Minimum Wage Policy in Great Britain and the United States

By Jerold Waltman | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2. ORIGINS

Public policies, or at least domestic public policies at any rate, result from the interaction of social conditions, ideas, and the dictates of practical politics. This was certainly true in the long road to the adoption of a minimum wage in the United Kingdom and the United States. The continuing presence of poverty into the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when the optimistic predictions of the founders of political economy concerning the benefits that would automatically flow from sustained growth turned out to be false, prompted a search for new ways to analyze the world. New models of thought produced, in turn, a sheaf of innovative proposals for increasing the role of the state in the society and the economy. After a period of gestation, these proposals moved from the pages of journals and books into the minds of those actively involved in politics. When political conditions were apt, in 1909 in Britain, in 1912 in Massachusetts, and in 1938 at the US federal level, minimum wage policies emerged.

It is imperative to understand, though, that the minimum wage was not a policy developed in isolation. It was, from inception to adoption, part of a broader program of social reform. Once on the books, it slowly became detached from this social welfare base, with significant consequences for both the minimum wage and social welfare policy generally. What Adrian Vinson said of Britain was equally true of the United States: “If the essentially Edwardian combination of the minimum wage with family endowment offered the model for a welfare state, it was not to become the model for the welfare

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