People’s Responsibility for a Decent Society
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Throughout the history of humankind, societies have struggled to create an order that would be beneficial for their members. Through trial and error people have worked hard to ensure the functioning of their communities and favorable conditions for the future development. Unfortunately, this building process has been largely controlled by the ruling class of any given society, and the understanding of favorable conditions was quite narrow. As much as we would like to believe that our present order has a more comprehensive view on people’s welfare, it is hardly true. The discussion offered by Robert Reich in his article “The minimum wage, guns, health care and the meaning of a decent society” uses the issue of minimum wage as a stepping stone to advocate the principles of a welfare state and to urge people to take active part in the formation of the societal structure.
Starting with the specific example of the wage raise the author sets the mood for the whole article. Even the first paragraph shakes the reader up with its choice of words. For instance, Reich calls the Republicans’ position on the wage issue “baloney” and then proceeds to prove this point. He achieves that by explaining the relationship between minimum wage and the poverty line as well as arguing that raising the wage to $9 will not cause unemployment (Reich, 2013). This introductory paragraph convinces the audience that the author has a rather strong opinion on the matter of societal structure and that he is going to defend it rigorously.
A decent society, according to the article, is an environment where every person is taken care of and the responsibility for support is shared by all people living within that society. The main point of the article is manifested in the fourth paragraph, and consists of a single sentence. Here, the author says: “A decent society should do no less” (Reich, 2013). Referring back to the issue of minimum wage, this statement means that at the very least a society should favor the wage increase because this will provide more money for the most vulnerable layers of society. The idea of decency, as described above, is juxtaposed to the belief in market forces. The author argues that the society only pretends that there is an invisible force that governs all interactions. In reality, the “market” is an artificial creation of people that does not exist in the natural world (Reich, 2013). The argument then proceeds with the collection of great examples of how human beings, and not the “market”, are responsible for such things as safety standards for workers, prohibition of child labor, limitation of guns’ use, etc. The author employs parallel structure with the pronoun “we” to put the emphasis on the anthropogenic origin of those standards and laws. The article does a great job reminding people of their responsibility for building the current system.
The recurring themes of mutual accountability of the society members towards each other as well as the emphasis on the fact that people need to take responsibility for the creation of a particular social order promote the idea of a welfare state. In fact, the issues that lie under the surface of minimum wage problems or comprehensive health coverage go much deeper. One is forced to question the very basis of the society in the USA, namely the capitalist order. It has long been discussed whether capitalism can provide adequate social benefits for the members of the society. The model of a welfare state is often contrasted to the capitalist state; and there is much discussion about the two options. Through his examples Robert Reich seems to advocate for a more equitable society, which is the feature of welfare states. The capitalist order is sometimes judged because the least advantageous social classes lose virtually all social protection while also getting the limited degree of freedom (Fazeli & Fazeli, 2010). However, the existing order has been effective for a long time, with generations of people being born into it and having no other alternative.
It can be argued that Robert Reich makes an attempt to initiate the social change by drawing people’s attention to shortcomings of the market-regulated society. These include a lack of social protection and resulting financial struggles for some people, to name a couple of examples. In the last part of his article he states that there are different options of the societal orders to choose from, with subtle hint that the option of increased welfare system is a good alternative. He gives an example of how in other developed countries the handguns are banned, the minimum wages and taxes for the rich are higher, and the social protection is better (Reich, 2013). Finally, the author chooses to end his article by the direct address to the readers urging them to become critical of the current system and not to accept the existing state of affairs without questioning them.
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Analyzing the appeal that the article has one has to admit that it is a rather successful piece of persuasive writing. The logical part of it is flawless and easy to comprehend for an average person. The factual evidence does prove that there are developed states, for instance in Europe, that are more successful in distributing social benefits among their citizens. Moreover, the author also makes sure to engage the emotions of the readers by arguing that the existing minimum wage is below the poverty line, or that the choice of banning guns is in people’s own hands. All these, together with the conversational style of the article, make a strong effect on the audience. The alternative, which the author seems to ultimately push for, could be a blend of capitalist and welfare state. As Fazeli and Fazeli (2010) argue, the welfare state can be seen as a natural social evolution. In this case, there is no reason why the human beings cannot implement this idea into reality, taking into account the firm belief of the given article in the power of people to create social orders and determine the standards for decency.
Looking at the broader picture, the presented article raises the important issue of a decent society and the role of a human being within it. One can see how through the means of deliberately chosen language and syntactic structures the author is able to convey his message to the audience. The article is surely interesting to read and reflect upon, as it has for its object a relevant and very serious dilemma of the present time. Humans are increasingly more confronted with the responsibility they have towards society, natural world, and each other. In this light the article is empowering because it confirms the ability of a person to act as an agent of social change.
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