I'm pretty well educated, professional, and reasonably intelligent, much like (I'm sure) most other people out there who would be considered kind of "middle class." And we all face the same issue, that our wages don't even keep up with inflation. Maybe there's a good year or something, but overall, I think this is widely documented and certainly the sentiment is widespread.
But what is inflation? Isn't that the increased price of goods over time? And what are the inputs that go into goods? Labour and materials (equipment, administration, yeah yeah, etc.). But Labour is part of that. So if the price of goods is increasing, but the cost of labour is not because people are not getting raises, then are we to believe that the cost of materials is what's accounting for this inflation?
So then we are to believe that the materials, despite all the technological advancement and automation, are costing more in production? And some of these materials, are actually made by cheap labour in developing countries (a whole other post), getting paid on the order of no more than a couple hundred USD per month.
Domestically, how is it that it costs an average person and extra 1-2% to buy something, when I'm not getting paid more than last year. Where's that difference going?
I think it's companies pocketing the difference, lining their pockets, at the expense of a functioning middle class to actually drive and grow the economy, all the while distracting the average person with smoke and mirrors like:
- if you work hard, you can be rich like us company execs too;
- we give to charity so focus on that even though it's a pittance compared to what we're pocketing and getting in tax breaks and credits;
- we're good corporate citizens, that's why you should buy our product even though it's totally superfluous and you would probably be just as happy if not more happy without this crap that we're selling to you and your vulnerable children
- you're lucky to have any kind of job in this bad economy, so don't challenge us, even though our practices specifically damage that economy in the long run, and we'll keep workers on life support just long enough for us to cash out and move on to plunder another part of the world
And I'm not talking about kind of rich people who work hard and exercise good entrepreneurial spirit (like small/medium business owners) or professional expertise (like doctors and lawyers, run of the mill ones trying to do good honest worthwhile work, not unrepresentative ones that give rise to talentless, reality TV, false-idol, anti-celebrities). I mean, it's a continuum so they do play their part in perpetuating the inequally, but their culpability is somewhat mitigated for a variety of reasons.
I'm talking the ones that are so out of touch with the vast majority of people (think, the US President and his band of hooligans) that they cannot even comprehend the daily thoughts, trials, needs, or social decency of normal middle class people, even though they hold such influence over the middle class, through trickle down effects and, frustratingly, emotional manipulation and outright lying.
This is a truth that middle class people may not be aware of, or at least it's not foremost on their minds because
- they're constantly being distracted by companies and the top 1% (or 0.1%) trying to manipulate them, or
- because they're busy with their normal lives doing normal, decent but vitally important work (like being police officers, firefighters, nurses, teachers, retail sales associates, restaurant servers, bank tellers, cashiers, normal stuff that actually keeps society running)
Don't believe the distractions. The big one is, you don't deserve to get paid more, you should be lucky to have a job at all. The message may sound more diplomatic than that, and there are always those employers who are a rare exception to this rule, but the middle class needs more empowerment. You do deserve more. The threat is also an empty one, because it is self defeating. People in power, forget that they are only there because of the middle class.
People and companies that are rich, they are only that way because they make money off the middle class. Denying the middle class fair wages is like cutting a plant off at its roots. Never let yourself forget that, because the only way to demand more for the middle class is to understand that you are actually empowered.
Big companies and the super rich use these threats, but that's all nonsense. They are not the ones that actually employ people. It's the small businesses that employ people. Middle class entrepreneurs (admittedly some do better than others, so what? that's life, that's fair) are the ones that create jobs and work because they're driven. They are not the ones that hack and slash the work force, produce a good quarterly financial report, then take off with a huge bonus regardless of the devastation left in their wake.
Google, Amazon, Walmart, Uber, these businesses generate huge revenues operating on a skeleton of a workforce by comparison. They own all this wealth, and yet contribute little to reducing the wage gap. And sure, they may produce some economic benefits, but all that money in the hands of the people (spent wisely to encourage innovation, cultural development, humanity) would surely generate much, much higher returns for society as a whole. Don't forget that if you are offered $1 without realizing that you were bamboozled out of $2, you might feel happy with $1 at the moment but you're not actually better off.
The power imbalance is like that of an abuser and abused. The abused is lead to think that he is at least getting something out of the arrangement, when in fact he is getting royally screwed in actual terms, all the while being manipulated and placated into accepting his grave circumstances.
