Tag Archives: government

Evolution and War: Self-Sovereignty in Direct Democracy

 To defend one’s life is to vindicate one’s natural equality — an equal right to exist in peace: our self-sovereignty. We cannot, however, merely exist together on this plane: we must perpetuate our existence, providing sustenance and shelter both for ourselves and for any children we choose to have. Yet no one person on this Earth has any natural, inviolable, exclusive claim to any material part of this planet — let alone to any other person dwelling upon it — beyond children to their parents.

Though we now guard national borders and enforce private property rights — in order to improve our chances, first, for survival and then, unconsciously, for genetic success — pitted primarily against one another — the warm light of each rising sun might just as well cross a planet newly shared by all of us — never claimed by any one of us — if we were only, in the main, a more enlightened race of beings.

That we are not so, however, does not exonerate us from the distance we put between our lives today and that idyllic, more natural state of human equality. Our almost compulsive propensity for having children — whose own needs justify the further pursuit of property and of wealth — quite often of one another’s — fuels our territorial claims, our private property ownership, our nation states — and our wars.

Those states or tribal communities, then, whose members make the least claims to territory and to property would seem in many ways the more moral ones. But they too are often blindly driven to perpetuate themselves, often heedless of resource scarcities, thus failing to provide properly for what children they have — heedless too of worldly threats from outside their socio-ecosystems — or ill-prepared to defend against them, often warring among themselves or neighbors seemingly out of traditional sectarian or ethnic intolerance, even where natural resources and territory are not actually claimed.

To be moral, either as an individual or as a society, necessitates conscientiousness.

Free market capitalism may be relatively moral in comparison to other socio-economic systems by virtue of its theoretical free exchange of goods and services — thus its amenability to the expression of an equal self-sovereignty. Yet our own marginally free markets lead us only further from that graceful state of natural, non-materialistic equality.

Our system may be a rational recourse in a world where most humans cannot appreciate our fundamental equality — gathering unto us as many resources as possible and building over us a protective military shield. But that this, our system, more efficiently exploits and distributes the world’s resources, providing more people enough wealth to blindly have yet more children — while further insulating us interpersonally from the immediate needs of our fellow human beings — this is neither moral nor remotely conscientious.

Furthermore, a political system like our own representative democracy, in which elected politicians provide intractable entitlements to the most active and successful resource exploiters, i.e. the big corporations, and to the most prolific and irresponsible child bearers alike, undermines any of the theoretical virtues of a republican system. Our polity actually rewards best those who lead us furthest and fastest from an enlightened natural existence. And the characteristic American pursuit of wealth for its own sake, where the needs for survival and the basic comforts have already been met — especially where there are not even children to be provided for — this is a self-evidently vulgar and immoral life: it leaves the world a worse place than it might have been.

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Like so many citizens within sovereign states have been we find ourselves at times committed by an acting head of state to armed engagements against foreign states or terrorist groups whose leaders have purportedly moved aggressively against us and our interests or against an ally in the international community. And whether an ensuing military intervention were waged overtly, as has been the case in Afghanistan, or covertly, as so many CIA operations have been — we may well incur blowback.

But are we, as mere citizens, to be held accountable for the actions of our leaders? Are we liable for their decisions and thus ourselves legitimate targets?
The reflexive, defensively patriotic answer would be: No — that’s exactly what they want us to believe.

But as moral human beings don’t we owe at least an equal regard for the relative innocence of citizens within countries condemned by our leaders as aggressive? Do they not find themselves in the exact same situation as we are in? One could even argue that the less free and fair their political systems are, in comparison to ours, the more immoral we would be to hold such citizens personally accountable for the actions of their leaders — and thus the more egregious would be any harm done to their persons or to their property.

Are we, who live under a constitutional republic, this representative democracy, any less — or perhaps even more — obligated morally to risk, even to sacrifice, our own lives to be rid of our elected aggressive leaders?

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No. We humans owe our lives to no one else, except those to whom we have ourselves given life — and then only while they are young and dependent. No citizens, ours, or those of any other nation on Earth, must risk or sacrifice their lives to spare the life of an unrelated other — whether a fellow countryman or a foreign stranger — unless doing so would spare the lives of their own children. The childless need not even act in defense of their own lives, though to not fight against one who knows no respect for self-sovereignty would be immoral by inaction — leaving to the innocent a world less secure.

