THE BLOG
11/27/2013 10:14 am ET | Updated Jan 27, 2014

Pesky Brother-in-Law: Thanksgiving 2013

Another Thanksgiving. Family, friends, food, and hopefully some time off to sleep off your turkey-induced tryptophan daze.

And yes, that pesky brother-in-law who's especially revved up this year for an aggressive incoming attack well before the gravy boat reaches you. So, let's see if I can once again come to your aid with a bit of Q&A. [Links to earlier versions below.]

Now remember, he (or she -- there's lots of pesky aunts, sisters, even spouses) is loaded for bear coming off of the ugly healthcare.gov rollout, and the whole way up the interstate he's been getting increasingly excited about batting you about with this one.

But you know my methods: we stroke, we kick. We concede the truth and provide the context. We are fact based. We never get nasty. We love our misguided bros et al -- while we may get a touch acerbic, our goal is never to humiliate nor put down. It is to guide them back to the enlightened path, no matter how far they've strayed.

Pesky Bro-in-Law (PBiL): This year I'll tell what I'm thankful for. I'm thankful that guy in the White House has finally shown what a flop he really is. This Obamacare disaster ends the argument: government is broken and socialism is too. Great stuffing, mom!

You, pointing at him with a drumstick: Well, I guess everyone saw that one coming. And of course you've got a point, bro. But let's not mix up the rollout, which truly has been a mess, with health care reform, which is already showing promise.

We've got to build a better road to get there, no question. And you want to blame Obama for that, I can't stop you. But don't confuse the road with the destination. There's a lot of people, and some of them are probably right here, who will have better, more affordable, and more reliable coverage once the road is cleared.

And let's not forget that his opponents haven't exactly been trying to clear that road. They've been trying to blow it up! (Dramatically drop drumstick so it splashes gravy on him!)

But you know what? I'll bet you a year from now, when we're all sitting down to this wonderful bounty, this lousy website rollout will be a bad memory. It's already -- finally -- starting to work better. The states that set up their own website are signing up lots of people -- 80,000 in CA alone. Doesn't that make you think there must something people want and need here, once they can get it?

PBiL, sensing you're gaining ground, jumps back in: What about all those millions of people who were lied to about how they could keep their insurance if they liked it? Please tell me you're not going to defend that!

You: Of course not, but again, let's not blow this out of size, bro. First off, you're talking about just 5 percent of the population. Now, I agree: the president was wrong to make that claim for those folks. But he was right for everyone else. And you know he's trying to make amends, right, by giving insurers a chance to re-issue plans that they'd cancelled?

Does anyone here remember that last time a big-shot politician admitted he'd made a mistake?! The dude's been gettin' it from all sides lately -- how about we give our president a little credit for owning up to a mistake he made and trying to fix it? (I suspect bro-in-law's getting a little worried about now -- this isn't what he envisioned on the drive up... )

And let's also remember why a lot of those people lost those plans: because they weren't any good! They had big, fat copays out-of-pocket, or lifetime limits, or they didn't cover you when you got really sick. I mean, I thought we were talkin' about insurance here, people!

So, here's what I say we do, bro. You know you're my man and I'm so glad sis brought you into our family, but let's call a truce on Obamacare. We'll meet here in a year, and if it's not working a lot better and covering a bunch of people with decent insurance, and saving money for a bunch of 'em too, then I'll stand down. I'll even give you my slice of pecan pie.

But if it's working and doing all those good things, you'll admit it, OK? Fair? Whadya say, bro? A little bipartisan compromise right here at our Thanksgiving table... now who'd a thunk it?!

PBiL: That whole government shutdown didn't do a thing to the economy; same with sequestration. I'm really glad we did that stuff because it gives you a sense of how much waste there is!

You: Hold it bro -- just because you didn't feel "that stuff" (don't forget the air quotes!) doesn't mean nobody did. Anybody here been lookin' for a job? Cousin Lisa was just telling me that it's still a tough job market. Anybody get much of a raise lately (pause for loud groans). Sorry, didn't mean to bring that up!

That's partly this foolish sequester (I expect you'll see some confusion on this one -- maybe go with "foolish across the board budget cuts!") and the shutdown's in there somewhere, and even more so all those big deficit cuts you're always calling for. They're implicated too. And please don't anyone tell me how we haven't brought down the budget deficit. While I read just the other day on my favorite blog that it fell more over the past four years than over any four year period since the middle of last century!

Those kind of cuts in a weak economy just make it weaker, and while a lot of comfortable folks might not feel it every day, I guarantee you, if you send your kid to Head Start, if you work in a government job, if you were dependent on tourism when they closed the parks, even if you work at a desk job for the military, odds are you felt this stuff.

PBiL: Can you believe those people out there crying for a minimum wage increase? Don't they realize that's just going to hurt them more than help them?

You: Well, if that's what they "realize," then they're wrong. And just for the record, I don't hear any of those low-wage folks crying. I hear 'em asking for a raise, which in an economy where almost all the growth has gone to profits, not paychecks, doesn't seem to0 outlandish to me. If I hear anybody crying, it's the lobbyists for the businesses and their hack friends at the Wall St. Journal editorial page! (OTE-guarantee that you've got some heads nodding with you by now!)

I ask you, bro: when it comes to what's good for a single mom working in retail for a few bucks an hour, how come you know so much better than her? Because you're right, she's asking for a higher minimum, and I'll tell you why: it's the only way she and millions like her can get ahead. They've got the least bargaining power of anyone in this economy, and pretty much the only way they're getting a raise is if we legislate it.

And I'll tell you what else she knows: it's much more likely to help her bottom line than to hurt it. We now have state minimum wages higher than the federal level in 20 states. That means we can get a pretty good sense as to whether higher minimum wages cause the problems people like you say they will. I pay pretty close attention to this sort of thing and I haven't heard anything... have you? ... anyone?

And I'll tell you, all these interstate comparisons has even moved economists' opinions about this stuff, and they're a pretty stuffy bunch.

So really, bro. I mean, let's just think about this for a minute. We've got income inequality through the roof; most of the economy's growth has been doing a Pittsburgh Steelers end run around the middle class (that's right-show no mercy!); corporate profits are higher than ever, the stock market's melting UP, while paychecks for ordinary folks are stagnant...

And you're tellin' me our big problem in America is folks making seven bucks and 25 cents an hour want a raise...?!

How about you just pass me some of mom's great stuffing and we'll forget you brought it up.

Earlier versions of PBiL: Thanksgiving 2011, Xmas 2011, Tax edition, Thanksgiving 2012, Labor Day 2013.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.