AOC: Don't let rich capitalists deny you a living wage or an iced coffee

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a rant on twitter today looking back at her time as a waitress. She contrasted her earnings there with her current salary as a congressperson to make the case for a “living wage.”

The concept of a “living wage” is a pretty elastic one. It varies depending on where you live and whether or not you have dependents. In AOC’s case, a living wage (single, no dependents, living in New York) would have been around $17.50 an hour according to this MIT estimate. That’s pretty good money for waitressing which is a low-skilled job that almost anyone can do with a little training.

It’s also worth noting that there are downsides to raising wages on low-skilled jobs. One restaurant, owned by the same people who owned the one where AOC worked, closed last year in part as a result of higher wages:

 “Our rent at $2 million a year is pretty staggering,” he said. “And although our revenues are well, if you were to walk by the restaurant, go into the restaurant, you’d think it was a busy, bustling, hustling place.”…

“It’s a tough one for us because we understand that our employees have to live in the most expensive city in the country,” he said. “But we have a business to run and unfortunately the economies of a restaurant are such that your payroll is your largest expense and if you can’t control it you have problems with the bottom line.”

They had 150 employees who are now looking for work elsewhere. Back to AOC:

I don’t know who is saying that people struggling with bills are irresponsible. Lots of people struggle with bills regardless of how much money they make because the more they make the more they spend. That’s where financial responsibility comes into it.

If you drop out of high school because you don’t like it, chances are far higher that you won’t do well financially. It’s not your employer’s responsibility to take care of you. It’s your job to put yourself in a position to get a good job by a) finishing school, b) working hard, and c) maybe going to college or learning a skilled trade. Responsibility is definitely a big part of all of that. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Also, it’s fair to say that wages haven’t been rising much relative to inflation but it’s not accurate to say wages aren’t rising because they have been. From the NY Times:

Average hourly earnings in April were 3.2 percent higher than a year earlier, the ninth straight month in which growth topped 3 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Other measures diverge on the exact timing and rate of increase, but not on the basic trend: Wage growth, long stuck in neutral, has at last found a higher gear.

“We’ve spent several years going, ‘Where is the wage growth? Where is the wage growth?’” said Martha Gimbel, an economist for the job-search site Indeed. “And it turns out we just had to wait a few years for the labor market to get tighter.”

Most people in America are living well above “animalistic survival.” There are tens of millions of people in the world still cooking over wood fires and living without electricity. People working at a diner may have tough jobs but let’s not lose all perspective.

Finally, no one owes you an iced coffee. You don’t get to have something that someone else produced simply because you feel you deserve it.

Talk about a heinous lie. AOC’s tax the rich argument is pure nonsense designed to appeal to people’s ignorance. A 100% income tax on top earners, literally taking everything they make, wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of the new social programs she wants. Just to keep the programs we have now going (without changes), we’ll need to raise taxes on the middle class as well as the wealthy. If you look at any of the countries that have free healthcare and free education, you’ll find the taxes on the middle class are much higher than they are here. That’s the reality she’s trying to avoid mentioning by suggesting all we need to do is tax the bejeesus out of Betsy DeVos.

Even if this works, you’d make more but your taxes would be twice as high to cover all the new programs, plus the cost of union dues, plus inflation will have driven up the cost of everything. The idea that this is pure upside is nonsense. AOC also doesn’t mention that public sector unions have helped create a pending crisis for many states which are now struggling to keep overly-generous commitments they made decades ago.

The bottom line is that AOC is not being honest with people by suggesting there’s plenty of money waiting for them to claim it in the form of wages or new social programs. She doesn’t even have an estimate of what her policy proposals would cost (though it’s assuredly many trillions of dollars). What she’s offering is a glossy sales brochure minus of a utopian future without the price tag. It’s a calculated lie.

It would be better to tell people this: If you want a good paying job, don’t settle for being a waitress your entire life. Take a risk and find a better job through higher education, or learning a trade, or running for office. It’ll be harder in the short term but in the long-term it will pay off.