Ron Johnson Pretty Sure Economy Will Die If People Have Enough Money To Live

Class War
Ron Johnson Pretty Sure Economy Will Die If People Have Enough Money To Live

One big myth about America is that anyone can make it here. Poverty — along with the fact that some people don't have enough to eat, to pay rent, to have healthcare — is a moral failing and the idea that we wouldn't have it if only "those people" would just pull themselves up by their bootstraps is a myth meant to absolve us all of responsibility, of all guilt.

For lord knows how many years, conservatives have been justifying a low minimum wage based on another myth. The myth that the only people who are supposed to be getting paid the minimum wage are teenagers who are still in school. Never mind that businesses that pay minimum wage are usually open during school hours. Never mind that it has been the case for many years now that teenagers only account for about one in five workers making the minimum wage. They stuck to their guns.

But that's all starting to crumble.

Now, many of the places that paid adults the minimum wage (or less) are finding it difficult to find adults willing to work for that. Now we are finding that we actually need people to work those jobs and that, the way things are set up, our country could not actually function if everyone successfully pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Some people might react to this by thinking, "Wow, so if we need people to do this work, we need to make it possible for people to live off of doing this work, for those people to have food, a place to live, healthcare and roses, too."

Others, like Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson, are asking the poor to stay poor for the good of all America.

On Sunday, Johnson appeared on WKOW in Wisconsin to explain his support for a bill that would end the $300 enhanced unemployment benefits. While many conservatives have argued that these benefits are hurting employers who want to pay their employees less than the $16.75 an hour the unemployment benefits come out to, Johnson is taking the bold step of claiming that employers paying workers more in order to compete with said unemployment benefits, and workers demanding more money to work, is bad, because that will lead to inflation.


"People are literally making more money on unemployment with the plussed-up federal benefits than they made at their job," Johnson said.

Johnson added he's concerned wages rising too much too quickly could bring about inflation, citing a continuing increase in supply prices putting an addition[al] crunch on businesses.

"Increases in wage rates ratchet up and that creates permanent inflation so you may feel good about getting a five, or six, or seven percent raise but if general inflation is six, seven, or eight percent, that increase is just completely wiped out," Johnson said.

Now, just to be clear, that's total bullshit. The fact is, most places that pay their employees less than they need to live on are, ironically, places that rely on people having money to spend. This is why minimum wage increases have actually never been found to cause the doom and gloom conservatives insist they will.

But what Johnson, who by the way makes $175,000 a year as a United States senator and would probably not be willing to sacrifice that for the good of the US economy, is essentially saying here is that he believes the United States economy will fall apart if everyone were to make enough to live on. That's a bold statement. He is asking workers to sacrifice their ability to provide for themselves and their families so that an employer can profit off of their labor.

When asked about the fact that wages have not kept up with the cost of living in the United States, namely on things like childcare, Johnson brushed it off to explain that wages should be determined by the marketplace, not by what people are willing to work for. Because businesses can be trusted to set a fair wage for people, even if that wage does not enable them to afford to eat.

"Wages are set in the marketplace and businesses pay what wages they can afford based on the competitive situation," he explained. Apparently the free market is great for everything but labor.

So weird how those wages literally never change though. It's almost as if when many employers can afford higher wages "based on the competitive situation," they actually just pay themselves more.

Well, no, not almost. It is what happens.

Graph showing how productivity has increased while wages have stagnatedSource: Economic Policy Institute

Graph showing the increase in CEO vs worker pay over the last 30 yearsSource: Economic Policy Institute

The fact is, things have been heading this way for a while, even without the pandemic speeding things up. You just can't have 44 percent of the country not making enough to live on, while Republicans sneer that all those people don't deserve healthcare or childcare or basic necessities, while they complain that those getting help are just "lazy" or "entitled" and demand cuts on that help so rich people can have even more money they're never going to be able to spend in their lifetimes.

It's not simply unpleasant, it's not even just immoral or nonsensical, it's completely unsustainable.

We have 328 million people in this country who need to have enough to live on. Our current system, as per Ron Johnson, won't allow for that, but there are a few ways we can manage this. We can require employers to pay people enough to live on. We can admit it's not possible for everyone to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and let employers pay what they can and fund the rest through our own taxes. Or we can take care of certain necessities for everyone — like healthcare, childcare, a college education, all the things normal countries subsidize — that would give us all a little more breathing room. Or any combination of those things, really.

But something's gotta give.


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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