What is the American Good Life?

In Slavoj Zizek’s 2017 book the Courage of Hopelessness, he mentions multiple revolutions that have tried and failed vs the ones that tried and succeeded. In all these cases he is talking about mass worker/communist revolutions, I would include the American Revolution as well. Zizek brings up this idea of the clichés of daily life and society at large and how they hold our system together. The successful revolutions that totally changed daily life for its people were the Bolshevik and Chairman Mao’s takeover of China. The failed revolutions are too many to name, however the tie that binds them is that they sought to stick with old norms in a new system or completely scrap them without creating new ones, according to Zizek. Lenin and Mao were successful at creating new clichés and norms, they asked the question what did daily life look like for the citizens of a communist society? Let’s use this as the start to a thought experiment.

 In America one cliché would be the American Dream “if you work hard, you can have the life you want”, while being very vague it serves as an underlying support for our whole system. Every society has functioning rules, norms, and clichés that give structure to our lives, even if we don’t like them. Zizek highlights some revolutions completely destroying old clichés, when they took power or attempted too, and people had no conception of what values to hold onto, that level of change was utterly shocking. Where Lenin had succeeded was answering the existential questions of his constituents, what is their purpose and role in the larger system. A very tangible example of this is the fact that most men in America die shortly after retiring, no matter their health. They have nothing to hold on too or work towards, their daily purpose is gone leaving a massive longing for meaning and value. This is the same as a revolution without values and clichés.

Hopefully we didn’t lose any conservatives at the mention of Lenin, because this thought experiment is valuable for everyone. Let’s imagine the country decided, today, to start totally over and the candidate of your dreams was the president with both houses of Congress, bringing in sweeping changes and rebuilding the system. Try to go beyond your current partisan riffs and topics, those have been fixed, what does daily American life look like? What really is the true American good life? If you like Trump, what does your ideal society look like? Let’s throw out an example-

An easy one to start with is UBI. More and more we know that we are losing jobs to technology. Technically we are efficient enough to barely require working, our priorities are just not aligned with life satisfaction. Lets picture the world Elon Musk predicts where the majority of people have been replaced by technology and redistributive taxes on those who own the technology provide enough for everyone in society to make $150,000/year(not his number) from the Government. While this sounds beautiful on the surface, there would be extreme challenges. Americans derive value from working, all of a sudden the free time and resources might feel like a prison, no objectives and nothing to achieve- a complete loss of meaning. This is where we would have to bring in new clichés, our society would have to place much more value on creating, traveling, art, cooking, and recreation(just my examples). This is visible comparing America to Latin American countries, the core of our society is work and the core of theirs is family. If we took out work we would have a massive lack of meaning that will need an alternative. 

Let’s walk around in this “future state” for experiment’s sake. Starting at the top, you wake up in the morning, there is no where to go, nothing required. This work gap leaves ample time to focus on your well-being. We could value mental and physical health as life’s primary goal. Spend time finding the routine, exercise, and mental work you need to live a healthy life. Take time to grow your own food. Ok well if you don’t want to garden your neighbor now sells veggies as a hobby she loves. Next we would need to find meaningful work, this is difficult. The parameters of what to do have been blown out, it doesn’t have to make money. Obviously you can’t just lose all of your money, but now profit is pointless. You also can think very creatively, there are no more businesses benefitting from scarcity, so a business like dollar tree or Walmart would just become the shittiest stores out there. No one would be forced to buy shitty things. People would spend their money differently as well. You would likely buy things that added to your lifestyle and not simply things that sustained survival. 

It would be important to change our ideology. Instead of commercial products being advertised as “cool” we would have to make some serious shifts. We would need a population content striving for personal development and creativity. Perhaps TV shows and media would need to appeal to these aspects, instead of selling mind numbing devices, booze, or crappy entertainment they would actually have to sell to a new class of consumers who didn’t know scarcity. As individuals who were previously not getting enough daily food now had the means to buy groceries for their family, this would be an entirely new lifestyle for that individual. There would be a massive need for education, there would have to be a public effort to educate people on how to handle their money, how to eat healthy, purchase a home, and get loans for projects or businesses. 

