You may have already read about how McDonalds has put together a proposed budget for their underpaid employees. You can read about it here. It's kind of a lesson in how out of touch the rich can be. They propose things like "Get a second job". They put $0 in for food, $0 in for heating, $20 for health care. There's been plenty of ridicule of it, and I think that's appropriate, but I won't repeat that here.
What I want to talk about is something that people on the left I think should talk about more, and that is this. It is possible to get by on a lot less. It is possible to get by on minimum wage. And in fact there's a lot of good that would result if we strove to do that.
Now, to be clear, I think minimum wage is WAY too low and should be increased radically. The reason profits at Wal-Mart and McDonald's are so high is simply because the money created goes to the non working owners and not the hard working employees. Employees should get much more. Yeah, the capitalist in a sense just steals the productive contribution of workers. They are parasites.
But people in the US struggle financially not just because they make too little. They do in fact spend too much. This is not an accident. Pointing at them and telling them they have only themselves to blame is simplistic and wrong. But I believe it is true that if you do successfully resist conditioning that leads you to spend more than you should you can get by on very little in this country.
Resisting the conditioning means thinking ahead even when you are young and vulnerable. Is that realistic? I'm not sure. I have a friend that went to a private school where tuition is $35K/yr and I expressed my surprise. How do you even do that? The answer is loans. But don't loans crush you? Oh yeah, he said. But he said he was 18 and had no clue. Someone convinced him to go and he did it. Walk out of school with $100K in debt that is not dischargeable and yeah, you're going to sink if you work at McDonald's.
Another thing that can kill you is this myth that everyone has to have a car. When I graduated from college I took my job offer letter and went to the Ford dealership to get my car, which in my mind was the reward for all my work in college. It was dumb. I actually had a beater that would have worked for me. But somehow I had it in my head that this wasn't good enough. It was. It was a mistake.
Young people easily get sucked into the debt trap, and in that world the McDonald's budget is absurd. But on the left we need to not only complain about how the capitalist parasites are taking our productive contribution, but also that we need to help people avoid the initial debt and a life of consumption. Without the desperation that these create workers get more emboldened to command a fairer piece of the revenue pie.
So let's suppose you're starting from scratch. You have nothing, and also no debt. You're faced with living on a McDonald's budget. The first thing I'd try to think about is where I would live. Maybe the $600 in the budget is reasonable for a very simple rental. I would do whatever I could to make sure my residence was within walking distance of work, the grocery store, and the library. Because of course I'm not going to own a car. That can save you the car payment and insurance, which is $250.
That sounds pretty tough to a lot of people, but I guess lately I've been thinking like I would almost prefer it to the way I live now, constantly driving everywhere. Obviously much better for the environment. Personally I'm a bit locked right now because I have a mortgage, and my location is not right. But if I could do it over I would consider the location factor more.
The McDonalds budget has $100 for cable. I wouldn't have cable. TV is a waste of time, and if I work at McDonalds I get free internet there. My family can go to the library. Yeah, it's limiting, but a part of me says if I had a bit less access to the internet I'd be better off.
Thanks to Obama Care and also Medicaid health insurance can be managed. I'd try to make sure my rental allowed me to have a garden to help with the food budget. Obviously vacations would be modest. Maybe hop on the bike with some camping gear and go to a local park.
This may seem strange, but a part of me thinks this is a better way to live. I read of people that make large incomes but live like this anyway. For them it's not long before the savings they've created is enough to live off of. I suppose you could say they become capitalist parasites. The work of others is funneled into their pockets and they live perpetually without working. For the McDonald's worker it's not quite so good. But by avoiding debt and consumption it can still be a pretty good life. It's good advice for the poor and the rich.