Sunday, November 19, 2006

Minimum Outrage - If the NYT and the rest of the punditocracy is to be believed, a increase in the minimum wage is not only necessary, but is also a fait accompli. But, as in all things, we should be honest about what a raise in the minimum wage would represent. In short, any increase in the minimum wage would be a very targeted tax increase on precisely those who least deserve it, namely those employers who hire minimum wage - or, for the sake of forthrightness, minimally valuable skill - workers. (Indeed for many, if not most, their "skill" is simply the ability to reliably repair to their place of employment.)

Surely we are all sympathetic to the plight of working single mothers, the homeless or displaced and others for whom a minimum wage job is the last best option short of life on the dole. But our sympathy for such employees should not overcome our empathy for those employers who give workers an opportunity to secure gainful employment in the first place. Let's be clear about a few things: First, none of those who would presumably benefit from a minimum wage increase will be scrubbing up for a surgery to decouple conjoined twins, nor will they show up to their part-time job of working on a cure for cancer. In as much as they work at all, minimum wage employees work in jobs where there is a surplus of any labor that they can reasonably offer.

Secondly, while far too many of these employees are working to keep themselves out of poverty, many more are teenagers from middle-class or affluent families. More than a few are stuck at the minimum wage as a result of their own behavior, making their own bad luck as it were. Third, true to the form established by progressive organizations that espouse a so-called "living wage," no one on the Left can explain why we should settle for a $2.00 per hour increase in the minimum wage as opposed to a $10.00 or a $20.00 per hour increase. Shouldn't we just cut to the chase and make the minimum wage (pardon me, living wage) $100.00 per hour?

But then we would be left to figure out who would pay $100.00 an hour for someone to make beds in a hotel, or sling hash at a truck stop diner. The answer of course is absolutely nobody. This fact confirms the well-established causal relationship between the cost of a good (in this case, low-skilled labor) and the demand for that good (i.e.: employment opportunities for said workers). If indeed there is such a calculus of price and demand, why would anyone conclude that raising the price of a surplus good benefit those who provide that good?

This stands to reason only by way of a tortured logic. Indeed, it is the Left's strained reasoning that concludes that an economy can simultaneously absorb both unfettered and unchecked illegal immigration (thereby creating a false surplus of unskilled workers) and an increase in the cost of such laborers. This is a recipe for more outsourcing and higher unemployment, particularly amongst those who can least withstand such economic injury. If we were employing our own best thinking, we would not punish those who hire the least among the employable. Rather, we would celebrate them with their own national holiday, complete with parades and fireworks. In a more perfect union, every metropolis would have streets named for those employers who do the economy's heavy lifting.

But of course, by mentioning the word "union", we invoke the only group for whom a raise in the minimum wage makes perfect sense.

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