Driving home tonight I heard of yet another protest happening somewhere in this fair country, this time protesting the many silicon valley execs that drive up rental prices in California. In my awful logical mind I thought to myself, “Waddup self. Wouldn’t they be happy that large successful companies are bringing lots of really well paying jobs for qualified people?” Out here in the midwest we’re lucky to get factories to stay open so that people with no education or qualifications can get somewhat decent jobs working god awful hours. Out in the good old bankrupt west coast, their biggest problem is that companies are creating so much wealth that it’s driving up the cost of rent in the area. Of course it all comes down to supply and demand, as it always does. There are rich people there. Rich people will pay more for a nice place to live. They find a nice place to live in which you currently pay less. They offer more. You’re evicted. Thanks economics! You’re always there when I need you.
Out here in the Midwest we have the opposite problem. There are very few higher end condo or apartment complexes that ever go up, because there is no one to pay for them. No demand, so why supply? Out there, mucho demand, so why not supply? So like all protestors in the last decade there are a bunch of entitled people complaining about not being entitled to enough. Back in the day, think before any of us were born, they had REAL things to protest. Being physically assaulted, and potentially killed because of your skin color! Being outright discriminated against or oppressed because of gender. These are things worth protesting. Complaining because you feel that being born, somehow entitles you to the best that life has to offer is not a cause. It’s barely a way to fill an afternoon.
You have the right to the PURSUIT of happiness. There is nothing that guarantees you happiness. In fact, the majority of things in life work pretty hard to ensure you’re not happy. It is completely up to the individual to go out, find what makes them happy, and then make it their own. I’ve seen several demonstrations on the news about minimum wage. The idea that someone should be able to live a comfortable life on minimum wage seems entirely contradictory to me. If you could live comfortably on minimum wage, then why would anyone do anything else? Why bust your ass in school, work long hours, put in the extra effort, when you can already live just fine wrapping up the deliciousness they make at Burger King? Why would anyone ever start Burger King if they could have provided for their families by just waiting tables? The idea of minimum wage is just that, it’s the minimum! It’s your starting point. You’re not supposed to stay there. If you can’t live the life you want to live on minimum wage, then great! The world makes complete sense!
I worked for minimum wage for about 6 or 7 years. I was poor, I lived in a hellhole, I ate crappy food, and drank crappy beer. Not once during those bleak years did I ever think that I should somehow be able to live in a nice house, wear nice clothes, and drive a nice car while washing dishes, bussing tables, and delivering pizzas. I knew that I was working crappy jobs, that anyone could do, I had no unique skills, and was just a warm body filling a spot. If I didn’t do it for $6.15 an hour, then there were plenty of other college dropouts lined up outside to take my spot. So I progressed. I worked hard, built up marketable skills, and went out and found a job that I could progress in, and utilize those skills. I always knew that if I wanted to live comfortably, and not just live, that I would have to somehow climb up to the next rung.
I remember when I was just old enough to get a car, my step dad took me over to the only car lot in town. They had a fantastic ’85 Buick Somerset that didn’t run, had tons of body damage, and had mysterious red stains all over the interior. We paid a handsome sum of $250 for that car and pushed it off the lot. I remember he agreed to help me fix it up, and I could use his shop for free, and he would buy the parts, but I had to actually pay for the car. In one of our more lucid moments together, he explained that nothing was free. This car was dirt cheap because of the time, it took almost two years to fix up, and energy we were going to have to put into it. He explained that you can’t get a great car, that looks good, and runs well, and not expect to pay for it. That has stuck with me, and still rings in my head today. If you think you can easily get a job with few skills required, no responsibility asked of you, and that is easily filled by anyone off the street, and still make enough money to live wherever you want, then you’re mistaken. If you think that you can live in a desirable area of the country, with well paying jobs being created, by stable companies in a growing industry, and the cost of living isn’t going to go up, then you’re mistaken. Everything has a cost. Pursuing happiness has a cost.
I recently read a book about the collapse of the auto industry, and the time leading up to 2008/2009. In the book they detailed the auto workers struggles with the way things had been, and the way things needed to be. They had gotten used to earning absurd amounts of money for doing increasingly low skill jobs. If they kept earning the wages they had been, the companies would go under and their jobs would disappear. If they wanted to keep their jobs, they would have to take a wage cut and accept the fact that their labor truly wasn’t worth what they had previously been paid for it. I feel like many parts of America are at this crossroads. The Education Industry (and it truly is an industry) is seeing soaring costs of tuition, while also seeing rapidly increasing numbers of students attending online. There’s a reconciling coming for them. Soon, just like in the auto industry, students will begin questions whether the wages (tuition) they’re paying to schools are truly worth the product (an education) they’re putting out.
When you’re looking at jobs, or at housing there are two questions to ask yourself to see if you’re looking at it through a clear lens. The first, related to jobs, is “Are there any other people with the same skill set as me willing to do this job for the same wage or even less?” If the answer is yes, then you are completely replaceable and should be grateful for the job and the wage being offered. In relation to housing, “Are there people willing to pay the owner more than I currently am for this property?” If the answer is yes, then welcome to reality. People looking to sell or rent real estate to you are in it to make a profit. I’m guessing when you woke up this morning you didn’t go into work and tell your boss that you’d like a pay cut because he’s such a nice guy. Likewise, your landlord, or the person selling you a home isn’t interested in making less money just because they feel bad for you. If they can get more, they’ll take it. So would you. So would I.
Of course, this is all related to money and finances as a vehicle to happiness and for most of us that’s not true happiness. But, it’s easier to look at the more tangible examples. The less tangible, are the ones that can’t easily be taken away from you, and are more directly in your control. For most of us, money and housing can be a limiting factor on the intangibles though so sooner or later you have to deal with that side of it. That being said, my family is my happiness. Raising my kids is the greatest accomplishment I’ll ever have, and loving my wife is the greatest feeling I’ve ever known. I make money to try to offer them the life I think they deserve, but with the understanding that we are not entitled to it. This country is set up like a huge mountain. It’s easy to stay at the bottom, and harder and harder to climb to the top. Even when you’re at the top, it’s terribly difficult to stay there. But my kids, and my wife are the guiding light on my mountain. They’re the fire burning somewhere up ahead, that I’m clawing and fighting my way towards.
The main point that I hope people understand, and that remains ever present in my mind, is that you didn’t earn anything at birth. It’s a hard life, it’s agonizingly frustrating sometimes, and for those of us who started at the bottom, it feels like we do nothing but slip and slide our way back to the bottom every time we try to climb up. But that’s the way it should be. Are there days that I wake up and wish I had been born to a rich family? Yup. I would be chilling poolside, eating copious amounts of beef jerky, and sipping on Blue Moon all day long. But most likely I’d be an entitled douche who wouldn’t have met my amazing wife. I probably wouldn’t have raised the kids I raised, and I probably wouldn’t appreciate any of it. Life would be easier, but I don’t know that I would be any happier.
There’s an old hippie commune on the east coast that had the motto, “Stop bitching and start a revolution.” I think most people have the motto today of “Start a revolution by bitching!” I would say lose the revolution, and “Stop bitching, and be grateful.” Or “Stop bitching, and learn a trade.” Either one works, but neither looks as cool on a t-shirt.