The obligation to meet opposing viewpoints “halfway” and “listen to the other side” are core arguments of those whose primary interest is preservation of the status quo. On issues pertaining to the advancement of justice, those advocating for a position in the “middle” serve only to perpetuate the injustice.
Many of us believe, for example, that people working a full-time job deserve to earn a living wage. The fact that we have people who get up every morning and work 8 hours or more 5 days a week, and yet their pay is not sufficient to rent a home is unacceptable. This is essentially involuntary servitude, and there is no legitimate “other side.”
In the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he first enacted the federal minimum wage, “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country… By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level- I mean the wages of a decent living.” (1933 Statement on National Industrial Recovery Act.)
Progressive change in support of economic, environmental and social justice has been stymied again and again by well-intended but misguided advocates within our community, who for whatever reason feel compelled to meet the corporations halfway.
While a great many in our community struggle daily working two or three jobs and still cannot afford a decent life, these enablers of the status quo will urge caution in raising the minimum wage, condemn the tactics and message of the progressives, bemoan the lack of fairness on behalf of the corporations and seek the role of what they believe is the “reasonable person in the middle.”
Meanwhile those at the top of the economic food chain are laughing all the way to the bank.
This applies to all attempts at increasing corporate regulation, whether on behalf of workers or the environment. The refrain is inevitably about the unreasonableness of the proposal, followed by the claim that “the sky is falling” and business will flee, summed up tidily at the end with “Can’t we all just get along?”
Corporations are not people. They have no conscience and no soul. Corporations are designed for the purpose of increasing the profits of their shareholders, while avoiding personal liability and accountability.
The corporate use of the “reasonable person’s argument” in order to block or slow regulation which may impact profits is standard operating procedure in politics and policy, and far too many of our friends fall for it.
Given that most people wish to avoid controversy and recoil from contention, it is easy for those in power to promote the need for “reasonableness and compromise” among those in the community whose natural inclination is to seek that mythical “win-win” of the centrist’s position.
In the policy arena, this conversation translates to the introduction of a legislative proposal (Bill) already compromised at the very start of the process (in an attempt to meet the unattainable standard of being fair to industry), that eventually and predictably morphs into a study or a task force. Two years later, or whenever the study is finally completed, the results will be fuzzy, inconclusive, and contested.
Meanwhile, the election cycle rolls through where those same corporate interests will reward their friends and attempt to punish those audacious enough to challenge their game.
Years later, when the bill finally passes and the policy change finally made, it is too often reduced to a watered-down shell of its original version. Industry then hails it as an example of reasonable incremental change while the politicians also proclaim a victory, happy with the crumbs they hope will justify their tenure in office. Meanwhile the poor are getting even poorer, and the planet remains on a path of decline and debasement.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. If citizens decided to elect representatives willing to stand up to the entrenched power of land and money, things could indeed be different. If citizens engaged the system further by being more aware of the issues, submitting testimony or occasionally even attending a public hearing, then we could perhaps reap the benefits of a true citizen-driven democracy.
We could make great strides to reverse the unconscionable economic disparity and environmental degradation that now exists. But first, we must make that prerequisite commitment to be active and part of the solution; and we must cast from our psyche that ridiculous, naive and dangerous assumption that corporations must be treated fairly as if they are people, because most assuredly they are not.
NOTE: First published in The Garden Island Newspaper on September 4th “Hooser – Policy & Politics”