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Bob Franken: Minimum aspirations

Posted: February 22, 2014 - 4:34pm

Like anyone, my life is governed by certain principles. Among them is the steadfast belief that one should always aim low to have any chance at all of avoiding failure. It’s an article of faith, or actually, an article of a lack of faith. Whatever, it would follow then that even in this age of obscene financial inequality, those few who hold power and riches would be anxious to throw a crumb to those at the bottom. Never mind any sense of altruism, which is obsolete these days, but a tiny act of generosity might keep the rabble from getting restless.

So one would think that the idea of raising the minimum wage would be embraced across the economic-political board. Well, one would be wrong. Republicans, acting in their capacity as puppets for the wealthy, are dead set against the Democrats’ politically motivated agitation to raise the floor amount from its starvation-level $7.25 an hour to $10.10. And now the opponents are latching on to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that projects such an increase probably would mean the overall loss of a half-million jobs, which CBO admits was a guess, since the real reduction could be “very slight” to as many as a million. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell jumped right in: “Today’s CBO report shows that raising the minimum wage could destroy as many as one million jobs, a devastating blow to the very people who need help most.” Of course, McConnell is running scared in his primary back home, so he’s seizing every opportunity he can find to sound like a hard-liner, but he and the rest of the Haves gang choose to ignore the other part of the report, that forecasts as many as 24 million workers getting higher wages, lifting 900,000 of them out of official poverty.

Besides, the job losses would come about because employers would let people go rather than pay them above the current shameful amount. Quite frankly, they don’t deserve to be in business if they can’t see their way clear to give their workers more than such a pittance. Even the most struggling entrepreneur should avoid exploitation, and that’s what paying today’s minimum wage is — exploitation.

Frankly, the time has come to refuse to patronize those who don’t provide fair compensation. Companies like Costco have famously demonstrated that they can be successful and respect their employees. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that they thrive not in spite of that, but because of it.

That, however, is not the prevalent business model these days. Mostly, companies do whatever they can to maintain what I like to call “profits without honor,” squeezing their workforce out of whatever they can. By the way, they often show the same contempt for their customers, so let’s be honest, they are really just lousy citizens.

That’s what’s really awful about how unions have squandered their power, leaving the labor force at the mercy of the corporate mercenaries. What was fascinating in the UAW loss at that Volkswagen plant in Tennessee is how, when it looked like UAW just might succeed, the Republican politicians from the state joined forces with national anti-union groups to stop the organizing effort dead in its tracks.

Once again, organized labor showed that it wasn’t organized enough to challenge organized anti-labor. The loss in Tennessee hammers still another nail in the coffin of the ideal that those who produce the wealth in the United States should share in it.

Another of my favorite bromides has to do with failure and baseball: If you don’t succeed at first, try the outfield. Then, if you still don’t succeed, keep trying anyway. You’ve already lost everything, so what do you have to lose? Besides, there’s nothing better to do with your time.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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