Furthermore, if one were to risk his life, let alone to sacrifice it, for the sake of those outside of one’s relative proximity — therefore outside of one’s immediate capacity both to judge the merits of those to be aided and to monitor the actual effects of the aid — if one were to attempt, for example, for the sake of foreign citizens, to assassinate the President, this would be immoral. To blindly forsake those in one’s immediate proximity for the sake of aiding unseen strangers would amount to a retreat from one’s soundest moral footing in the direction of a defiantly symbolic amoral gesture. And if this sacrifice then proved harmful to those within one’s own relative proximity — if the President, in this example, retaliated with an ill-measured use of force — this would clearly only deepen the immorality of an already empty sacrifice.

Better to walk the night streets in aid of strangers for whom one might, after first judging their plight, more judiciously and thus more morally sacrifice oneself. In a nation as large, as technologically advanced, and as secretive as ours, we citizens never possess all the knowledge necessary to make an informed, moral decision about the worthiness of an intervention overseas. The latest Iraq war clearly demonstrated that even our elected representatives are not necessarily in a position to weigh the appropriateness, to say nothing of the morality, of foreign military intervention. The most important decisions with regard to foreign intervention are therefore best left not to the voting public but to the widest feasible array of public officers charged with our protection:

No declaration of war, nor any peacetime initiation of military force outside the borders of the United States and its territories, shall be undertaken without the consent of two-thirds of the Governors of the states and a unanimous vote of assent between the President and the Defense Cabinet, whose membership shall include the Attorney General, the Secretaries of State, Defense, Homeland Security and the Treasury, the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency; the number and composition of which may be altered by a three-fourths majority vote among the Governors of the states, but shall not exclude the Attorney General.

(from Article II, Section 2)

We Americans seem to be distinguished by our willingness to fight for our own lives, for the lives of others, and for freedom itself. But these strong convictions and lofty ideals do not justify the war deaths of relatively innocent citizens abroad. To act morally in a defensive war every effort must be made to eliminate individual aggressors or an isolated aggressive element without punishing the relatively innocent, e.g. an unwilling citizenry. Where possible, even troops ought to be considered unwilling actors, attacked only when they themselves attack or when they persist with aggressive actions after their leadership has been eliminated.

Nor does our fighting spirit exempt the citizens of these foreign states from a defense of their own lives and of the lives of their own children. The firm resolve of some Americans to commit us all to war, in order to spare any foreign citizens from fighting their own governments or from killing one another — where such a commitment so often means sending someone else to risk and sacrifice his life, rather than going there oneself — represents a particularly immoral impulse. Surely this paves the road to Hell.

Political assassinations since the Ford administration have been — at least officially — prohibited. An ideal policy, though, isolates individuals for the fullest consequences of their own choices and of their own actions — or of their inactions. Where possible no one else ought to be held to account. That the one leader might then be replaced by one far worse, or that such a policy might often prove impracticable, makes it no less a worthy, moral guiding principle. And to refrain from such a policy for fear that our own leader might in turn be assassinated implies that a presidential candidate has not already faced and accounted for the dangers inherent to the office.

 The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of the military of the United States and of the National Guard. But directing of forces in a time and a theater of war and determinations of rank within the forces shall be determined, or delegated to inferior officers, by the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an appointment of the President; so that the President may set, or reset, the objectives of military action, or order the cessation of military action.

(from Article II, Section 2)

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In as much as we begin as self-sovereign equals, yet become unequal only in our demand for private property ownership, no threat solely against property justifies a violent self defense — not by an individual nor by a nation state. Only an earnest, tenable, impending threat against self-sovereignty itself or against national sovereignty — against the freedom to exist peacefully and to use any property as freely as any other, under the laws or customs of a prospectively shared community — only this threat to peaceful coexistence justifies a violent defense or the taking of a life. And in conflicts over territory, whether between sovereign nations or religious, ethnic, or tribal communities, those who more actively respect their own members’ self-sovereignty and the self-sovereignty of those outside their ranks — i.e. the more enlightened people — have a stronger moral claim to the disputed land.

