I’m starting to take stock of how often we hear the word “no” from legislators. Besides being used too frequently, “no” is seldom followed by an effort to find a better alternative. No gets us nowhere.
Congress has said no to raising the minimum wage. Congress is saying no to keeping Medicaid reimbursements at $70 per office visit, opting to let the rate fall back to $40, surely a disincentive to treating the 59 million people enrolled in Medicaid. And many states (but not Ohio) have said no to expanding Medicaid coverage to families of four with annual incomes of 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which for 2015 is $32,252. In 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau put the official poverty rate at 14.5 percent.
What’s troubling is that legislators, who have the benefit of taxpayer funded medical coverage and steady employment, find it easy to say no to those who struggle. All the while, the economic gap increases.
An Ohio economic study published by Fortune magazine last October showed that “the wealthiest 160,000 families own as much wealth as the poorest 145 million families.” Should this be a concern? The study contends that “there’s plenty of evidence that shows that extreme levels of inequality is bad for business … Unless your business caters to the richest of the rich, opportunities for real growth are scarce.”
Nick Hanauer, a “proud and unapologetic capitalist” and “plutocrat,” gave a talk on TED.com about the problems with the growing income inequality. To Hanauer, the gap shows that capitalism is not as effective as it should be. If the working poor cannot afford to participate in the economy, the system as a whole suffers. On the other hand, when prosperity increases across the board, then demand increases, and greater production follows, which helps propel the whole economy.
Hanauer wants to see radical change, like increasing significantly the minimum wage. For that reason and others, Forbes magazine thinks his ideas are “near insane.” I can’t say one way or another; I’m not an economist, but I like how Hanauer is willing to venture far from established thought. Only by doing so do we achieve change.
With every “no,” the status quo becomes an even more impenetrable fortress. The premises upon which the status quo is based become unquestionable truths. We hear this when the naysayers reject raising the minimum wage and argue that, as employment becomes more expensive, there will be less of it. Maybe, but as Hanauer points out, Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, and continues to prosper (despite questionable goal-line play calling in the Super Bowl).
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on legislators. Think for a moment about how often you hear “no” in your own business or other groups where you belong. Proposals for change are generally met with no. No is reflexive. No is easy. It maintains the status quo, which may not be that good, but the status quo is safe.
Propose change, and you can expect to hear, “We can’t do that because,” or “We’ve never done it that way,” etc. Rather than pondering whether change is needed or what propels someone to propose change, the first response will almost invariably be an array of insurmountable road blocks or just a flat no.
Maybe raising the minimum wage and increasing medical coverage for the poor are not good ideas. Then what’s the answer for a sector of society that lags behind? Saying no to poverty issues without delving deeper into those issues leaves a hole in the economy.
Maybe Hanauer is nuts, but no doesn’t lead to change.
Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
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