WITH DANIEL SCHEROTTER
Photo courtesy Daniel Scherotter
Chickens and Eggs
By Daniel Scherotter
October 2, 2006
High Wages and High Poverty coexisting in the Inner Bay Area?
City, 9-28) A sky high cost of living is responsible?
Then, just the other day, we read that a large number of "rich
people" in California collectively gave to charity at a pitiful
rate compared to the citizens of Utah and a host of Southern and
Midwestern (Read Red) States. (Chronicle,
Dare we make a connection? Dare we ask a question, the answer
of which might grate against our collective social consciousness?
Let's speak metaphorically
let's discuss this in chickens
and eggs terms.
Where there are chickens eggs frequently follow, and from those
eggs more chickens. Chickens left alone and away from predators
will produce more eggs and then more chickens than chickens in
a controlled environment, and definitely more than chickens in
the wild. The more chickens there are, the more food they need
and the more manure they produce.
Getting into the discussion of what came first, the chicken or
the egg, is reserved for those involved in the one sided politics
of blaming the other guy and never listening to him. I would like
to think that the educated progressive community could avoid this
oh-too-Bush-like behavior, and I think that it can.
We have a high cost of living here in San Francisco. It has always
been high. Supply and demand have always acted predictably in
our 7x7 slice of heaven. In recent years, the cost of living has
gone up faster than areas around us. We also have a higher minimum
(and average) wage than anywhere around us, and it has gone up
far faster than anywhere around us, too. I'm sure we can all agree
that these two are related, since goods and services are provided
by people. I'm sure we can also realize that more expensive people
with more expensive benefits (health care, sick pay) increase
the cost and provide more expensive goods and services to everyone.
Having higher taxes and fees than anyone around us (for thousands
of miles) might also be blamed for the high cost of goods and
services that we all have to pay. As labor gets more expensive,
more outsourcing is occurring, the more small businesses are replaced
with chains and the more storefront retail is replaced with internet
competition. We all see this.
So, even though people here make more than people anywhere else,
the cost of living saps that income and leaves all people with
less to spend than practically anywhere else. People who in Utah
would be middle class, here are working poor, and people who in
Utah would be rich at $200,000/year/couple, here are cooking at
home in their tiny starter condo with nothing left to give to
charity. We are all paying sales tax, property tax, state income
tax, payroll tax and a cornucopia of fees to government instead
of to charity (which does a much better job of getting money to
the intended recipient by about 3 times). In every case, those
states with higher rates of charitable giving are low tax, low
wage, low regulation states. Here, we seemingly prefer to give
it to government.
With taxes, the theory is that in a well governed city that you
get what you pay for. The theory is that if you're paid more,
you can afford more. So how're those theories working for everyone?
If the answer is, "not so well," maybe something's wrong
with the theory, or maybe, just maybe it's with the city.
We are all paying relatively more for others' high Bay Area wages
and benefits (and taxes on same) than to ourselves, too. Since
we have tied the minimum wage to the CPI, we even have an accelerator
that will increase the rate of increase of the CPI. We've given
the Roosters Viagra and the Hens chocolate and put the eggs in
I doubt anyone sees the cost of living dropping anytime soon,
and they'd be correct. Next year the minimum wage goes up to $9.14/hour,
an occasion to be celebrated by, among others, waiters everywhere,
who will also get a raise on their tips from the higher prices
the restaurants will have to charge. Of course restaurants can
save by cutting cooks' pay or eliminating bussers.. When you add
on the $1.06 or $1.60/hour for health care and the 9 paid sick
days and the city payroll tax because our 'progressive' board
only knows how to increase the cost of labor (and then the cost
of everything labor might buy), you can see how things might get
expensive in any business that required workers.
You can see the huge disincentive to become an employer of an
entry level worker. You can see why private independent contractors
are the single fastest growing segment of San Franciscan workers.
All the progressives I know tell me to raise my prices and that
people will pay the slight increase, and these are the liberals!
You can see how people at any end of the spectrum might get squeezed.
Businesses are no different: The fact that restaurants are far
more than likely to go under in their first 5 years explains that
they're in worse shape than the people they employ and serve.
So I have to ask, is this upward spiral in anyone's best interest?
Small, locally owned businesses certainly lose. Citizens and residents
certainly lose. I did notice that the City Government's payroll
is going up by hundreds of millions of dollars, including executive
pay and benefits. I noticed that city workers make more money
by far than the rest of us, $6,000/year more on average before
the lifetime healthcare and pension benefits are thrown in at
our expense. I'm not quite sure who benefits other than the people
who work for the city, most of whom don't even live here. I know
that Muni, public housing, crime, public education, homelessness,
poverty and quality of life are not improving, yet we're paying
more for them every year. That doesn't strike me as 'progressive'.
The trajectory is more banana republic than third way.
Would it not be progressive to demand the city spend our money
more wisely, actually fix the problems we all see and tax and
regulate us more judiciously so we can afford our own city. Shouldn't
it be progressive to call for civil service reform, to modernize
a 19th century city government and call for efficiency in the
name of service? Would it not be smart for the progressive intelligentsia
to sit down with small business leaders to help straighten out
what's wrong without falling victim again and again to the laws
of unintended consequences? Wouldn't it be in the peoples' best
interest to advocate for a more humane cost of living?
If we want to, we can maintain the number chickens and eggs at
a sustainable level where there's enough food for everyone that
we can afford to feed, but currently we've got a huge amount of
crap to shovel through to get anything done and a stench that's
growing intolerable. We can't sit around drunk on moonshine and
wonder why the barn reeks and blame it on the other guy all day
long. We have to make some hard choices and decide to look at
the big picture. This might require conversation. Is anyone reading
this willing to talk to someone they don't completely agree with,
or are we in a left wing version of Washington DC? If so - it'll
be interesting to see what happens in November when the arrogant
and unchallenged majority meets voters' wrath (in Washington,
Daniel Scherotter is a professional chef and operates Palio
d'Asti restaurant in San Francisco. Daniel is also the Vice President
of the Golden Gate
Email Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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