“Say It Ain’t So Wisco” or in the news today “That’s Not Fair”

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

June 5, 2012

The complaints sound like this:

They get paid more than me! That’s not fair!

They get better benefits than me! That’s not fair!

They get better hours than me! That’s not fair!

We should cut their pay to make it fair!

We should cut their benefits so they have the same crappy benefits I have. That will make it fair!

We should make them work the same crappy hours I work! That will make it fair!

I have to drive far to work, so should they! That would make it fair!

I have to scrounge to find child care! They should too! They should quit complaining about how good they have it and suck it up like the rest of us!

They should stop whining! They don’t know what it’s like being a real American having to work for crappy pay, in crappy hours, with a crappy commute! I want them to suffer just like me!

The cause seems to be with these many feelings of unfairness, that the only way to level the playing field is to, quite simply, vote against ones own interests. Or, rather, just enough people believe that the playing field needs to be leveled in this way that the whole votes against their own interests.

What do I mean, you ask?

2012 National Housing Wage is $18.25 per hour.

The 2012 National Housing Wage is $18.25 per hour. (source: The National Low Income Housing Coalition)

It is not in everyone’s best interest to live below a livable housing wage ($18.25 per hour).

It is not in everyone’s best interest to have families working 2.5 jobs or 101 hours per week to maintain stable housing. That type of work week, in itself, is not stable.

It is as if we’ve forgotten that one part of the American Dream is to allow everyone to achieve their own dreams, however they may conceive them to be. Jack’s dream might be to be a hair stylist, Judy’s dream a truck driver, Joe’s dream a school teacher, and Jane’s dream might be to become the 10th Female President of the United States (I’m hoping for a more Progressive U S of A in the coming years).

But, collectively, we think that smokestacking the good social programs away is the path to fairness. We misconstrue the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” idiom for a deluded version of equity.  We opt to choose “equity of outcome” and not “equity in opportunity.” And, instead of choosing an outcome that puts everyone in a state where food, shelter, clothing, education, and health are taken care of – we are choosing an outcome where no one is taken care of.

No one.

Except the 1%.

All for the hope that one day, we too will figure out investment banking and other quick rich schemes to have golden parachutes and swan sculptures for birthday parties. For that faint hope, we vote against our own interests.

By voting against our own interests, we vote against our grandparents. We vote against our parents. We vote against our aunts, our uncles, our cousins. We vote against our sisters. We vote against our brothers. We vote against our children.

For the vain hope that we can be the next Mitt Romney, we sacrifice our children’s future. We sacrifice our kids’ health. We sacrifice our kids’ education. We sacrifice our kids’ housing.

When we sacrifice our basic needs for a whim, we sacrifice our lives.

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  1. Betsy Curtis

    I like your point of view. I hope we get a clear review of the Walker recall vote. It is sad that he won. Thanks for your commitment to this cause.

  2. Joseph Jones

    Upon reading your blog post, I think you’ve identified the wrong cause. You frame it as a “fairness” perspective. I see it more as an “individualism” perspective.

    In your vision, people want an equal outcome by pulling down some who get “more” than others. I disagree since I don’t hear that same argument about investment bankers to use your example or others in the business sphere.

    Instead I think the issue is one of a misplaced cult of individualism. “I achieved ‘x’ all by myself. Everyone else should, too.” This view fosters opposition to all gov’t programs (except military and law enforcement), unions, public education, public works, and public institutions. All of these represent a communal activity that provides certain benefits. The investment and reward of such activities is not the same for everyone.

    I believe this vision of American has resulted in the neo-Anti-Federalism (Tea Party and its surrogates) and the voting against self-interest that you are addressing in your post. I agree with your conclusions but not necessarily the cause that you focus on that drives your argument.

    • Michelle

      I’ve been thinking about your comment, Joe, all week. So, my vision was more an observation. Given that, I don’t see conflict in my proposition. I wholly agree about your perception of a cult of individualism. This has certainly been a common theme, noted well (for example) by Tocqueville in the mid nineteenth century. And, it certainly hasn’t died out. But, I think, and what I was trying to argue, is this individualism is decried by claiming fairness. So, a combination of your summation (‘I achieved “x” all by myself, therefore everyone else should too.’) and my series of “fairness” complaints. Yes, my thoughts were surely scattered, which certainly would have aided your frustration with misplaced metaphors and/or confused clichés. But, I also don’t spend more than 20 or 30 minutes writing! 🙂

  3. Joseph Jones

    After further consideration, I still do not agree. The notion of fairness is usually applied broadly; however, the issue here is not being applied broadly at all. I don’t hear any “fairness” complaints from these groups about CEO or Wall Street compensation. I haven’t seen such complaints about qualifications for other professionals either. Furthermore, this isn’t entirely about unionization either since I’m not hearing such fairness complaints about police and fire — also unionized public service workers.

    Maybe you interact with people who build different arguments than I do, but I still do think fairness is the logic behind the rhetoric of claims made in Wisconsin (and elsewhere). (Of course I am assuming that there is both logic and rhetoric on which to ground these arguments, which is a grand assumption indeed!)

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