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No gets us nowhere

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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.

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Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com

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Discussion

  1. Bruce Lackey  April 14, 2015

    The theory that national economic strength will raise all boats assumes everyone has a boat. Too many in the US do not have a boat. Sometimes the lack of a boat is due to bad choices, sometimes just bad luck. I am in favor of increasing minimum wage and indexing it to CEO pay raises and total compensation including stock options….

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  2. Ron Plymale  April 14, 2015

    There is not only great disparity in wealth but also an ever growing, impoverished underclass with little motivation to accept minimum wage employment which is barely sufficient to pay a month’s rent when government subsidized housing is otherwise available. I have lived long enough to have been a witness to the transformation from a society where most folks could earn a living wage to one where poverty and meager earnings abound. The causes are many; the transformation from an industrial to a service economy; major tax reforms of the *80’s and the advent of the electronic age being a few. The solutions are difficult but I cannot believe that expanded food stamps, subsidized housing, govt. financed health care for the poor and increasing roles of persons on SSD, etc. provide a workable long term solution. As Jack points out we must implement new ideas and fresh approaches to stem the continued expansion of our “underclass” If we fail to do this we will both bankrupt our government and ultimately foment the revolution none of us wants

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  3. Helen P.  April 14, 2015

    Perhaps if we could change the “no,” which seems to be the safe comment, to “know,” legislators would be able to make learned decisions on issues faced by their constituents. It’s sad to vote somebody into office and find their main focus is on the next election and who contributes the most to finance their campaigns.

    Medical personnel are taking the brunt of the criticism for high healthcare costs. What is the AMA doing to stand up for them? I guess the AMA is just another political group who can be bought. Many in healthcare pay dearly for their education and should be respected for their knowledge and commitment to better healthcare for all. Don’t use them to balance a budget fraught with unfair advantages for the wealthy.

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  4. John C. Calhoun  April 17, 2015

    Many politicians today ran on the promise of “no”. I believe that “no” mindness tells me is really mindlessness. Gospels of Matthew and Mark have been misinterpreted from there original intent by Jesus saying that God deserves to be #1 in our giving. Politicians such as Rick Perry forget that Jesus believed also in Deuteronomy which says “Open your hand freely to YOUR poor and to YOUR needy kin in YOUR land.” Jack take up Father Ted’s legacy ( I know its tough in the place where you dwell (work) as a bastion of Republicans) but be ever mindful of the needy who try to do the best with what they have. You and Ron should consider either direct advocacy (by running for office or greater pro-bono legal support to those who will consider running for office). To Ron, I say take heart. Support programs must be expanded and continued. I offer you this for thought: compulsory national service. Train, equip, and prepare our young with skills that will provide for their future and this nations’. A few years service before starting in university and/or the work world will not hurt either the individual nor their families. Perhaps more study of modern Israel’s policies is warranted. Till then I’ll continue to march for equal and living wage pay for equal work and effort.

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