As humans we gradually mature into conscientious beings only after enduring as individuals the fullest consequences of our decisions, our actions, and our inactions. Direct democracy, particularly within the constitutional design presented here, is an ideal polity then by virtue of its maximization of individual voter and public official accountability, as well as its strong limitations upon the federalization, or unnecessary collectivization, of statutory law. While we are now far from an ideal human race, this participatory direct democracy like no other political system inculcates the conscientiousness necessary to guide the greatest majority of us toward our enlightened, idyllic future.

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Direct Democracy and the Legalization of Drugs

 The United States learned quickly in the 1920’s that the prohibition of alcohol was for all intents and purposes an impossibility, first ratifying and fourteen years later superseding a constitutional amendment to that end. But if the consumption of alcohol were an inherently immoral act, then irrespective of the rise of organized crime and the explosion in alcohol-related arrests, the prohibition of alcohol ought to have been retained.

Morality is a criterion for judging the social adaptiveness of a behavior. What would happen to the world were everyone to engage in a given act? If no appreciable harm would befall others, the act is at worst amoral, but it isn’t immoral. The state of the world would be no worse, even were all people engaged in the act.

Is the question of morality then even relevant when a private citizen ingests a substance? And is the mere possibility that an immoral act might be committed under the influence reason enough to prohibit ingestion altogether? Or do adult citizens retain the freedom to ingest whatever they wish within the safety of their own homes?

Since harming the innocent is by definition an immoral act — for it leaves the world in worse shape afterwards — when ingestion does cause harm, it is immoral. Pregnant women ought not ingest drugs other than those prescribed by a physician. A person under the influence who plows his car into a crowd or an oncoming vehicle, harming innocents, has transgressed what is moral.

The question for society is: Does our government enjoy the right to prohibit amoral behavior in order to preclude immoral behavior? Here we must detour into a discussion of probabilities. Harm is not certain to result from the ingestion of almost any popular drug. But isn’t it much more likely to result under the influence of some substances than others — PCP, bath salts, crack, or meth?

Addictive substances are predominantly harmful: they rob their users of their health, their values, their money, and their independence — all of which often lead to harm to others. And drugs like PCP and perhaps bath salts are predominantly harmful: they induce a psychosis in the user in which his safety and the safety of others is very likely at risk.

But do alcohol or marijuana, or most recreational drugs, fall into either such class — either destructively addictive or psychosis inducing? If the great majority of those polled, users or not, were answering candidly, they would undoubtedly answer: No.

But if our government enjoys any right to exist at all, then the protection of the innocent is the best justification for it. If it did not prohibit the ingestion of substances very likely to bring harm to the innocent — putting aside its harm to the users themselves — then it would at best be an amoral institution and likely an immoral one, one unworthy of further support.

In Amendment XV of this proposed direct democracy constitution, freedom is granted to citizens who wish to ingest those intoxicants that do not fall into the aforementioned categories:

The manufacture, sale, transportation or use by citizens of the United States, twenty-one years of age or older, of any intoxicant which is not likely to induce severe physiological addiction and withdrawal or temporary insanity, as understood by law, is hereby legalized and made subject to all laws respecting regulation of agriculture and commerce.

But the design of this document is only to lay the groundwork for a vast diversity among the American precincts — to solidify only a floor of morality below which no precinct may descend. Should some precincts choose to legalize even addictive and psychotic intoxicants, the proposed amendment does not actually bar them from this. Its purpose instead is to guarantee that inertia alone will not justify the government in continuing to prohibit almost all intoxicants, or even any amoral behavior, simply on the chance that doing so might prevent immoral behavior.

In the same amendment, the aforementioned foundational moral floor for all precincts is then made explicit in the second and third paragraphs:

But the use of any intoxicant, legal or illegal, concurrent with a violation of a federal, state, local or precinct law shall be a felony crime: an offense that suspends the self-sovereignty of the accused before and during trial and revokes it upon conviction; until the accused shall have been exonerated, or shall have served no less than one year in state or federal incarceration.

And the use of any illegal intoxicant by a custodial parent shall be, ipso facto, felony child neglect and cause the immediate loss of custody of all minor children upon arrest; whereupon custody shall be restored only upon exoneration, or completion of sentence and judicial consent.

