Saturday, August 7, 2021

Things That Won't Fly in America

America is hardly a perfect place.  It is a cobbled-together patchwork of fixes and repairs over the last 240-some-odd years.  Yet it seems to function in a manner of speaking, much as Wallace's inventions do, after a sort.

In response to my previous posting about tipping, some replied that perhaps we should abolish tipping altogether, as they do overseas, and just pay servers a decent wage.  But like so much else that sounds reasonable, for one reason or another, it just won't fly in America.

I digress, but overseas, working as a server is not considered some summer job for a high-schooler or a college student, or something you do because your degree in philosophy qualifies you for nothing else.  In many countries, being a waiter is considered a noble profession, and people do it for years - their entire lives.  You see waitstaff in Paris that is in their 60's or older.  You generally don't see that in America, unless some senior outlived his money.

Our tipping system is bizarre.  It is difficult.  It is a patchwork approach to paying people.  But it is ingrained into our society, and indeed, even into our tax code.   The few brave restaurateurs who have tried to abolish tipping (and increase pay) have found themselves facing resistance - from confused patrons and angry servers - who see a loss of under-the-table tip money as a pay cut, not a pay raise.

And the system has its uses.  With sub-minimum-wage pay, a restaurateur can keep staff on, even if there are no customers.   The staff is unhappy, of course, as they are not making any money if there are no customers.  But the alternative is to send staff home, if business is slow, and if a flood of customers comes in, just as you sent half your staff home, well, you're in trouble.   So you can see how the system does work, as I noted before, to the advantage of the restaurant owner.

Maybe someday tipping will be abolished in the US, or at least fall from favor.  But I doubt it.  At least anytime soon.  In a way it is like a lot of other "great ideas" that work in smaller countries where it is easier to get consensus.   These are ideas that have been proposed in the US, but for one reason or another just never gain traction.

For example, there have been numerous attempts to eliminate the penny.  Congressman Jim Kolbe, among others, was a proponent of this idea.  And indeed, in Canada, they have done away with it already.   The idea is that with inflation, the penny is so worthless (and cost more to make than a penny) that handing them out as change or counting and sorting them is just a waste of time.   And that idea has merit, but good luck selling that to people in the United States.  Folks will say things like, "Well, this is just a plot by retailers to screw us out of a few cents with each transaction!" - even though with rounding, the odds are, you will come out even over time.

Like I said, they did this already in Canada, but it has yet to get traction in the USA.  And really, the point may be moot.  With so many transactions being done with credit and debit cards, it is rare that anyone uses cash anymore.  In fact, it is kind of annoying to use cash - that change jangles around in your pockets and you have to do something with it.  Some folks actually throw it away.

Similarly, the dollar coin, which was introduced in Canada years ago (and supplemented by the two-dollar coin) never really took off in America.  Oh, sure, we had silver dollars and Eisenhower dollars and Sacajawea dollars, but they were more oddities than currency in general circulation.  The latter was hindered by its small size - confusingly similar to a quarter.  Americans just never took to it for some reason.  And again, maybe the point is moot today, as we move to electronic transactions.  Having heavy coins jangling in your pocket seems, well, kind of retro and backward.   Change is bad enough, heavy change is even worse.

So maybe we dodged a bullet there.  Just as Vietnam skipped an entire generation of phone service (landlines) after the war by going directly to wireless, we skipped an entire generation of coinage.  Perhaps.

The metric system is another example of something that the USA has resisted with little or no consequence.  As I noted before on the subject, the rest of the world claims to be metric, but the reality is, they use "English" or "Imperial" measurements in everyday use.  The Brits still talk about how many "Stones" they weigh, and Jeremy Clarkson might call (incorrectly) the Z-3 the "Zed Three" but he still talks about 0-60 acceleration times, in terms of miles-per-hour, not kilometers.  It seems for colloquial measurement, many people revert to these archaic, human-sized terms.

But again, it is moot.  A push of the button converts my speedometer and navigation system from English to Metric, when I cross the border.  Metric tools have supplanted "English" ones as "American" cars are now all-metric (with the exception of wheel bolts, bolt patterns, and tire sizes!).  The medical industry (and it is an industry!) went to cc's and whatnot a long time ago.  Where it counts we have gone metric.  When we are reporting the temperature outside, well, we stuck with a scale with better granulation.  In the end, it doesn't really matter.

Our government is another example where change isn't likely to occur, not because it isn't needed or because it wouldn't be better, but only because of inertia and tradition. The electoral college, for example, is excoriated every four years (and then promptly forgotten about). People get all upset that "their" candidate didn't win, and even the winner throws a hissy-fit when people point out he lost the popular vote.  But the idea behind it was to protect smaller (population) States from being steamrolled by more populous States - and in that regard, it works just fine.  Imagine, if you will, if Wales had the same number of votes for Prime Minister as England.  The Welsh would surely find it a swell idea - and likely resist any attempts to change it.

Our system of government is a cobbled-together mess.  And this is by design, I think.  People complain about "gridlock" in Washington, but often gridlock works to the advantage of the status quo.  Sometimes change (even pocket change) is a bad thing, or at least there is no need to rush into things.  When things get done, it is often a messy compromise, which sounds bad, until you consider the alternative.

Some people pine for a strong-man or a dictator who "gets things done!" and I think many saw that in Donald Trump (but of course, it was just a mirage).  The problem with the get-ur-done form of government is that it often steamrolls over the rights of the weaker voices.  Not only that, when you hand someone absolute power, it tends to corrupt, absolutely.  Maybe our system of government and our society isn't perfect, but on the other hand, consider the alternatives before throwing out what we have.

Sure, the Canadians abolished the penny.  Has that really solved their greater political issues?  And yes, in Sweden, where everyone has blue eyes and blonde hair and goes to the same church, you can pretty much get people to agree on everything.  We aren't Sweden - and never will be.  And they are finding out how hard it is, when you let people into your country that don't look like you, speak the same language, or pray to the same God.  We may have our racial strife, they are just beginning to figure out what that means - and are freaking out.  Welcome to our world!

And no, we haven't solved a lot of our "problems" but yet life continues to go on, pretty damn well, in the richest country in the world.  Yea, things could be a whole lot worse, even if we don't enact "common-sense" legislation like our neighbors and allies do.

Yes, universal health care would be a swell thing, and maybe someday, before I die, it will be a thing.  Right now, we have a patchwork, of VA hospitals, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, private insurance, and no insurance.  It ain't perfect, and surely it will get better - it already has, in many respects.  But even in countries with a "National Health" service, there are complaints about how well it is run - the shit never ends, even after you achieve your Shangri-La.

It disturbs me that some folks think the system is "broken" and needs to be tossed out, simply because it isn't working to their advantage, or worse yet, because they made a series of poor life choices (student loans, worthless college degrees, drug use, lack of ambition) and think someone else is to blame for it.  We've been down this road before - at least in other countries - and the results were horrific.  Yet, oddly enough, some of the very folks clamoring for massive social change, want to enact these failed experiments in Nazism, Communism, or "Anarchy" - and yet fail to heed the lessons of history.

America may not be perfect.  But it ain't purgatory, either.   And a funny thing - folks from many other countries in the world all want to come here.  But few Americans are interested in living in places like China or Russia.   Funny how that works!