Tag Archives: Trump

Trump and the Politics of Minimum Wages

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The issue of raising the federal minimum wage will likely be a hot topic next year. Last increased in 2009, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. (That works out to around $15,000 per year, before taxes.) Arguing that any increase in the minimum wage does more harm than good, the Republicans in Congress are lining up to block any attempted increase. The Democrats, believing that an increase in the minimum wage is not only necessary to keep low-paid workers above the poverty line, but that an increase stimulates the economy, are aiming for a $15 per hour minimum.  

With Republicans in full control of Congress, the idea of any increase in the minimum wage seems bleak, but there is one fly in the ointment. The person who will occupy the White House, Republican Donald Trump, has previously indicated a willingness to increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour. Regardless, there will be the same heated arguments, for and against, a higher minimum wage that have been thrown around for almost 80 years.

In 1938 Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. Among other things, the law mandated a federal minimum wage of $.25 per hour, along with a work-week not to exceed 44 hours. The legislation culminated decades of fierce political battle (not unlike the contemporary battle over universal healthcare) pitting business interests, firmly aligned against what they felt was interference with the “free market,” against social interest groups seeking to end the near “slave-like” conditions under which people were forced to work.

Fighting to dragoon the legislation, business interests screeched that the idea of a government mandated “minimum wage” was another step on the road to Socialism that would wipe-out profits, cause higher unemployment and the ruination of Capitalism. President Roosevelt would have none of that when, in “fireside chat” the night before signing the controversial legislation he said, “Don’t let any calamity-howling executive with an income of a $1,000 dollars a day, tell you that wages of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”

Looking back now it’s easy to wonder why there was such a fuss was over a paltry $.25 per hour for work. (It is indicative of how little employers were paying the workers for their labor.) During the almost 80 years since the passage of minimum wage legislation, one might believe that employers have come to accept that it is natural and right to pay workers wages that don’t condemn them to a continuing cycle of poverty. But if you think that, you would be wrong.

Anytime a proposal is put forward to raise the minimum wage, the business community comes together with the same draconian arguments that were used in the 1930’s. Arguments such as: Any increase will put thousands of small companies out of business. Profits will be decimated. Prices will have to be raised and this will drive away business. Thousands of low-paid workers, those intended to be helped by the increase, will lose their jobs.

In the years since it was first enacted, the minimum wage has been increased 22 times, under 12 different presidents. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics there are 78.2 million workers (58 percent of total workforce) paid on an hourly basis, of that number, 2.6 million workers are paid at the current federal minimum of $7.25. This means that an increase in the minimum wage would impact only 3 percent of all hourly paid workers.

So what is all the fuss about?

The most common argument in support of the minimum wage is that it protects the workers at the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder. These workers, many of whom represent marginalized groups (women, minorities, youth workers, the disabled, and so on), simply don’t have the bargaining power to fight for a minimum living wage without government intervention.

Those who oppose increasing the minimum wage contend that a higher mandated minimum wage actually hurts the lower-paid workers it is intended to benefit. They argue that the increased cost to smaller and marginally successful businesses will force owners to layoff existing employees and prevent them from hiring others; ultimately causing an increase in unemployment.

Another argument against an increased minimum wage is that it will cause inflation. The logic is that if an employer is forced to increase minimum wages from $7.25 per hour to say $10 per hour, the cost will be passed on to customers in the form of higher prices for the same goods and services. The “experts” may be right, but it seems illogical that a marginal pay increase for 2.6 million of the lowest paid workers, out of a total of almost 125 million full-time employees, would be little more than a blip on the inflation scale.  

Those favoring a higher wage argue that increasing the minimum wage will attract a higher quality worker, reduce turnover and actually save the employer the expense of constantly having to find, hire and train new workers. The proponents of a higher minimum wage promote the idea that those receiving increased wages will spend them on goods and services that will in turn stimulate the economy and increase profits.

There have been scores of economic studies that can be taken to “prove” the case for either side of the minimum wage controversy, which means that both sides remain mired in theory, rather than reality.  

I have my own study …

In 1963, when I first started working, the minimum wage was $1.25 per hour. Since that time the minimum wage has been increased 15 times to the current $7.25 per hour. Each time an increase was proposed there were the same old doom-and-gloom arguments that any increase would upend the “balance” of the free market, stifle economic growth, fuel inflation, drive thousands of companies out of business and increase unemployment. And you know what happened? Just the opposite: Employment, profits and the economy have always grown following an increase.   

Yes, there will be a heated debate over minimum wages next year. The Democrats will propose and the Republicans will oppose. What will be different about the debate is that there will be – for the first time – a Republican president who has actual, real-life experience as a successful businessman. Trump has already suggested that for ethical and business reasons he sees a value in increasing the minimum wage. (Not as much as Democrats will propose, but nevertheless an increase.) It will be interesting to see how the Republicans in Congress react to one of their own on the other side of the minimum wage debate.