In other words, even as our right to harmlessly alter reality is enshrined into law, this liberty, like all freedoms, is linked with responsibility to those around us, particularly to innocent children. Any crimes committed under the influence shift the behavioral category of drug use from an amoral behavior to an immoral one and so must be punished.

For we the People, under a new direct democracy, ought to be free to examine life itself so long as we harm no one else in the process while still well protected from others’ recklessness, no matter our chosen political precincts.

Human Nature and Regulation

 When the Founding Fathers within Article 1 Section 8 of the newly signed Constitution granted to Congress the power to regulate commerce, these distinguished gentlemen naturally knew nothing of gasoline, electricity, or bacteria. At the time, workplace and product safety standards constituted for them nary an afterthought. In a nation built upon the backs of slaves this hardly seems surprising.

But after years watching the nation falter under the Articles of Confederation — years of state to state tariff wars, deep recession with dire inflation in state currencies, and both rising debt and unremitted taxes — simply wresting from these foundering states their power to erect tax barriers that impeded foreign and interstate trade was one of their most pressing goals.

Yet in modern America we taxpayers now spend over $2.5 trillion per year footing the bill for both government regulatory enforcement and for public and private compliance.

Possessed of today’s scientific knowledge, would our Founders have designed such an economic burden as a part of their “original intent?”

Must we yet speculate? They died.

We the People must today answer for ourselves which if any measures are necessary and which would best ensure the safety of honest, productive citizens in the free exchange of goods and services — in our daily commerce. No doubt every political ideology will have its own argument for the proper regulator — whether government agencies, private associations — or no regulators at all..

But within both the public and private sectors the one inescapable constant is human nature itself: the power corrupts us; favoritism takes hold; complacency grows; and money talks.  Behold the current global financial crisis. Moody’s Corporation and Standard & Poor’s, two private rating services, were no more trustworthy or reliable than the SEC, a government regulatory agency, in warning Americans of our impending financial securities meltdown.

Fallible human beings man every organization, public and private.

Is the answer then no regulation at all? Ought we discover then only after a high-rise apartment collapsed that the foundation was laid with faulty concrete? Are compensatory lawsuits enough justice, or low rents enough inducement, for the harm visited upon honest, unwitting citizens and their surviving relatives?

Any regulator, public or private, might at any time prove derelict in its duties. But this cannot be reason enough to forsake reasonable public standards, particularly within industries where the public safety is at risk.

In the IT world we see competing models of innovation with widely divergent industry standards: the closed-source operating system and the open-source system. Public safety is nowhere here at risk; and innovation is thriving without such regulation. Let then the hand of the free market and the demand of the consumer determine the course of commerce.

Required is a common-sense rule of thumb, a rule with which to gauge the propriety of imposing a regulation: Does it directly, materially enhance public safety while minimizing costs of compliance — minimized to a degree that would still justify the enterprise in the first place?

But here we return to our human nature: Who shall write such regulations and for which industries? Who shall enforce them? And shall any citizens enjoy immunity from them? What will be the consequences for over-regulation, for under-regulation, and for non-compliance?

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First and most importantly, no one must be immune from the law.

And it would be public employees not private interests or even associations of private interests who surely would make for the most impartial enforcers of public safety regulations.  Private self-governance of public safety, where profit and market share would always be in play, more widely opens a backdoor to our darker human nature.

Industry experts, logically, ought to write the specific standards within their respective fields of mastery. And our own elected representatives, each subject to the recall vote, ought to select such experts as impartially as this our human nature allows.

Finally, we the People, as jurors within the courts of law, will decide both culpability and consequences for the misuse and violation of such regulations.

And the rule of thumb?

No administrative rule or regulation, except those indispensable to the protection of public safety, shall be enforceable where, regarding the regulated, a presumption of malice, neglect, or imbecility inheres to the requirements thereof: But any injury to person or to property, private or public, whose proximate cause is a business or governmental standard or procedure violative of due care and common sense shall nullify the limited liability or the official immunity of the authorizing and enforcing officers, respectively, both in civil and in criminal suits.

(from Amendment XIII)

Some might object here that revocation of the limited liability of CEOs and the official immunity of politicians opens wide the front door to endless litigation. But is this not what hurts us most today — their immunity from accountability?

