Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Duck the sentimental landslide

Make a note of this, folks: Two weddings in as many weeks can cause unexplainable bouts of sighing to the accompaniment of country music, as well as periodic daydreams of cowboys/knights or other strong male figures on white horses galloping across windy prairies.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

HR by me

Most employers offer sick leave. What about "sick of it" leave? I think we need special leave for those days when life, either work or personal, is too utterly irritating or miserable to allow any productivity.

If we were being honest, we'd say, "You know, I could sit here and do my best to get something done, but the reality is that my mind is really stewing about that stupid thing my husband did and the enormous altercation that will ensue at the first moment I see him, so any work I do will be, at best, substandard."

I can just see it in every employee handbook:

Sick-of-it leave: Every employee receives three sick-of-it leave days each year, to be used when an employee's mind cannot be focused on work due to the irritating actions of a family member, friend or significant other; a home improvement project that is impossibly out-of-control; or any other life event that is utterly FUBAR.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Who’s oppressing who

In the midst of a discussion about politics a few weeks ago, one of the participants, who is a self-proclaimed conservative, says something to the effect of, “ The Democratic ideologies are the reason that lower-income people continue to remain under the thumb of the aristocracy.”

This person was referring, of course, to the effect that social welfare programs, such as food stamps or housing assistance, has on the masses. I won’t argue that giving people everything they need to survive, and asking for no work in return, is a good thing. I agree that such things can tend to breed lack of motivation. Why work when you can do nothing and still survive? I would also point out that the causes of poverty in the United States are rooted in many things, some historical, some personal, some political. The cycle is far too complicated to explain or solve with a simple, “If we made them work, they would be more prosperous.”

It’s difficult to ignore the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Most of us who live in the middle are not getting any closer to that dream of prosperity. Do a Google search to find out how the growth of CEO’s salaries compares to the growth of the average workers’. In some ways, I would say that the “American dream” of gaining riches through hard work is at best the exception rather than the rule. Lots of people work hard throughout their entire lives. They aren’t getting rich doing it.

The reason low-income people, at least those who work, remain poor, is because they are not paid a living wage by the leaders of these large companies, leaders who make more in a single year than 97 percent of us will make in a lifetime. Now they will say that the reason they must pay people so poorly is that consumers, including middle-class consumers, demand low prices for their goods. Fair enough. Except, I wonder, if theses CEOs and boards of directors allowed even half of their top salaries to trickle down to the middle-income-earning employees, would those employees still demand such low prices?

Capitalism and the free market are wonderful things. At the most basic level, they have the ability to let one person, one business owner, create prosperity for multiple others. This is why things like microloans make such a big difference in developing countries. That one startup business provides jobs, which provide money to spend at other businesses, which in turn can hire more employees. It’s an amazing and powerful thing.

However, like anything, it can be taken to extremes. I think perhaps that is what has happened in the United States. In many cases, the leaders of today’s largest employers are so far removed from the business, and its employees, that the wages they are paying people are little more than a ledger note. In a relatively small business, the owner can see, first hand, the effects of his or her decisions. Not giving people raises this year? You’ll hear in the hallways how employees won’t be able to buy as many school clothes or Christmas presents. It makes it hard to take a $2 million bonus at the end of the year, as payment for upping the profit margin, when you have to look in the eyes of those who gave up braces for their kids to get you there.

Why are lower-income people stuck where they are? Many reasons. But we cannot depend on the consciences of CEOs and boards of directors to somehow see the light and start paying people a living wage. It’s not that any of them are bad or uncaring people. It’s just that they are so far removed from those who are affected by their decisions. The eyes they look into every day are those of their most influential shareholders, not those of the night stocker making $8 an hour. They cannot be wholly blamed for ignoring something they cannot see. However, in such cases, it becomes the responsibility of a government of the people to take steps to show them what they cannot see. A living minimum wage is a good first step. A limit on compensation for the CEOs of publicly traded companies might be another. The wealth is not trickling down. Our market needs some assistance in order to work as it was intended.

I would contend that eliminating all social programs will not eliminate poverty. We have a better chance of doing so if we find a way to make a day’s work worth something more than simply being able to barely make it from paycheck to paycheck. If we want people to work hard for prosperity, we have to make that American dream something more than a symbol of some bygone reality. It has to be more than two words that our mouths say with idealistic fervor while our minds struggle to apply it to the world at hand.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Yeah! Um ... yeah.

"If you can't talk smack in checkers, what can you do?"

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Rugged Alaska woman in training

Me: Dang it, my front signal light housing on the truck is broken. I'll have to order a new part,
My 7-year-old daughter (with authority): No Mom! Duct tape!

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