Depending on the scale you use, a person can be wealthy or poor. Compared to Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, I am downright impoverished. But compared to the federal poverty guidelines, I am wealthy.
After a recent wage, I have my highest salary that I have ever earned in my life. While I haven’t gone back and adjusted other “high” points in my life to the current year, I am likely making more in real dollars now than I ever have. Regardless, it doesn’t feel like it.
This is not be complaining about my lot in life; I’ve been lucky to be employed through the pandemic, with only a reduction in “extra” travel money the only real impact on my take home pay every month. Sure, my insurance premiums went up a little with the new year, and I’m paying back the former president’s Social Security “tax cut” bribe this year as well, but I’m satisfied with how things are going. I even feel like I’m getting the hang of my job too, which is good because I plan on working where I’m at for the next 17 years or so (but who’s counting?).
Nevertheless, a friend shared an article with me this morning that led to this post. You should go read it if you’re so inclined, but as the title says: “Work is the most important way of proving your worth… and it’s making Americans miserable.” This prompted a discussion, blaming all of the American workers’ ills at the feet of billionaires (as it should be).
But the article also talked about how being chronically unemployed in America is really making people miserable in this country, something that has obviously not been helped by a raging pandemic that has led to tens of millions of people being unemployed for much of the past year. If you can’t prove your worth through having a job, you are therefore worthless, which is contributing to one of the worst collective mental health emergencies this country has experienced – and is mostly ignoring.
The five happiest countries mentioned in the article – Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway – are all social democracies in some regard, with strong social safety nets and generally high standards of living despite high taxes and all that comes with that. The United States ranks 18th on the same list, behind Canada and the United Kingdom, but also countries like Israel, Ireland, and Costa Rica, and just ahead of happy sounding places like the United Arab Emirates.
By defining our “worth” by working, Americans have been built, pretty much since our founding, on always pursuing fulfilling work. Some people are content enough to find something that gives them the resources to survive in life; if you redefine success by being able to pay for a decent place to live and get food or whatever, you can probably be content working a job that provides enough money to do this.
Others still will never be fulfilled based on these things – I was one of these people for a very long time – but will still simply go through the motions because it’s what is expected. Moving from job-to-job, or degree-to-degree, trying to find the thing that calls out to you and makes you feel fulfilled, something that defines your “worth.”
This country was founded on a lot of ideals, and depending on which of the original colonies your boat landed, the reason America is a thing is for all sorts of reasons. The Pilgrims of Massachusetts Bay Colony were escaping religious persecution, but also wanted to persecute people in their own way. The Virginia planters were originally sent here to grow tobacco for their English sponsors, then became a cheaper resource for cotton for the English mills of the industrial revolution. It’s always, in some way, been about capitalism in this country, and this has caused all the great strife in the 400 years of its existence.
I don’t think it’s too late for America to fix this, though it’s a heavy lift to go from where we are now to get to Finland or Denmark. A certain segment of of this country has isolated themselves from everyone else by amassing mass quantities of wealth, and its obvious that they don’t want to share… and they have the political influence because of their wealth to keep it that way. There are 614 billionaires in America, with a total net worth of $2.9 trillion. That’s an average of $4.7 billion. Their total net worth exceeds the projected US budget deficit for 2021 by about $800 billion! It’s a lot of fucking money, man. About $8,000 for every single American… it’s just disgusting.
All this in the midst of a global pandemic (that $2.9T is probably a little higher these days too), and a $1.9T COVID relief plan is having to jump through procedural hoops to pass and give most Americans $1,400, topping them up to $3,500 that their government has given them during this life-altering pandemic. We could be doing so much more to alleviate the lack of worth people feel in this country. The feeling that people need to constantly chase that dopamine high from a fucking job or money in their bank account to feel like you are worthy.
I personally think that the resistance to “socialism” would start to melt away if people started getting more money from the government, especially if it was the result taking some of that $2.9T from those 614 people (and the thousands of people that have hundreds of millions approaching that “three comma club.” Giving people some basic income of whatever number would allow people to pursue passions and not paychecks. Combined with universal healthcare and free college and all those other social support things that real countries have would allow people to be happier.
We can’t really wait for those billionaires to give all their money away. They’re doing it much too slowly – and their wealth continues to grow anyway – so we need to take it from them. A two percent wealth tax is definitely a start; $58 billion isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of the US budget but it sure as hell starts to pay for something. And that’s just the first year and one specific tax…
We as a country need to take better care of each other, and if we have to upset the “1%” to do so, so be it. Things like a minimum wage hike would be a nice start, but sending everyone $1,000 a month would also be good. Giving people healthcare that is free would be amazing. Closing the wealth gap in this country should be something that everyone wants, honestly.
America likes to think they are the best country in the world, but American exceptionalism is mostly just something people lie to themselves about. Finland, Denmark, Costa Rica, etc have it figured out better than we do, and they have for a very long time. “Worth” should be defined by more than just the fact that we work or have money; we should be allowed that “pursuit of happiness” that was in our founding documents so long ago.
Will it happen in my lifetime? Will the 99% continue to push against the 1%, begging for their scraps to feel a little better about themselves? Or will we finally join the rest of the world in caring about people beyond ourselves a lot more, and take the steps necessary to do so? Time is ticking. Let’s get to work.
Until next time…