Toward a salary-free America

Winning the war on wage addiction, one paycheck at a time.

By Joyce McGreevy
Published June 30, 2003 7:30PM (EDT)

Mimi Alloway is a woman with a mission. "We must unite to prevent the spread of this terrible tragedy," she urges her audience. A small but determined group, they have come to the nation's capital to eat dessert at this $2,000-per-person rally in support of Alloway's campaign to treat wage-income addiction through punitive taxation.

As she leaves the podium and takes a seat, Alloway whispers to an aide, "I'm not very hungry today. Just bring me four-fifths of the biggest pie." Her eyes shine and her chin is thrust out, but clearly she is feeling the strain.

"Some days I wonder why I even allow the servants to get me out of bed. But then I remember. Only people like me can save this great land of ours. And I do mean ours. Still, it's such a senseless tragedy, isn't it? I mean, you have to ask yourself, why? Why would rational human beings allow themselves to become dangerously dependent on wage income? Me, I've never touched the stuff. I get high on lifestyle."

Like her friends, Alloway believes in making money in ways that enjoy federal approval, such as through inheritance, investment and -- when the appearance of work simply cannot be avoided -- disproportionate CEO bonuses.

"Inheriting money is not for everyone," Alloway admits. "It takes a special breed, and I think that in itself justifies the freedom from estate tax. Likewise, investing can be a real test of character. You're either selling stock, in which case you need a reduced tax rate on capital gains, or you're bravely holding onto stock, which certainly merits a reduced tax rate on dividends. Especially when your investment income is drawn from your inheritance income, which -- as anyone who's ever had to dip into their principal can tell you -- is quite scary."

But not everyone, when faced with the lurid temptations of wage income, can Just Say No. So Alloway and her friends have decided to say it for them. As members of the Special Committee for the Reduction of Every Wage-Yielding Opportunity for the Underclass, or SCREW-YOU, Alloway and friends have lobbied tirelessly for "tough love" measures. It's what compassionate conservatism is all about, she explains.

"Look, it's a no-brainer," jabbing her silver fork in the air for emphasis. "If you want to reduce wage addiction, you raise the cost of the habit. By shifting the tax burden from the nation's affluent to the incorrigibly wage addicted, we're sending a message to millions of Americans that says, 'Work doesn't pay.'"

SCREW-YOU has had major success in cutting off wage income at the source. In just the past few years, millions of jobs have been destroyed, deported or effectively disarmed by reducing benefits, freezing wage growth, raiding profits, and prohibiting overtime pay (though not, they hasten to add, actual overtime). In stings like Operation INRUN and WHIRLCON, Alloway's task force even merged rival organizations and sent in undercover operatives to pose as accountants.

"The damage was done and the wage-income addicts put out of business before anyone knew what hit 'em. Of course, a lot of the big fish are still out there riding a wave of prosperity, but that's a small price to pay for making moms, dads, grandparents and the youth of America wage-free."

Still, says Alloway, the war against wage-income addiction is far from over. "Even with record unemployment, the rate of recidivism is high," she acknowledges. "We'll help someone kick an $80,000-a-year habit only to see them hit the streets in search of a $7-an-hour fix. And they've always got some lame excuse. 'I'm doing this for my family, I'm hungry, I need to feel useful.' It can get pretty discouraging."

Why do so many otherwise decent Americans become addicted to wage incomes? According to Alloway, some of the most common reasons heard on the street include:

  • To fit in, as in to fit into an apartment or other dwelling space. "All the glamorous people have basic shelter so why shouldn't I?"

  • To escape. You'll hear a lot of people say things like, "A steady wage income helps me relax after the end of a grueling week of working double shifts, schlepping to the Laundromat and grocery store, and putting in volunteer hours at the kids' school before heading off to my night class so I can hopefully improve myself by becoming a registered nurse or firefighter." What they're really saying is, "Doing wage incomes is just easier than dealing with my problems."

  • Because they think it's cool. "Every day the liberal media inundates us with classified ads that offer enticing come-ons like this one: 'No benefits! Pays minimum wage! Must possess Ph.D., an insured vehicle, and state-of-the-art computer to qualify!' I think people get caught up in the allure of all that."

  • Because they think it makes them seem grown-up. The reality is that many people who resemble grown-ups are perfectly happy to make no contribution whatsoever. A real grown-up doesn't have to be productive, Alloway points out, just wealthy. "The idea that earning a wage through labor makes you a grown-up is one of the greatest lies of our time," says Alloway. "After all, global studies reveal that many of the wage addicts who indulge in gluing trinkets, stitching clothing and assembling machine parts are younger than 12 years old. How grown-up is that? Exactly. You know, you look at young people like that and you wonder, Why aren't you having your teeth bleached and going to self-esteem camp like normal kids?"

    Still, even as Alloway leads the crusade to make wage addicts accountable, some cases may prove more resistant than others. "Oh, it's true. I've seen people who've been off jobs for six, 12, 18 months and all they can think about is how they're going to score their next paycheck. It's sad, really. That's why it's essential that we treat even unemployment benefits as taxable income. Because otherwise you make it too easy for people to psych themselves into a state of hope."

    - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Perhaps the thought of such altered consciousness on a massive scale is what causes Alloway to shudder. As a tiny crumb of Alloway's pie crust falls to the carpet, a man in an ill-fitting white jacket immediately rushes forward to sweep it up. Alloway's usually taut face crinkles into an expression somewhat like a smile. "Keep it," she murmurs to the man. "I'm so happy that I can help you people."

    "Oh, I know," she sighs, as the interview resumes. "Call me a big softie. But that man is what our program is all about. Thanks to SCREW-YOU, he's gone from being a software engineer to a retail manager with reduced benefits, then to a part-time food server with no benefits, and now he's a volunteer. He's still in some denial. You know, he has delusions that volunteering round the clock will impress someone into offering him a few hits of minimum wage. To be honest, he's not quite off optimism, but we're reducing his dose a little at a time."

    She waves the man over, motions him to kneel so she can look down into his desperate eyes, and says softly, "We're not giving up on you, OK? Some day -- mark my words -- you'll belong to us. And not just you, your whole family. No child left behind, eh?"

    The man is visibly moved. But for Mimi Alloway, his tears of obvious gratitude are nothing new. "All in a day's wealth," she says. "All in a day's wealth."

  • Joyce McGreevy

    Joyce McGreevy is a writer in Portland, Ore.

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