Class in America

Obama is living up to his pledge to take on health care, and I am glad for that. But because he has proposed taxing people who make more than $250K a year to pay for this, rabid proponents of free market capitalism are now up in arms. One headline article on Yahoo claims he is stirring up “class warfare.”

Now, those of us on the left too easily dismiss the concerns, because let’s face it, most of us don’t make more than $250K and don’t think it’s unreasonable if you do to pay a bigger share of the pie. But let’s not dismiss the fact that there is a genuine philosophical difference here, about what kind of capitalist society we’re going to have. I am in favor of a regulated capitalism, one in which the government tries to protect the interests of the less fortunate. But this is a clear philosophical stance, one which contradicts what others believe deeply and to their core.

The thing is, most of the people who believe most fervently in the freest of free markets seem to be men. White men, in fact. Oh, and most importantly, they tend to be rich white men. Some are nonwhite, some are women, but very, very few are poor. It’s not a coincidence, yet they often want you to believe it is. But if they had to survive on less than 20K a year, supporting their family and paying their bills, do you think they would be so quick to defend the free market system?

I’d like to issue an open challenge anyone who happens to stumble upon this blog to live for a year on $15,080 a year, and see what their economic theory is after a year of managing this. Where did I come up with that figure? It’s what someone making minimum wage ($7.25/hr) makes per year, before taxes.

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~ by realsupergirl on February 26, 2009.

3 Responses to “Class in America”

  1. It’s an interesting experiment, and, as anyone who has been “poor” in college or grad school knows, an incomplete one. It doesn’t take into account living on $15K/year without, for example, the hand-me-down car from Mom and Dad or the wardrobe and furniture that you bought during the years you weren’t experimenting with your low income or the first, last and deposit you either similarly had handed to you or were able to save for during less lean times. Or, whatever level of privilege you entered the experiment with that doesn’t go away just because you now make less money. (On the flip side, you may lack the lifetime of building survival skills to deal with living in poverty.)

    Not that those kinds of experiments don’t change hearts and minds. The food bank here challenges people to live on some pittance of a food budget for a month (I think it amounts to about $21/week, or the average food-stamp allotment), and it gets the conversation started. (That experiment, by the way, is also flawed because food-stamp allotments are often supplements to other income, and are not meant to purchase an entire month of groceries, so the average amount is skewed toward insufficiency.)

    And, don’t get me started on “class warfare.” As if we weren’t living in a state of class warfare as it is, with CEOs making 100s of times more than front-line workers and banks preying on poor people with sub-prime mortgages and employers using the lousy economy to slash salaries, positions and benefits left and right.

  2. shanamadele’s comment reminds me of my biggest complaint about barbara ehrenreich’s nickled and dimed. While her experiment (similar to what you ask here, supergirl) was intense and insightful, she always knew that she’d be able to go back to her phd toting life eventually and that ultimately, she wouldn’t starve – so a huge layer of stress was nonexistent. that said, she did do what shanamadele suggests your plan doesn’t account for – she did the experiment without the pre-existing wealth of cars, clothes, and rent deposits. if you haven’t read it, it’s worth it. And she’s a reedie. and she has a great tirade about “visible christians.” which of course i love.

    • It is a great book. I have read it. Also, her more recent book about white collar unemployment, Bait and Switch, is also very good.

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