An Argument in Support of the Minimum Wage

Classical economics, Adam Smith, and free market forces – all wonderful concepts and very efficient and practical methods of managing our micro marketplace activities.

Except – except that in this natural world the ultimate progression is that the weak eventually fall by the wayside and the strong ultimately accumulate all the wealth. It is a game of Monopoly played large and as anyone who has played Monopoly knows, it is no fun to play once someone else controls all the hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place.

Are those opposing a hike in the minimum wage suggesting that the obscene pay packages of many, if not most, of America’s top companies are the result of free market forces? Hardly, they are the result of networked boards, good old boy networks, greedy contracts of these executives, and the impotence of the finely divided stockholders who have little ability to coalesce into an effective opposing force. Do they think that there are not capable managers in America who could competently run any American company and happily subsist on a salary of half a million or less? These overpaid execs are not there out of a fair market competition – they are there because of a system that is skewed in their favor.

Is the ratio of remuneration between a nurse and a physician, or a lawyer and a paralegal based on market forces? – Not a chance. Is the value of a business executive or engineer that much greater than a high school teacher or a social worker?

As to minimum wages – there is half the planet that exists on less than two dollars a day. Certainly there are millions who would gladly take jobs in America for a fraction of the minimum wage. Note the effect a flood of illegal Hispanics has had on construction industry wages.

The minimum wage is a contract with ourselves, an agreement within our larger community that anyone who exchanges his/her work for pay should at least get enough to sustain himself/herself above poverty. This is not free market – it is compassionate and Christian values.

When we take the obsession with free markets and free trade to the extreme, we are essentially saying let the raw rules of nature, survival of the fittest, trump human compassion.

There are other models in the world – we are so hysterical when “socialism” is even slightly inferred that we may fail to see the advantages of community policy that results in a more egalitarian, democratic, fair and compassionate society. Otherwise we will only continue this slide towards a bipolar society, a widening gulf between rich and poor – and eventually the seeds of social unrest. And this is not the American promise.

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