Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Post-Work Society Is Not a Future State. It Is Here. Right Now.

Part III - Corporate Welfare

Of course, it's more than just disabled people and prisoners we pay for via taxes. Many people, while not entirely supported by the state, receive government funds in order to survive because so many jobs pay poverty-level wages. This is essentially a massive subsidy to the private sector. Thus, they are on government assistance and are not counted as unemployed, just like prisoners, the disabled, and students. Thus, I would argue that all of these jobs are essentially de facto quasi-government jobs. They would not exist in their present form if they were not subsidized by the state, it's just their main beneficiaries are the private sector rather than the public.

The poster child for this is, of course, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart employs 1 percent of the U.S. workforce (ironically the same percentage as Americans in prison), and pays an average of $8.81 an hour while making over 15 billion a year in pure profit. According to some sources, Walmart's employees receive $2.66 billion in government help every year, or about $420,000 per store. They are also the top recipients of Medicaid in numerous states. Walmart fails to provide a livable wage and decent healthcare benefits, costing U.S. taxpayers an annual average of $1.02 billion in healthcare costs.

Those numbers have been disputed, but even if it's off by 100%, it's still a very large number. Politifact did a study on a claim that the average cost to the taxpayer is $1000 for every WalMart worker:
The researchers found taxpayers paid $86 million a year to subsidize Walmart workers’ wages -- $32 million for health programs and $54 million in other assistance. ("Other assistance" could be food stamps, subsidized housing and school lunches, and use of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a tax credit for low- to moderate-income workers.)

 The average taxpayer bill per employee was $730 for health expenses and $1,222 for other expenses, researchers found. The totals for other large California retailers totaled $521 for health and $880 for other.

 Also widely cited by the anti-Walmart contingent is a 2004 Democratic U.S. House committee report that examined the company’s record on many issues, including public subsidizing of employees’ wages. A 200-person Walmart store could require $420,750 in tax dollars for employee assistance a year, working out to $2,103 per worker, according to the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce report.

 Walmart does not dispute that many of its employees receive public health assistance. But company spokesman Kory Lundberg criticized Grayson citing the Berkeley study, saying, "They’re pointing out data that’s at least seven to eight years old."

 Plus, he said, it’s expected the company would top such lists because its employs the most people.

And even though just over half of its employees take the company health care plan, Lundberg said, workers often have other options for health insurance, including from the military, Medicare, or a parent’s or spouse’s plan.
And according to the most recent figures, fifteen percent of the workforce is on food stamp benefits right now. That's nearly one in seven Americans. And that includes a lot more people with jobs than without.

And the fastest growing job category in America right now, home health workers, already has 40 percent of its workers on public assistance:
It's the job of the future! And it's terrible! It's low-wage, low-tech, long hours, in most cases it's not covered by minimum wage or overtime protections, and it's projected to grow by 70 percent between 2010 and 2020. That's right: It's home health care work.

The average hourly wage is just $9.70 an hour, according to the Labor Department.

 For those in the industry who work full-time, this amounts to roughly $20,000 a year. Many health care aides only work part-time though—and they do not receive benefits.

Under these conditions, it's no surprise then that about 40% of home aides rely on public assistance, such as Medicaid and food stamps, just to get by.
Part-time and freelance workers are not counted as unemployed ether, even though they are a growing share of the workforce. Under our present system, part-time workers receive no health care benefits. Is it any wonder people would 'prefer' to be disabled? And freelance workers don't know where their next paycheck is coming from. Is it any surprise they would prefer the stability of a regular government check with a known amount, even if it is small?

What if instead of government programs, with all the red tape that implies, we raised people's incomes by just giving them a check to compensate for their low salary? And what if we made health care available to all, no questions asked the way the rest of the world does it?  And what if we paid for it all by taxing the profits of corporations who pay their workers so little in the first place? If that prevents them from "creating jobs," who cares, as it seems like the  only thing allowing them to 'create jobs" in the first place is the government!

Part I

Part II


  1. Unfortunately, the interconnected mandarins who are the real sources of leadership and power at all levels of the Federal government, in all three branches of government, are completely invested in the continuance of the current paradigm. In many cases, they are second or third generation mandarins, who don't have the slightest connection to we rubes in flyover country, who for some reason still give our allegiances to the State. And the state has been co-opted and disciplined by the real world government, Global Capitalism. The states of the world have learned that they will not be allowed to protect their workers or their natural environments.

    I really see no alternative to opting out and creating parallel lives and systems. This will involve real risk, such as civil disobedience, and the wholesale ignoring of laws that prevent such alternative ways of living from functioning.
    On the plus side, humans have a natural right to ignore unjust laws and tyrannies, and the right to the planet's abundance, as long as it is not hoarded or abused.

  2. ...they are second or third generation mandarins, who don't have the slightest connection to we rubes in flyover country...

    I'll say - did you see this:

    What's more annoying is the assumption that everyone who didn't go to a fancy school is unintelligent or inarticulate. That the only bright people are the ones who are able to get into these institutions through their personal circumstances, and the rest of us don't matter. What is the real "entitlement society"?

    1. I'm not a huge Ross Douthat fan - his shtick is a bit much, but I love his irony and sarcasm in this article. All very true.

      Fortunately, when the wheel of fate/history turns, former elites get turned out or churned up.

      I absolutely do not identify with Ivy League alumni - they tend to have more self-regard than they deserve. One of my best friends is the smartest guy I know. He grew up near the Three Mile Island reactors, which is probably why he suffers from severe hypothyroidism which almost killed him before he diagnosed it himself. Anyway, he was accepted to Harvard, but couldn't afford it, he thought, even with a scholarship and financial aid. His working-class dad didn't want to extend himself too far to help him, so he ended up pursuing other educational options. He still out-thinks most people, and by chance found a unique position that lets him have a materially good life, in a software company founded by another guy, like Bill Gates, who probably didn't even finish college. But I think my friend still regrets the academic life he could have had...

      Anyway, the Ivy League mandarins depend on the status quo for their power: a status quo of ossified crony-capitalism and a huge Federal bureaucracy to employ them. Most of them really haven't amassed the kind of wealth that allows them to retire from the game. They don't have dynasties. Meantime, the rest of us have to create actual value on the ground for real people who can often barely afford to buy the value we create. At least in software, the products don't require much in the way of a factory to produce.

      I think history indicates pretty strongly that a society with a large underclass is not going to be politically stable, and certainly not liberal in the classical sense.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.