Posted in Rants on December 14th, 2011 by Ed

In keeping with yesterday's post about the Establishment Republican view of what ails us economically, here's Ron "Can you believe I beat Feingold? Me neither!" Johnson explaining why the minimum wage is just fine where it is:

JOHNSON: Bottom line: when you’re a good worker you don’t stay at minimum wage for long. Trust me on that. (Crowd laughs)

It’s not universal. It’s not universal, but trust me as an employer, as an employer I certainly didn’t want to lose good employees. And so you actually have a better marketplace. And so if your employer is not paying you good wages and you’re a good worker, you go look for other places. Now that’s hard to do, that’s hard to do when we have such high levels of unemployment. But again I would get back to we don’t have a very attractive place for business investment.

To summarize, being a "good worker" means that you'll make more money. If you are stuck at a low paying job, by implication you are a Bad Worker. Bad! We do that outside, mister.

When I hear logic such as this I always wonder…do people like Gingrich and Johnson actually believe that this is the way the world (or at least the economy) works? That the job market and wages are as described in Chapter 3 of a junior high economics textbook? Or do they realize that the worldview they're promoting is ludicrous but do it anyway because it's politically expedient? If it's the former, from where did this understanding of the economy arise? In Johnson's case it certainly isn't from personal experience; he married into a rich family that put him at the top of the family business. I guess that was his reward for being a Good Worker.

I reference Horatio Alger often on here – he of the classic 19th Century juvenile literature exemplified by Ragged Dick, wherein plucky, bootstrap-pulling protagonists rise from vagrant or shoe shine boy to powerful socioeconomic status using nothing but their own "luck, pluck, and diligence." The reason I so often reference him here is that his oversimplified worldview, packaged and aimed at children (today we'd call him a Young Adult author, although that genre is now known as Teen Paranormal Romance) as it was, perfectly summarizes the modern conservative understanding of social class, labor markets, economics, and the state. Everyone who works hard makes it! The world is a fundamentally Good place and it will reward the deserving! A magnanimous rich or powerful person will notice your outstanding qualities and pull you up the social ladder!

Alger is widely scorned today, much as we can assume that modern authors aiming at tweens will be scorned by future generations. However, America during the Industrial Revolution was a ready market for his literature – simple, inspirational stories intended to make young people feel like life might hold something other than misery for them. But his books were stories, not empirical studies. Even Alger himself, ever the chipper fellow, understood that his fiction for kids was not an accurate representation of how the world really worked. Yet here we are more than a century later and the gospel of wealth and social mobility in a classless society has become a rare trope in fiction…but a disturbingly prominent one in real life, if the attitudes of our ruling class are any indication.