Yesterday the U.S. Congress approved an increase in the Federal minimum wage. If signed by Bush, as expected, the bill will raise the minimum wage from the current $5.15 to $7.25/hr – the first raise in the last decade. I don't hear much grumbling about this, but if you ask me (and I know you are, subconsciously), it's time to look at wage control from another angle. Back in the days when I earned an honest living, it was mostly at or near the minimum wage, and I can say with a bit of authority that poverty in America is a very different creature than it is in, say, Chad. Artificially inflated housing costs are the number one bane of the American poor, and occasionally raising the minimum wage while encouraging that inflation is hardly a prescription for solving that problem. The traditional American economic philosophy of keeping the troughs of the fattest pigs overflowing, spilling enough excess around to feed the rest of us has worked well for a long time, but those troughs have attained such ridiculous depths lately that it's hardly worth it anymore, and as we find ourselves fighting more losing wars to maintain control of dwindling resources, the old paradigm looks sillier and sillier. So here's my proposition: How about imposing instead a maximum wage in this country? It could be ludicrously high – say, 2 million dollars a year. That's enough to live a lifestyle that's plenty embarrassing, and it's enough to keep the movers and shakers inspired to keep the infrastructure together. Those who find themselves in violation could give the excess to whatever cause they desire, and guys like Bill Gates could still send out press releases every time they give something away. Those with faith could turn it over to the IRS. I'm a firm believer that there's such a thing as an adequately high standard of living, and it's time to consider not exceeding it. Bill Clinton had the right answer, he just asked the wrong question. What's the biggest threat to America's future? “It's the economy, stupid.”
illustration: Agarrando La Mañana--Black Vultures (1994) ink wash 14" x 20"