A critical point that you must also remember, is that you must help others in the middle class (which remember, I think is most people. If you try to participate in society, even if you're poor, even if you don't have the newest smartphone, even if you work several jobs to make ends meet, you are one of us and we want you. And if you've worked hard to run a business, make a better life for yourself and your kids, and you can employ some people and you put your kids in music classes and instill in them good values and a love for all humankind, and you might own a nice house and a nice car that is a product of your sacrifice and contribution to society, then you are also middle class and we want you too.
But we must help one another. The influential super rich and the enormous corporate entities would pit us against one another, usually by promising that if you give up your humanity and commitment to common middle class life, you could one day be super wealthy and successful too. This is, of course, a lie, because it implies that hard work is always directly related to wealth. It is not. It implies that poor people do not work hard, and that's not true. And it implies that the richest are also the hardest working and the smartest. Also not true. There are always exceptions to both of these extremes, but the exceptions do not invalidate the rule.
Furthermore, contrary to what corporations and all their marketing would have you believe, more wealth, more stuff, more consumption does not equate to more fulfillment and happiness. It's all a distraction to keep you hooked on their crap, because they already know that you are in fact the ones with the power. I'm very pro-business, the way honest business people operate to fulfill their dreams, to create something worthwhile, to contribute to their family and communities. I'm not a socialist or someone who thinks people should just be given handouts for nothing. But what we have today is not pro-business, it is a perverse consumerism masquerading as opportunity for a generation that is desperate for opportunity, because they going to have to clean up a big mess like nothing the world has ever seen before.
So don't be fooled into thinking that you should forsake other middle class people. MOST of us, even though we're not the same, are on the same team. The people and companies that pocket the hard earned money produced by the middle class (think corporate bail outs, tax breaks for companies who close down operations and cut jobs) are the ones on the other team. Don't fall for the distractions.
The middle class has power in numbers. We don't always see it because of the variations in wealth among the middle class, it makes us feel like we're not actually the same. But like I said, most of us are middle class. I will flesh this out more in another post. But this variation prevents us from mobilizing all together, even though we desperately need to do so.
Remember that when the price of goods goes up, but your wages do not, that difference is going somewhere.
Do you see quality of goods improving? I don't think so, not more than what would have happened anyway as society develops. Do you think automation, technological advancement and outsourcing is increasing the cost of production. Not as much as we're led to believe. It's fueled by greed. It may not be easy but we must stop playing into it.
The companies are taking more control, giving less back, increasing income inequality. We all suffer from it. The inflation rate is a constant reminder that we're getting screwed. We must band together and stop it. Here's just a few ways to do that:
- stop buying crap you don't need. It's hard, because billions of dollars in advertising money is trying to get you do it. Now that doesn't mean stop buying stuff you actually need, or might even want just because you want it. You deserve to get what you want. Advertisement has its purpose, and its even helpful at times, just don't let it consume you, especially if you really can't afford it.
- think critically about the motivations of companies (which really includes the super rich, if you think about it). also, to be fair, there are some super rich people/companies that are trying to contribute positively to society, but again the exceptions do not invalidate the rule here. Most companies are just trying to get your money, they don't care about you, no matter what their marketing tells you. I particularly loathe some some jewellery retailers that put up ads making you feel like you're changing the world, when really they're just selling you their crappy wares.
- contribute to your community. I have a particular preference for food banks, but that's for personal reasons that I'll discuss in another post. But contribute, however small. And don't be turned off by cash donations that help with "administration." Administration in a charity is very important, just do your research, make sure the charity is legitimate and not totally wasteful with its resources. But charities have expenses and challenges just like businesses. What good is all that food or clothing going to do, if it can't get managed and distributed properly to the needy? And I prefer cash donations because the charities can leverage economies of scale better than you can as an individual.
- vote. Vote as much as possible. Vote with your dollars, in the decisions you make, in the organizations you support. Some people may not be in a position to choose, if you're really that close to the line. But most people can afford to pay a little more than the lowest price, if you really think about it. Vote with your dollars, and support good, upstanding fellow middle class people trying to run their businesses. It is better for the community in the long run, and it pays dividends. Large corporate entities don't care about you, it's all a cost/benefit algorithm. You deserve better.
- vote. This time for your public representatives. It's not always easy to look beyond yourself, but vote for what's best for the whole region, city, town, country, whatever. No one will blame you if you just can't, but at least try. Look out for the poor, the marginalized, even if you're not among them, because they are out there, and in fact, if they prosper, you will too. It may seem counter intuitive, but it will happen. Help others, even with your votes.