The broader expansion of citizen accountability — of personal accountability — will serve as the foundation of our collective moral growth. No citizen, and particularly not those in positions of responsibility and power, ought enjoy immunity from our collective judgments and from their own accountability.

So, what then would constitute “due care and common sense?” That would be a definition in our own collective hands, as jurors at trial, to decide — a de facto form of common law for we the People. And this same critical judgment would be brought full circle against ourselves and our own frivolous lawsuits by a provision written as a revenue source into this new direct democracy constitution:

Misusage fees levied upon persons who assume unnecessary risks or file frivolous complaints that require emergency public services or courts of law;

(from Amendment X)

A Schooling on the Electoral College

 In turbulent years the Founding Fathers rose to prominence, within a nation faltering in its efforts to carry out safe trade and carry forth timely news between the former colonies. Each new state had long since developed unique regional interests and established a monied elite, as well as incubating its own darker provincial prejudices. And in the absence of a solid federal government, no national political parties had yet consolidated so as to represent concerns common to all the states. Not surprisingly, then, the smaller states needed special persuading that entry into a stronger federal system would not cost them the better part of their autonomy, as granted them by the Articles of Confederation.

At issue for the Framers, specifically, was how to convince the smaller and the more agricultural states that their lesser populations would not be routinely outvoted by the larger states, in effect leaving them underrepresented in this new federal system. And though the rule of one man, one vote is surely representative, irrespective of voters’ spatial relation to one another, for the smaller states, and for the sake of the new Union, the constitutional pot would have to be sweetened.

The Founders almost uniformly distrusted the common People at this time, in part due to the very absence of a stronger federal system — the consequences of which were a lack of an established national press and thus an uninformed populace, lack of a public school system, and no broadband.

Hence we have the electoral college, a Frankenstein system born of a Roman relic, a hybrid intended primarily to more equally represent the states in the presidential election by guaranteeing some minimum level of importance to all the states via their 538 electors.

The problem — beyond that of pragmatically pandering to smaller and rural states, affording them more electoral weight than their populations should warrant — is that the establishment of a strong federal government has since given rise to remedies for what then prevented the Founders from entertaining the notion of allowing the People to vote directly for their President.

We now have a somewhat pervasive and obnoxious national press, two hyperpartisan and quite entrenched political parties — and also broadband. The electoral college, furthermore, was designed without taking into account the pernicious influence wrought by a two-party system. In a winner-take-all electoral system, where the voters in each state vote, not for the President, but for their electors, the party of the electors who receive the most votes will carry all of that state’s electoral points, a majority of 270 required to win.

In a more parliamentary political system, where multiple parties were in fair competition for a share of all the electors, this would not pose a problem. But today, in our two-party system, it translates into an insurmountable barrier for third party candidates, who often struggle for a plurality of votes in any state, let alone the eleven or so more populous states necessary to carry the election.

Then there’s that other little problem. The Al Gore problem. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the presidential election all the same. Whatever one’s politics, the resulting Florida farce, the hanging-chad/Supreme Court-injunction parody of a vote count, hardly seems worthy of the Founding Fathers’ genius inspiration.

Finally, we are no longer the uneducated, isolated sodbusters that the Framers took us to be. These United States are no longer pitted, one against the other, like private regional interests; such that we ought jealously guard against the empowerment of the one over the other. And our two-party system no longer serves us at all. And then there is the broadband.

One person, one vote. Anything less is beneath us.

Morality and the Minimum Wage

 Were America to be invaded by a massive foreign force and all able-bodied, law-abiding citizens called upon to act courageously in defense of our common homeland, would it not then seem a vulgar injustice after repelling this formidable enemy were any such patriots then relegated to working at wages below a level providing even a subsistence lifestyle — while yet others returned to their newly secured private wealth and their well-paying positions? Ought not the diligence and the integrity that protects and preserves the free enterprise system for all citizens at least earn for hard-working individuals an escape from a life of dependency, indebtedness and drudgery?

Here our common values and our underlying morality are on trial. Does honest work merit an honest pay? Is there inherent value in integrity and hard work? Let us leave aside for the moment those who free ride upon society and even those who bring children into poverty. Must single working Americans in order to live independently as adults toil at more than one job, live with relatives, and assume personal debt for training and education — all as the price for survival in a supposedly just nation?

Might this be where a free market forces the hand of the invisible individual?