When it Comes to Trump — Can Everyone Just Chill Out a Bit?

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald

In the 1950s there was a popular television sit-com starring William Bendix called “The Life of Riley.” In the show Bendix played well-intended but blundering Chester A. Riley who worked as a wing riveter at the fictional Cunningham Aircraft plant in California. When life became too confusing or something didn’t go the way he planned, Riley would exclaim in frustration, “What a revoltin’ development this is!”  

It seems that for a lot of people in the country, the recent presidential election victory of Donald Trump has become a “revoltin’ development.” The shock of his election has been intensified because the very idea of Trump winning was dismissed out of hand by almost everyone. Trump was roundly chastised for his crude, vulgar and even racist comments about virtually everyone, but especially against women, minorities, Gays, immigrants, Muslims and the political establishment. But the ferocity of the pushback against Trump since the election evokes images of third-world countries more than it does of the most enduring representative democracy in the history of the world.

Most people reacted to the election of Trump with a sense of astonishment, but for millions of others it triggered anxiety, desperation and even fear. In the aftermath of the election, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in over a dozen cities to passionately and sometimes violently protest Trump’s election. The media has generally soft-pedaled these protests as simply a right of free expression in a democracy, but you do have to wonder if these demonstrations would have been viewed in the same light, if Trump had lost the election and his supporters had taken to the streets. (It is fair to ask where these passionate protesters were during the election and why they did not support Clinton with such fervor. If they had, certainly the results would have been different.)

Feelings over the top …

The reality is that both Trump supporters and his detractors have overacted to his election. It is as if the country is suffering from a manic-depressive illness, with Trump supporters exhibiting irrational euphoria and Clinton voters writhing in a deep psychotic depression. There is overreaction – especially fanned by the media – to everything Tromp does, or does not do.

It would be best for everyone – especially for the country – if we would all just step back and chill out.

The first thing to remember is that Trump was elected president, not dictator. The subtle beauty of our constitution is that it was purposefully structured to put a governor on the powers of a president. The drafters of the constitution were deeply fearful of a president becoming a despot, so they installed a series of “checks and balances” intended to limit the power of the president. Under the structure of our government, any president has limited power to deliver on the overheated expectations of his supporters or to fully implement policies his detractors fear.  

It’s not as bad as it seems …

To gain some perspective on the political divisions in the country today, we only need to look back at the Viet Nam era. Many are not old enough to remember, but during the Viet Nam War, the nation was politically divided in a way not seen since the Civil War. The disruption, protests, bombings and mob violence of the time make the protests against Trump seem more like a society cotillion ball. During the Viet Nam era there was a feeling that the country was coming apart at the seams and would not survive. But you know what? The country did survive and we were better for it. Trump’s election impact on the country is not nearly as cataclysmic as was the Viet Nam War, and no matter what he does, the country will survive; and maybe be better for it.

One benefit from Trump’s election is that it may shake the complacency of those who have passively accepted the benefits of expanding social rights as an entitlement, rather than a reward for hard work. Fear of Trump (however misplaced it may turn out to be) may be a motivating factor for those progressives, liberals and Democrats who applauded the work of others, but have not been willing to take up the cause with action; much like the conservatives were motivated to form groups such as the Tea Party when Obama was elected.

Trump may not be who you think he is …

The other misnomer may be about Trump himself. Both those who are for and against Trump took his comments in the campaign too literally. The reality is that Trump is more Democrat than he is Republican. In fact, the main criticism of Trump during the Republican primaries was that “he is not a real Republican.” Viewed in the perspective of actions he has taken in the past and what he has proposed, Trump could be considered a political centaur – half Republican and half-Democrat. Ultimately, this may empower Trump to break the gridlock in Washington that has frustrated the people – of both Parties – in this country. Have you noticed that unlike traditional Republican dogma, Trump has proposed increased government spending, rather than reducing it?

The irony is that in the end Trump may stir the ire of Republicans more than Democrats. He campaigned on and proposed extensive infrastructure investment, punishing companies that move jobs overseas, called for a complete overhaul of the tax code; closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, allowing a reduction in taxes for everyone. Trump has favored child tax credits and mandatory paid maternity leave. These are all programs that have been pushed by Obama and the Democrats, but thwarted by Republicans.

As a successful businessman, Trump has shown that he is much more a pragmatist than an ideologue. He is trained by experience and nature to focus on the objective and get it done, no matter what he has to do or who he has to work with. This is the exact opposite mindset exhibited by Republican leaders and of those who have recently inhabited the White House.  

What this all comes down to is that – whether or not he takes advantage of it – Trump has the opportunity to become a change-agent president, the likes of which we have not seen since Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. The former changed the financial contract between the government and the people, to make financial opportunity more equitable for all. FDR changed the social contract between government and the people to create more protection and security for all. Being a pragmatist not wedded to any political ideology, Trump may become a catalyst that could change the way the government deals with problems. Given the current heated rhetoric and stalemate in governing, it is difficult to be optimistic, but Trump’s scarcity of experience in government and his independence from a fixed ideology could bring back what made America great and that is a pragmatic bipartisan approach to governing.

