Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Trickle UP

Why is it that you never hear about trickle-UP economics? It seems to me that this is much more common (and obvious) than the other sort, the feudal fantasy of trickle-down economics. Without the people willing to work minimum wage in this country, would anybody have any money at all?

This line of thought started this morning when I read this editorial in the New York Times: The City Life: Regulating the 99-Cent Store.

I've never taken an economics course, and much of the time economics makes as much sense to me as voodoo. Thank God for Paul Krugman. Thanks to his insightful and well-written column, comprehensible to the economically uninitiated, I have at least begun to think about economics with something less akin to revulsion. But I have a lot of questions; there is much that puzzles me.

Disclaimer: I have a knee-jerk inclination to identify with lost causes, underdogs, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. These are the corners of the world I find the most interesting, the most appealing, the most compelling, and no offense to my rich friends (all two of you, I think), but I find more to respect in those corners as well.

Since I began hanging around with my friends from the Hispanic/Latino congregation at my church, I have come to know people who have the fiercest work ethic I have ever encountered. (Gross generalization alert!) They'll work for anyone who will give them a job, they'll work whatever hours, under whatever conditions. And across the board, they do it for one reason: for their families. They just want to be able to keep their kids alive, to buy them milk and tortillas and beans. And even so, they will give you the shirt off their back if you ask for it.

The way I see it, this is the kind of work ethic that made this country strong, economically, morally, spiritually, collectively. But these are the folks that some want to bar from entrance, even though many who employ them need their services desperately (in spite of their unwillingness to pay them a just wage or provide them with health care). I suppose that with the economy in the tank, there will be more and more Americans willing to take jobs that until now only the economically desperate have been willing to take.

Some of my friends may now find that they have no recourse but to return to their home countries. That would be bad for us, because these folks are good for America. They have the fiercest of family values (the real kind, not just trotted out when it's politically expedient). They are kind, generous, inclusive, and committed to their community. We need more people like this. We shouldn't be shunning them and driving them away.

Anyway, to return to my question, what about trickle-UP economics? I've never seen a business that could function without its low-wage grunt employees. And the businesses that recognize the value of their workers -- janitors, clerks, and engineers alike -- are generally the ones that flourish, aren't they? Don't people just naturally want to do business where people are happy, growing, and invested in the well-being of the company they work for? But even the businesses that don't treat their employees well, could they survive without their janitors and clerks?

So, Mr. Krugman, can you please explain to me why no one ever talks about the theory of trickle-UP economics?

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