There Is No Freedom for the Poor

Days InnShanna Tippen was a minimum wage worker at the Days Inn and Suites in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In February, Chico Harlan wrote about her in The Washington Post, The 25-Cent Raise: What Life Is Like After a Minimum Wage Increase. It discussed how the recent increase in the Arkansas minimum wage from $7.25 to $7.50 was still a big deal for Tippen, even though she still lives below the poverty line as she did before. But Tippen doesn’t have that job anymore.

In that same article, Tippen’s boss — the general manager of the Days Inn, Herry Patel — had been quoted. He’s a real charmer. He said, “[The referendum] was bad. Bad for Arkansas. Everybody wants free money in Pine Bluff.” This is a pretty standard conservative mantra, “I have mine and all of you are a bunch of moochers!” Remember: this is a 3.4% raise — the first one that workers in Arkansas have received since 2009. Adjusted for inflation, employees have seen a 5.4% decrease in wages during this time. I would like to officially welcome Mr Patel into that esteemed group of people who make me wish there was a god so that he could burn for eternity in hell.

Chico Harlan wrote a followup article on Monday, After a Story Is Published, a Minimum Wage Worker Loses Her Job. It seems that Herry “John Galt” Patel was none too happy with how the first article was shaping up. Perhaps his wages should be lowered. You would think that a general manager at a hotel chain would know that if you talk to reporters, they will write about it. It has something to do with their job description, just like the description for “Days Inn General Manager” apparently includes key job elements like “keeping wages below the poverty rate” and “being a jerk to everyone” and “laughing maniacally while crushing small woodland creates with the heal of your boot.”

After the article came out, Patel called The Washington Post to complain about his being quoted in the paper. Then he tracked down Tippen and fired her. According to Tippen, “He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [The Post]. He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’ He said it was wrong for me to talk to you.” The whole story is tragicomic: tragic for Tippen and farce for Patel, who has shown himself to not only be a vile human being but an idiot as well.

For example, Patel was the one who recommended that Harlan interview Tippen in the first place. But he apparently had second thoughts later — calling Harlan and threatening to sue if the article was published. I assume his concern was not so much his own horrible comments but the fact that Tippen was so open about her checkered past. Of course, no one really would have noticed before; now it’s a much bigger story, “Hotel manager a total jerk: fires minimum wage employee for talking to the press.”

Digby pointed out the important point in all of this, “As ‘at will’ employees, [workers] only have freedom of speech in the abstract.” This is one of the most exasperating things about libertarians and more generally conservatives: they think that the only thing that limits freedom is the government. This is completely untrue, and in the United States the opposite is more often the case. For example, most people are far more likely to have their privacy invaded by a private company, not the government. But more specifically, it doesn’t matter if you have the “right” to say anything if that means you won’t be able to find a job. The economy is asymmetrical. The poor do not have equal political rights. That goes all the way down to the right to vote where it is far more cumbersome and costly for a poor person to vote.

We do not live in a democracy. And those who claim that they just want everyone to be equal (for example, those pushing the flat tax) are just pushing for the ossification of the status quo. People don’t start out equal. Our society does almost everything it can to make sure that those who start ahead are given every advantage along the way. And then once the rich have all the money and power, it is time for “equality of opportunity.” It’s disgusting.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

9 thoughts on “There Is No Freedom for the Poor

  1. Up here in the great white north, Conservative parties both provincial and federal want to bring in a legal regime like the one you are describing. So it frustrates me intensely that the nominally leftist parties refuse to make it a big issue. In fact, this is an issue that cuts straight to the essence of freedom.

    Let’s start being a little unreasonable about this. When someone defends a guy like Adolf Patel, point at him (usually a guy) and say, over and over, “Traitor; fascist, against American freedom”. Say it again and again until they shut up or leave. Repeat until they are removed from the mainstream of American politics.

    Conservatism: anti-freedom. Say it, say it again. Frank: thanks for saying it at this blog, and please keep it up. We belong with the men that landed on the beach; Patel and his lot belong with the guys on the cliff tops with machine guns. Say it!

    • Thanks. What’s really come into focus recently is what Steve Fraser is saying in The Age of Acquiescence: people have lost the historical memory that there is any other way. We don’t even have to go outside of capitalism. There are any number of ways to set up a capitalism. We have a capitalism, not the capitalism. And the one we have is rigged and is becoming more rigged by those who benefit from the rigging. But you are right: these villains are anti-American. We need the nation and the world to understand this.

  2. Our vaunted, supposedly liberty loving Anglo-American tradition can be boiled down to the question of what is optimal for men who own a great deal of property. The ideal government is one that is big enough to physically protect the Earldom or the Plantation but is too weak to collect any taxes and to engage in the task of making the lives of the masses better. This is why so many libertarians see police and military and courts as natural and legitimate functions of the state and everything else is unnatural and illegitimate.

    The ability of government to arm and conscript men against their will; its ability to give constables the powers of arrest and the licensing of law courts, which can deprive people of life and liberty and property, are all seen as just fine and despite the immense power of those institutions, they are rarely cited as examples of “big government.” However, woe betide a government that collects a modest tax in order to build a bridge or to establish a fire department, that is tyranny!

    There is a reason that rich people all around the World love the Anglo-Saxon legal model. It allows them to be just as ruthless as autocrats in other societies when it comes to their property and yet they can lecture their own people about liberty when the masses ask the state to do something other then protecting the Earldoms or the Plantations.

    • Yes! Yes! Yes! Taxes for military — historically more likely to oppress its own people than anything else — are fine with libertarians. Taxes for public libraries are tyranny! The ultimate example to me of what libertarians are really all about is that the vast majority of them are for “right to work” laws. These are laws that limit the ability of people to make private contracts. So really, libertarians are just in favor of the status quo, in as much as it keeps the rich rich. Libertarians also believe that “rights imply responsibilities” — except when it comes to property rights, where their thinking is entirely theological.

    • Let me just offer a tepid defence of the Anglo-American legal model. Historically, obviously it often was about selective defence of certain liberties , i.e. those of the plantation owner. Nonetheless, as a science guy, I’d like to point out that many of the ideals of this tradition, if interpreted generally and reasonably, can lead to a more egalitarian legal regime.

      John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin offer politically theories firmly within this tradition, and their conclusions are far more egalitarian than the interpretations of Adolf Patel. What’s more, many philosophy readers, including myself, see the proper conclusions of Rawls’ and Dworkin’s approaches as leading to much more egalitarian results than they themselves were willing to draw.

      So let’s have freedom of speech – for real. Freedom of assembly – for real. I submit that it might be politically prudent to try to steal the ideals of freedom and rationality back from the conservatives and libertarians. Appeal to freedom – and say that that guy’s interpretation is perniciously selective and not really freedom. As far as I can tell, this was the original rhetorical tactic of the SDS, and it’s not too late to try it again.

      • Most things have gotten better over time. But I think just as your average worker has gotten blind to other forms of existence, so have the rich. We need to wake up with regard to that. The purpose of libertarianism was originally to make the lives of everyone better. But it has come to be just a means of maintaining the status quo. I think that the economic environment has gotten off the rails. The judicial system is the same as everything: it works fine when there is relative equality. Nothing works when there is extreme inequality. And we have extreme inequality.

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