WORK PAGE: Cost Of Living Issue and Solutions

Discussion:

Previous generations, the long before us had something we don't have anymore. Their cost-of-living was lower, across almost all of society. As some folks on Reddit put it: "Iirc in the 60's or 70's, you could work a minimum wage job for 6.5 hours a week and be able to pay for tuition. My first semester at the UW-Madison, in 1967, tuition was $175. Not $175/credit, $175 total for a full load (12 credits or more). [does anyone have a link? Who is this? is this example the best we can do?]

Now this is anecdotal, admittedly, but <a href=http://www.dol.gov/whd/ minwage/coverage.htm>some Department of Labor data</a> tells us the
minimum wage was $1/hour back in 1967. This meant you worked 175 hours at minimum wage to pay for a semester of school, basically 8.75
weeks of part-time, 20 hours/week minimum-wage work. If the semester was 13 weeks long like nowadays, you worked for 3/4 of the semester at
minimum wage, part time, and that paid your mandatory school expenses.

If you worked part-time the whole semester, you earned $85/semester *more* than those expenses, which probably went at least a good part of the way to covering rent, food, and/or books. If you worked part-time throughout the whole year, with two weeks off, you earned $1000/year and paid $350 in tuition. Even when we factor out the other expenses, <b>you were (as far as I can tell) able to support a minimal but adequate lifestyle, a basic lifestyle, working part-time at minimum wage</b>.
And from what I've heard, many people did. Hippies, starving artists,

beatniks... I've heard it said of New York in that era: "Everyone was

broke, and nobody cared." This era's popular entertainment gave us

the story of Peter Parker working his way through Empire State

University as... a freelance photographer -- a job that most young

photographic journalists can't get for free nowadays, let alone for

wages.

In short, "back in the day", we had a *real* American Way: everyone

(ok, admittedly, everyone who wasn't oppressed and could actually

participate!) negotiated on a free(-ish) market for the lifestyle they

were willing to put up with. You adjusted your expectations to your

actual skills, and if necessary you lived pretty damn frugally, but

you also knew (unlike how we "adjust" now) that putting in skills and

hours would genuinely lead somewhere. Living was cheap enough that

scrimping and saving your expenses would, if slowly, build you a down-

payment on a house, or start-up capital for a business, or just the

opportunity to do what you love instead of slaving away for "the man".

So I propose that we demand, as a matter of principle, a return to a

lower cost of living. Practical "movement" reasons for this

proposal:

  • People on both the notional Left and the notional Right can

appreciate such fundamental economic facts as the cost-of-living. The

Left, the *REAL* Left, are the advocates of the working class, and

will support it out of principle. The Right will support it because

it reaffirms the value of hard work and because it doesn't necessarily

require direct government spending.

  • Demanding a lower cost-of-living appeals directly to the wallets of

the entire 99%, yes, but it also speaks to the crimes of the 1%. We

can come right out and say that living has gotten more expensive

because the prices of basics like housing (both mortgage and rent,

especially in Boston), energy (heating gas and gasoline), health-care,

and education have been bid up by the ultra-rich in speculative

bubbles. It's a clear indictment: the 1% speculated with their money

and with our money, and then got bailed out from *more* of our money

(via taxpayers) when their artificial bubbles popped.

If people agree, we can start discussing public-policy measures for

lowering the cost of living. Quite pleasingly (to me, at least), many

of these can be enacted at the state and local level, where We the

People still have more of our power left and where we can institute

change without giving more power to the corporate-controlled Federal

government. A couple of short ideas on that from my various reading,

before I hit the hay:

  • Universal, single-payer health-care. This lifts the burden of

providing health insurance from small businesses, from the "gig

economy" and from the self-employed. Some studies suggest it will

also save money.

  • Land-value property tax, with an exemption for owner-occupied
primary residences without rental units or commercial space. As Peter
Barnes explained in "Capitalism 3.0" and as Henry George explained in
"Progress and Poverty", the <b>site</b>-value of a piece of land does
not come from the landowner's improvements (buildings, gardens,
suchlike) but simply from where it is located (which is, notionally, a
commons: someone owns the Pru but nobody owns all the neighborhood of
the Back Bay or the neighborhood of Central Square). If we tax for
that value alone, but not for improvements, then we give land-lords an
incentive to build more housing units and keep existing ones in better
repair. Their recovery of the tax money can only come through
splitting it up to be passed on as rents (rent-seeking!), but since
adding units or increasing the value of a unit won't increase their
tax, they have the incentive to provide rental units and make them
units people will want to rent. Ironically, their efforts to recover
their property tax as rent therefore make the rental market more
competitive and make rents more affordable. It's been tried in a
number of cities, and works pretty well. The exemption stops the tax
from penalizing ordinary home-owners.