The other big shift we would need to make is to Re-Glorify the local and small business. Making small business ownership became the bedrock of American society, small towns would see a complete renaissance. Anyone with a skill could now start their own shop and work for themselves. Taking us full circle from complete lack of meaning to a cliché American life filled with purpose, autonomy, and value. 

So, what is your version of the American Good Life? 

The Conservative Case for raising the Minimum Wage

If you have ever worked a minimum wage job, you understand why they call it a starvation wage- if you were trying to live on just that wage, you would starve. While the minimum wage has remained stagnant in most of the country, cost of living has risen dramatically, especially in cities. 

This graph can be a little confusing, the bottom line is what the actual minimum wage was. The top line is what that amount would have been if adjusted to 2016 dollars. The graph shows that minimum wage in the 70’s was worth more than then our current $7.25, that is because minimum wage has not even been adjusted for inflation. Inflation is what explains the fact that $2/hour bought much more in the 1970’s than today, you can buy less per dollar. This graph shows long periods without any rise in the rate, even as the rate itself was providing less. 

You’re wondering, what the heck is conservative about this so far, buckle up. First let’s refresh the definition of working class. Then let’s dive into corporate welfare, and how the Walton’s are the true “welfare queens” that Reagan raved about. 

COVID showed us the value of a job is not reflected by the rate it pays. Hedge Fund managers and big tech executives didn’t offer a thing to us during COVID, it was the minimum wage grocery store worker, the uninsured Rideshare drivers delivering food, and the working class. It is all too common among elite circles to hear the argument, “fast food workers don’t deserve more pay because it doesn’t take any skills or qualifications to work there.” ”If they want more pay they should work somewhere else or learn a skill”. Or a slightly less hostile “McDonalds has to pay that low to stay in business, its supply and demand, after all, you like $1 burgers don’t you?”

This thought can really only come from lack of experience in the other person’s shoes. COVID has really uprooted many of the seeds of anti-worker sentiment running rampant in the US for 30 years. Thankfully Americans writ large are empathizing with the massive class of working poor in this country. While anyone with a salaried job and benefits was and is understandably nervous about losing their job, they saw fellow community members working in their local grocery store, literally risking their life for $7.25 an hour. The only bright side of tragedy is that it has a way of bringing people together and cleaning the slate. Let’s continue to respect and fight for all workers. 

When you think about the welfare system, sadly many Americans think of a poor, lazy, likely obese, con artist who has figured out how to game the system and live off actual workers wages. While they aren’t poor, the biggest beneficiaries of welfare are certainly con artists(Walmart). Let’s go back to the working poor, we know that the minimum wage is so low that even working 40 hours a week will still not provide the basics of food and rent. Imagine having a family on that wage, on this low wage most workers have multiple jobs and still cannot provide enough for their children. Before children go hungry, these workers are forced to enroll for food stamps. 

Take a big pause here, do we like the idea that in America today you can absolutely bust ass and still need Government assistance to survive? 

This is where the Walton’s come in, remember the stories in the news about Walmart holding food drives for EMPLOYEES!? Yes they acknowledge that many of their workers do not have enough food to eat. However lets focus on how they are truly the recipients of the most welfare. By lobbying the government minimum wage companies can get the wages to stay inhumanely low, Walmart can stomach starving people because they know these workers won’t starve to death because they are forced onto the Government’s payroll. Imagine if food stamps didn’t exist, guaranteed we would hear the same stories we hear from China of people keeling over right on the job. Many Walmart workers would lose the roof over their heads. At the end of the day if you pay taxes, you are really paying Walmart’s payroll. If the national minimum wage was gradually raised to $15/hour, we would see the amount of workers seeking welfare drop significantly. 

At the end of the day based on capitalist values, it isn’t the employees but the Walton’s who cannot compete with their own hard work, they only succeed by changing the laws that the government has laid out. Wait a minute, using the laws and government to succeed, isn’t that socialism!? You got that right, socialism is here, you just don’t qualify.

For whom does America exist?

“Its billionaires? Its celebrities? Its tech companies? Are we the people just laboring, sweating instruments for the bonanza of paydays of our betters? Are we nothing more than a vast test market to be tracked and probed and hopefully sold on airline tickets, fast food, or Hollywood movies featuring some awesome new animation technology?

Or is it the other way around – are they supposed to serve us?” Thomas Frank, The People, No