Monday, March 24, 2014

Moving Down that Slipery Slope

I wrote a short blog on how we as a nation, in an effort to help those less fortunate then ourselves have created an environment that will eventually enslave the lower class.  Hard truths are hard truths. It is not our nature to want to hear them. We prefer to gather information that supports our point of view, not challenge it. One of the roles of the Reticular Activating System within our brain is specifically designed to ferret out those sources of information that move us from internal conflict to peace.

Even agnostic George Holyoake's in his 1896 publication English Secularism defined secularism as: That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good. So as Americans we strive to do what we feel is in the good.

I ran across an interesting whitepaper entitled "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization ", September 2013, Oxford University Engineering and Science Department. It's over seventy pages, but it boils down to the graphs below:

The population at the greatest risk of having their jobs replaced by automation are the low wage, low skill jobs represented by the lower class. If we add to this our propensity to compensate for low income by providing financial support through government programs, we are creating a class of people held in bondage. They just simply don't have the where with all to climb out of the dependance based inviroment they find themselves in. They have to find employment that catapults them from lower class to middle class in one fell swoop.

The problem is that they may find that the normal intermediary steps required to improve their financial life are punitive. They may actually have to decrease their standard of living, now at the bottom of the American dream, before they can move upward. They have to give up government subsidies, start paying taxes and still have enough income to maintain their lowly standard of living. Tough love...

Kerby Anderson talks about the ten stages in the decline of a nation. They are (with my interpretation):
1. Spiritual Faith (our founding fathers)
2. Great Courage (American Revolution)
3. Birth of Liberty (The Constitution)
4. Abundance (World leadership)
5. Selfishness (My specific wants and needs rule my decisions)
6. Complacency (sometimes under the guise of Tolerance)
7. Apathy
8. Moral Decay
9. Dependence
10. Bondage

I stopped notating after number six because I am not sure exactly where we are as a nation. We clearly have moved into, and perhaps beyond selfishness. Have we become complacent? It is hard to say. We seem to be broadening the definition of acceptable behavior. States now run the gambling concession through lotteries. States have also started to legalize drug use. Is this because we selfishly feel that we should not be stopped from doing what pleases us, or are we just too complacent to stop some fringe niche group from eroding our sensibilities. 

Twenty, thirty or fourty years from now, where will we be? Will we be a nation that has a substantial population that is dependent on the government to the point that they are incapable of taking care of themselves. Will those who actively contribute to the cofferes of the government be able to contribute enough? Will we be overtaken by Stage 3 or Stage 4 countries, some of which have population three and four times ours.

If this does happen.... will we all slip into bondage because we do not have the resources to maintain our independence? Will their economic engines run ours?

Friday, February 28, 2014

The enslavement of the lower class or the unintended consequences of social engineering.

Do government programs meant to help the lower income worker actually make it more difficult for them to rise above government subsidies, thus thwarting their drive?

Conservatives and liberals are at the vocal polar extremes of public opinion. Most of us are moderates and keep our opinions to ourselves. Mostly  because there is no party to stand behind. I do fear that in the governments quest to save the lower class they have unintentionally built an economic system that further enslaves them. I'm a moderate so I give the government the benefit of the doubt. Liberals will say it's not true and conservative will say it is intentional.

Here's the makeup of the story. There are several moves the government has made that individually look like a good thing for the poor, but taken together it creates a spiral down system for their future. 

The government is trying to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80 (or $10.10 based on who you are). That's a minimum 35% increase. On the surface that seems like a good idea, the lower income worker would get a substantial increase in income and maybe climbs out of poverty. There are some problems with it. The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) predicts that only 19% of the recipients of this wage increase are actually below the poverty level. 29% of the benefit would go to families already making over three times the poverty level. The projection is that the increase will be a net 3% to those below the poverty level. Add to this the negative real income effect of -.4% for the rest of the wage earners, the projected 500,000 lost jobs and the real net earnings is negligible. But this isn't the real problem. We'll get to that in a moment.

The second great idea for the lower class was subsidized insurance. Again, I am not being facetious, it was a good idea. But it did not address the unintended consequences. Low income people thrive on hourly work that is typically at or less than 40 hours a week. Under the new ACA mandate that limit will lower to 35 hours. The ACA also mandates taxes for employees in place of benefits, further raising the cost of employees that exceed the threshold. There is a lot of evidence that businesses will try to work around the requirement by limiting employment. One way to accomplish that is to hire more full time workers that will work in excess of 50 hours per week (and get compensated for it) and fewer hourly employees that work 30 to 40 hours per week. So the lower middle class or middle class will get higher quality employment and the lower class will be squeezed out. 

The combination of higher wages and higher ACA cost makes automation more appealing. The breakeven to replace employees with systems becomes more appealing. The jobs that will be automated are not the complex jobs that require analytical thinking, they are the repetitive manual jobs mostly populated by the lower class. McDonalds is already testing self serve ordering in California. This automation, much like self server check out and ATM's, further reduces job opportunities for the lower class. 

So where does the lower class find themselves. Well first, the job market for semi-skilled or no skilled employees is shrinking. The 500,000 jobs lost is part of it and automation of repeatable manual tasks is the other part. Add to that the natural limit of hours to avoid taxes and fees and when they do get a job it doesn't pay much. Here is another problem. When they get a job they pay taxes and they lose food stamps, welfare, and insurance subsidies. How much will they have to make to cover all of the lost income to taxes and the loss of government subsidies? Probably a lot more than $350 per week they would make at minimum wage and 35 hours. 

Now this isn't opposition to subsidies. You notice I didn't call them entitlements. In a prosperous civilized society there is a natural need to help other less fortunate.  I do see one of the unintended side effect of all of these programs is that the lower income group does not see a way off of subsidies through work. The inflection point it above their ability to achieve. So they are now locked in the lower class. The divide between a life on government subsidies and the life of the lower middle class is too great.  Society will eventually leave them behind.