Last week former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made a bid to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team for roughly $2-billion dollars. Ballmer, Basketball and Billion each begin with a B, but the offer, incomprehensible as that number is in itself (especially for the Clippers…), represents only about 1/10th of Mr. Ballmer’s net-worth. On the related subject of money, yesterday the Seattle City Council passed a piece of legislation that will steadily raise the city’s minimum wage to $15/hr.
Our staff haven’t followed the NBA closely since the Bad Boys dominated the league in the late-80’s/early-90’s, and we’re not qualified to analyze the merit of Ballmer’s offer. But we do feel ready to address the Council’s legislation, which appears to us to be a highly-flawed, compromised agreement whose main merits—at least in the short term—are two-fold.
The first is a very statistically-significant, though real-world-measurable, raising of workers’ wages. Washington State already has the highest minimum wage in the country ($9.32/hr), but even with that roughly 25% of Seattle residents earn less-than $15/hr, and over 13% live below the poverty line. Depending on the size of the company, as well as that company’s willingness to provide healthcare, the new legislation will require a multi-year, staggered raising of workers’ base level-incomes (see chart below):
Positively, these increases will begin soon, with most workers jumping to $11 starting January 1st of next year. Going from $9.32 to $11 is a huge step up, yet with the average 1-bedroom apartment in Seattle renting for just under $1400/month, it’s hard to imagine this as sufficient.
The second positive we can see from this is what we hope will be the domino-effect. Seattle is the nation’s 21st-largest-city by population, and while we’re certainly not the first to adopt increases of this sort (our southern suburban neighbor, the city of SeaTac, passed just such a measure last year), we hope other cities will soon follow in our wake. And while we’ll encourage workers in other cities to obtain more substantial gains than we’ve created here, if nothing else the conversation is daily being expanded.
(Much like the jump to $11 discussed above, it’s true that expansion of the conversation isn’t sufficient in itself. Still, it’s better than nothing and is worth stopping and acknowledging.)
Clearly, Mr. Ballmer and his $20-Billion is an outlier, in many senses of that term—beyond his income we should also note his contributions, as well as the efforts he undertook to obtain them. That he or anyone else in a risk-taking, managerial/creative position would be rewarded more significantly for their work isn’t something we need question. But when we consider that the gal who makes Ballmer’s coffee or the kid who changes his oil earns $10/hr, then we’ve come to a snag.
It is beyond our present time to mount a comprehensive argument in defense of the statement we’re about to make, and so we will simply make it and let it stand for now: Income inequality is one of, if not the most, significant issues confronting our nation today. Nothing drives people further apart than increasing and ongoing differences in socio-economic standing (Race/identity/tribalism, and gun control, are other frontrunners, though it’s never easy to overlook the money money money.)
This issue has a lot of interested parties, convolutions, and challenges, but it’s difficult not to see it ultimately boiling down to a very simple question, the answers to which, admittedly, will be tremendously complicated: How do you want people to be treated in the world we live in?
Sadly, the very framing of this question hits against a boundary of language that tends toward abstraction; that is, there is no such thing as “people,” just as there is no such thing as “nations” or “workers,” or especially “the free market.” Abstractions, even the ones we’ve cited with the statistics above, are the act of looking through a dim glass darkly. We are called upon here to take the question seriously, which in this case demands that we acknowledge and value the material reality of all persons on this planet. (A more serious and comprehensive consideration would expand to include all non-human animals and other life-forms who co-exist alongside us.) In other words, the questions expand outward concentrically, beginning with me (“How do I want to be treated in the world?”), expanding to my mother (“How do I want my mother to be treated in the world?”), and then on to my buddy Jake, and so forth. It is a laborious undertaking to retain the reality of others, but to paraphrase a Frenchmen—the moment you feel comfortable that you’ve considered every other, you’ve failed to consider every other.
Any steps toward decreasing the inequality that drives us apart from one another—no matter how fumbling and flawed those steps may be—is a step worth taking. This legislation isn’t great, but it is definitively better than no legislation. For that, kudos to you City Council and all who pushed to make this happen.