Living Wage Can't Compete with Hard Logic

By West, Woody | Insight on the News, December 8, 2003 | Go to article overview

Living Wage Can't Compete with Hard Logic


West, Woody, Insight on the News


Byline: Woody West, INSIGHT

The United States during the last half-century has become three-quarters of a welfare state. That is not enough, however, for those dedicated to covering the last mile of the dismal road to socialism.

The collectivist idea, of course, has been consistently present in the nation's history, but it never has commanded more than modest enthusiasm. That is why the zealous advocates of the left - Marxists, neo-Marxists, liberals and the gentle souls Vladimir Lenin cynically described as useful idiots - prefer a backdoor approach. As with the "Universal Living Wage."

That campaign has been showing unfortunate strength during the last decade. There has been a notable lack of attention paid to the living-wagers by the national press, doubtless because of the left-of-center posture of most of the journalistic "A team." There are 85 cities with living-wage laws, including Baltimore (where it first was enacted in 1994), Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans. Others are pondering this beguiling notion. Beware!

The voters of San Francisco, for example, approved a ballot proposition by a 60 percent vote in November to raise the minimum wage. It will go to $8.50 an hour early next year. California already mandates $6.75 an hour; the federal minimum is now $5.15. The new law in that lovely and loopy city exceeds such statutes, which generally apply to government employees and/or firms doing business with the municipality. San Francisco will not exempt any business unless it has fewer than 10 workers.

Earlier this year, Santa Fe, N.M., approved a comparable law. That statute would exempt businesses with fewer than 25 employees. Santa Fe would raise the minimum wage there to $8.50 in January and to $10.50 by 2008 - that is, for those businesses that haven't fled beyond the city limits. The Santa Fe law is being challenged in state court.

It requires a hard heart, does it not, to oppose a movement that waves so appealing a banner as "social justice"? Before the Universal Living Wage gathers a greater tailwind, however, a dose of skepticism is in order. The federal minimum wage itself is now so politically embedded in the social fabric that it seldom is questioned, even though its benefits are in no way self-evident. As Thomas Sowell, an important economist and astute public-policy essayist, has written, "Most studies of minimum-wage laws ... show that fewer people are employed at artificially higher wage rates. Moreover, unemployment falls disproportionally on lower-skilled workers, younger and inexperienced workers and workers from minority groups. …

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