Is modest living and quiet dignity then impossible, or perhaps just unacceptable, for those who, though their skills are limited, would yet be content with their lives? Must fast food workers and janitors be ashamed of their stations? Ought we pity them? And is the price of being an American that all must ambitiously scramble toward the next tax bracket?

Instituting a minimum wage sufficient to guarantee a law-abiding full-time single worker his basic needs — food, shelter, clothing — would stand as proof that we Americans value the very values that sustain us. This would not, however, be a redistributive scheme for expropriating all wealth. Nor would any direct transfer of either an interest in, or the control of, private property be defensible — let alone feasible.

In fact with any hypothetical employee or stockholder control of business a more wasteful use of resources would likely follow: as each citizen would vote for his own self-interests, interests determined by both short-sighted and far-sighted perspectives and by the individual’s share of common sense — or lack of any. The result would be an averaging out of good with bad ideas. While the decision-making of a CEO is more often directed by experience and by a single-minded, highly competitive and so, more often than not, efficient use of resources.

By no means, though, ought the nation’s highest goal be the greatest economic output. Capitalism may indeed deliver the most efficient use of resources and provide us the highest floor of subsistence for all. But is this necessarily moral — or even wise? Ought irreversible environmental damage and mass species extinction be of eventual concern to us? And ought our system be measured by quantity of human life, instead of by the quality of it?

The idea of putting more capital into more hands, as the minimum wage seemingly would do, isn’t necessarily a desirable goal in itself. This would undoubtedly accelerate the destructive exploitation of our natural world through an overproduction of material goods. With more income most people would simply purchase more products and services — each requiring its own natural resources. And thanks to their marginal increase in wealth, some people would also have larger families — children who would themselves consume additional resources.

So what’s so good about a minimum wage then? Isn’t the consequent overpopulation and environmental destruction also immoral? Yes, of course it is. But because the minimum wage sets the wage floor artificially high — i.e. higher than would support the fullest employment possible — it also limits job opportunities and so exerts pressure on those who cannot afford children not to have them: it thereby moderates both population growth and economic growth — this otherwise-destructive, immoral, runaway economic growth — even as it rightly rewards honest work.

That our government currently provides a ready alternative to low-skill, low-wage labor in the form of welfare programs — food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc. — only rewards people for not working, for bringing more children into poverty, and for scamming honest citizens. These safety-net provisions would have to be sunsetted over the course of no more than a few generations, so that each successive generation would face increasingly fewer alternatives to responsible family planning and honest full-time work.

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Value itself is subjective. But values are indispensable. Honesty and hard work ought not be relegated to an economic model of subjective valuation. It stretches credulity to believe that the salary of a CEO is 500 times greater than the company’s lowest-paid laborers; either because the market “demands” such an arrangement, where in other companies it apparently does not; or because this disparity reflects an objectively demonstrable, just valuation of his unique contributions to the survival of the enterprise — as though CEOs, with their obnoxious salaries, weren’t often replaced.

The entire compensation system of the mid-sized or larger company could adjust to accommodate a higher minimum wage, as anyone who has any experience with the wasted time and resources, the general incompetence and the typical redundancy inside most companies could confirm. There are also fortunes spent on ineffective advertising and government lobbying — another advantage of direct democracy — and the consequent tax shelters and special provisions in law. Suffice it to say that most companies are grossly inefficient.

The federal minimum wage acts with a blind uniformity and with a public transparency. It helps those who are actively helping themselves. A regionalized CPI could be used to determine a level for the minimum wage that would provide a local resident sufficient means to afford the necessities of life in his area, as represented by a “basket” of goods and services that all independent, hardworking Americans deserve.

The most obvious alternatives to a moral minimum wage are to continue this amoral welfare state, which now threatens the fiscal life of the nation; or to be rid of the welfare state altogether and the minimum wage with it: Let then the free market flex its invisible hand. Perhaps all honest, low-skilled, hardworking Americans would earn only two dollars an hour; but the price of basic needs might drop in some relation to the lowered cost of labor; such that marginally more poor people could live in relatively more widespread poverty. And the planet could be exploited and overrun until we’re all equally damned.

Or we might express our sounder values through our policies and our polity. We might institute a moral minimum wage and ratify a direct democracy.