childhood to be particularly unfair and that that kind of background is good for writers (Interview from 2004 by Eleanor Wachtel.) If a person is always bailed out, he will not become a responsible person. That is usually the way it goes. It is not Hugh Segal’s sense of reality that if you give people money they will be lazy (Erin Anderssen, Globe and Mail, November, 19th, 2010.) The reality on the ground, however (far below the ivory tower called the Senate), is that the laziest persons in our society are welfare recipients. I’m not saying that all welfare recipients are all lazy, but that the laziest citizens may be found in the welfare ranks. Just come to Red Deer, Alberta, where jobs are so plentiful that bodies are lacking to do them all. Compare this situation with the following substantiating evidence: “In Massachusetts, for example, where 55 percent of the population in 1980 was directly dependent on government (up from 41 percent in 1960), and where a nearly $3-billion welfare budget barely kept over 500,000 recipients from starving or freezing, the most serious impediment to the future of the state’s economy was not energy but severe and chronic shortages of both skilled and unskilled labor!” (Warren T. Brookes, Goodness and the GNP, in Is Capitalism Christian?, p. 36.) In downtown Red Deer on any day of the week, you may encounter dozens of healthy welfare recipients doing nothing but one of the following activities: getting high, coming down, begging for more free dough, or ungratefully glutting their bellies on free food. It is not poverty that fills our prisons and hospitals, as Hugh Segal asserts (CBC Radio, October 13th, 2013.) It is bad behavior. Giving people money unconditionally is already the rule to a large degree. Hugh Segal does not want people to be forced to eat cat food on account of being poor (Ibid.) Did anyone ever have to eat cat food in Canada? When have our supermarkets ever been short on rice? Wholesome rice is far cheaper to buy than cat food, and probably a little tastier to eat. Who are these people who choose to eat cat food instead of rice? They don’t need more money. They need to take a little advice or use their common sense.
With more welfare money, Hugh Segal believes that people will be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps (Ibid.) Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, has that not always been impossible even for rich persons to do? We should have reason to hope that a senator would at least learn his figures of speech before proposing another tax by the use of one. The figure, properly understood, does not illustrate a possibility. If you pull up on your bootstraps, your feet are driven downward. That is why your boots go on by the use of them! If we campaign for people to be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, that will prove to be a fool’s errand indeed, for the thing is impossible to do. And if it is an impossible thing to do, be sure that it will be even more impossible to do with all those extra loonies and toonies weighing down the pockets! I am making much of this mistaken use of a figure of speech for a reason. This kind of mistake calls attention to the non-critical, follow-the-herd mentality that liberal ideologues are so often guilty of. A Dr. Hanlon uses the same trope to support the same kind of tax as Hugh Segal lobbies for: “You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots” (Erin Anderssen, Globe and Mail, November, 19th, 2010.) The learned doctor does not realize that one could not pull one’s body up by one’s bootstraps even if the straps were attached to expensive boots. Here is another person who does not stop to consider if the figure that he uses answers the purpose that he has decided to use it for. People like Segal and Hanlon adopt the same figure of speech, and after falsely apprehending it, fling it out there to stir up the passions for another tax. Do they adopt philosophies as unthinkingly as they do their figures?
Mr. Hanlon believes that the people to whom we give the extra money will choose wisely what to do with it (Ibid.) Are doctors any more in touch than senators are with what goes on downtown on street corners? It was doctors, was it not, who prescribed enough oxycontin to enough natives to addict whole villages? Maybe Dr. Hanlon is not clueless enough to do something like that. But his use of the bootstrap figure doesn’t convince me. This living wage idea is about as clueless as using the bootstrap trope in the wrong way.
“In Britain, an experiment was recently conducted with a small group of people who had been living on the streets for more than five years. They were given a budget that they could spend however they wished” (Ibid.) It is reasonable to assume, though Erin does not say so, that enough money was given so that housing might have been procured in short order because otherwise there would have been no test to the experiment. What were the results? Even with counselor supervision and guidance, just nine out of fifteen participants ‘were moving to some form of housing’ within a year. Is that a positive outcome? Housing should have been procured by more than nine within three months or so. And what if there had been no counselor supervision, like in the ‘no strings attached’ giving that Segal and Hanlon advance?
Financial inequality is not an evil that we need to fix; financial equality is a utopian fix that there is no need for. And even if inequality were evil and equality could be achieved, would it be right to do so by appropriating money from unwilling taxpayers? Moreover, if appropriation of taxpayer money were attempted in a more intensive way than is already being done, equality would never result, especially considering that those who propose gross appropriation do not want to hold the recipients accountable in any way. Give people even more money than you already give them, these people whose sense of responsibility is already eroded down to almost nothing, and lay on them no accountability whatsoever, and something remotely approaching to equality is guaranteed impossible, no matter how long you continue the program. Why doesn’t Hugh Segal experiment with his own money if he believes that people will do so well on their own with a more luxurious free ride? A senator has lots of money. Why not just give lots of it away just to equal matters out at least somewhere? Surely, the people to whom he gives it will do so well and be so responsible and thankful that they will become high achievers who will prove the program that he proposes even before it starts! Should we continue to increase taxes with a view to making things even for everyone? Or is it not right that those who contribute more to society should also have higher incomes to enjoy?
It is true that many persons on higher incomes do not contribute much and deserve much less than they are paid. Senators and doctors come to mind. But this does not mean that persons on lower incomes deserve more than they get. It may be impertinent to exhort lower income workers and benefit recipients to be as content as the apostle Paul was in whatever state he happened to be in (Philippians 4.11, 12.) The apostle was an extraordinary man, not to mention a mature saint by the time he made that statement. The word of John the Baptist to inquiring soldiers comes closer to the mark of what we may, with pertinence, advise low wage earners to do. “Be content with your wages” (Luke 3.14.)