Trump may become the colossal failure that many expect or he could surprise us by his approach and effectiveness. It certainly would not be the first time that Trump has surprised us. Either way, whether we agree with him or not, he has earned the right to be given a chance to prove us right or wrong. One thing is certain: Our form of government will prevent Trump from being as ineffective as he could be or as effective as he wants to be. And we will survive.

Hillary Loss is Lesson in Lost Leadership

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald

 

Enquiring minds want to know: How could this happen?

The presidential election of 2016 will be parsed and dissected for decades. The objective will be to determine how a political novice with what could best be described as a volatile temperament, espousing ideas that even in the best light seem inimical to the fundamental social concepts of America; combined with a personality more akin to a bully, can triumph over a candidate with a lifetime of experience in government; one with a temperament of steadiness, the firm support of the moneyed elite and mainstream media and the unified backing of her Party’s establishment power. (Even though the DNC had to “fix” her nomination. Just ask Bernie Sanders.)

Right now all we really know – and all that counts – is that there are at least 290 reasons why Trump won. (The votes he won in the Electoral College.) For starters, the “experts” are confounded as to why millions of voters (including me) who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, voted for Trump. Analysts are trying to understand why Hillary received millions of fewer Democratic votes than Obama did in 2012. From a political standpoint, Salena Zita, perceptively wrote in The Atlantic magazine (prior to the election): “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

The experts will go on ad nauseam offering the technical reasons and spreading the blame for Hillary’s loss, but they will miss the most fundamental reason for the defeat. Clinton lost because she did not understand and violated one of the most basic tenets of leadership. It is a lesson that anyone who seeks a position of leadership can benefit by learning. What Hillary failed to grasp was that: It is the responsibility of the leader to give followers a reason to follow.

No matter how experienced or well-intended a person who seeks the mantel of leadership may be, they will fail as a leader if they fail to give followers a valid reason to follow them. People do not follow a leader because it is expected or required, but because they are able to internalize a reason to follow; usually one that will, in the long run, benefit them as much as the leader. Sure, the authority of leadership can be mandated by the power of position, but that is not leading, that is herding. Managers can tell others what to do; whereas true leadership inspires others to do what needs to be done.

Hillary’s campaign was a great example of what happens when the leader fails to offer followers a reason to follow. Conversely, the entire focus of Trump’s campaign was to give voters a simple, easy to understand reason to follow him. Clinton’s message was: “Stronger Together.” Trump’s message was: “Make America Great Again.” Now seriously, who is going to even understand, let alone be motivated to run through a brick wall by the idea of “stronger together”?

Please don’t read my comments about Trump as condoning his often dark philosophy, divisive tactics and many of his offensive comments. The point I am attempting to make is that Trump – for good or bad – did what it takes to be a recognized leader; he gave people a reason to follow. The world has seen many bad people who were strong leaders and many good people who were weak leaders.  

During the course of the campaign Clinton’s message continually shifted from one approach to another, without ever focusing on a consistent, clearly delineated reason to vote for her. In the end, her message was almost exclusively targeted at “why Trump was bad,” and very little if any reason why people should make her their leader. Leadership based on a negative is always trumped by a positive. From the very first to the very last day, Trump had a singular message – Make America Great Again. Certainly one can take issue with how Trump may define what has to be done to make America great, but no one can argue that his message was not clear, consistent and concise and that it gave millions of voters a reason to follow him. It may well have been for the wrong reason, but at least it was a reason; and that’s what leadership is about. Hillary simply failed to put forth an effective message that would inspire people to follow her. And that is what causes leadership to fail and elections to be lost.

Now that Trump has been elected, it is ironic that thousands of – mostly young – people are out on the streets of American cities passionately protesting the results of the election. Where was this passion for Hillary during the election campaign? If Clinton had aroused even a modicum of this type of passion during the campaign, she would have easily won. Hillary harped on the reasons to “fear” Trump, but she failed to offer people a reason to be passionate about following her lead.

Learning the Lesson of Leadership

Hillary is no longer making history, so she is history. But her loss can be a win for anyone who seeks to make their own brand of history by becoming an effective leader. When someone seeks a leadership role – at any level – they first need to identify what talent, skills and ideas they have to offer that will give others a reason to follow them. They then have to effectively communicate that reason, in a clear, concise and consistent way to those they want to lead and a why those who do follow will benefit from that leadership.

Both Trump and Clinton have given us lessons in leadership that anyone who wants to be a leader can learn. Clinton has shown that no matter how experienced or deserving of leadership a person may be, if the nascent leader is unable to explain why others should follow them, they will never have the opportunity to lead. Trump has shown that when the would-be leader has the power to motivate others to follow, even the improbable becomes possible.