There’s More to Minimum Wage Jobs Than Wages
Politically Driven Wages Justify Authoritarianism
The Minimum Wage is NOT a Living Wage
It’s not so much that the minimum wage is back in the news again as it’s always in the news. No matter how high it’s raised there will always be someone demanding that it be raised more.
They miss the point that the minimum wage is not, was not, and never should be meant to be a “living wage” and no one should ever think that it ought to be.
When most people talk about the minimum wage all they actually talk about is the wage. They seldom if ever consider all of the other advantages that come with actually being gainfully employed at any wage level.
In other words, people think that the only thing a person gets from an employer is a paycheck and maybe a few paid benefits. But anyone who goes to work for an employer is getting something else too, and those other things may be even more valuable in the long run than the actual dollar amount of the paycheck.
They’re getting training. They’re getting experience. They’re learning responsibility, dependability, accountability, and building a reputation, and finding out how the world really works.
Minimum wages create minimum jobs
Not Just Working, but “Working It”
Say a high-schooler gets a first job at Bubba Beuford's Big Burger Barn. The kid doesn’t know a thing. He or she is the most unskilled unskilled worker there is. Never flipped a burger before. Never French-fried a potato. Never even seen an advanced piece of commercial equipment like a point of sale cash register system.
Training. Along with that first paycheck the kid gets training. Taking orders at the counter, at the drive thru window, bussing tables, mopping floors. And then, maybe , how to flip a burger, how to deep fry the frozen spuds, even how to handle belligerent customers.
With savvy the kid will use everything he or she has learned. Takes on more responsibility. Entrusted with the keys to open or close. Makes assistant manager. Shift manager. And maybe all the while he or she has been taking a couple of courses online or at the local JC in bookkeeping and accounting and basic management skills and then…
And then takes all that knowledge, time, experience, dependability up the street to "Hillbilly Hogan's Hot Hambooger House" and gets hired, with a raise, as manager of that franchise operation.
And maybe the kid who’s not a kid any more but a young adult with a little ambition and drive and moxie moves into the franchise owners front office and soaks up understanding of the operations, earning more and learning more until the day comes when…
Our former unskilled worker cobbles together enough money to buy a franchise of one’s own. And through the years expands with a third and a fourth and a dozen more stores and slowly becomes a local business entrepreneur.
Our budding burger-banger found a better job somewhere in the mall, moved on and up and into better jobs, got some post high school education, found a career path and pursued it. A part time high school job doesn’t have to be the beginning and end of a person’s economic existence.
How many people over the years have worked evenings and weekends waiting tables for minimum wages and tips while attending college by day, or worked low income summer jobs to pay their tuition in the fall?
The most unskilled of unskilled workers went through the motions, functioned just well enough not to get fired, spent every paycheck on “whatever” every week, and then after three months of this started demanding a $15 per hour minimum increase.
A minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage, just a stepping stone toward a living wage.
Choice Simply Means “Decision Making”
It’s true that some people get stuck in low-paying jobs and can’t get unstuck through no immediate fault of their own. But the untold story is usually that such people are not victims of “the system” or “greedy capitalism” or “racism” or some other outside excuse but the victim of their own bad choices. Maybe they dropped out of school, had a kid, had another kid, never learned to manage their money, did drugs, weren’t willing to leave family and friends and familiar surroundings to seek out a better life, so they took the first job they could get and turned it into a rut.
We can all have empathy for these people and nearly all decent Americans, including libertarians, would like to help them find a better way of life. But asking government to force every company, from Mom and Pop to big business, to pay every minimum wage-earner more, which forces every consumer to pay more for every product they buy to subsidize those low-paid workers is just wrong. That isn’t justice, social or otherwise. But that’s what happens when as much of a business’s expenses as possible gets passed down to its customers. It turns government into a criminal, consumers into victims and recipients into wards of the state.
What is seldom ever said is what every business owner already knows, that ultimately every employer has no choice but to train someone who some day in the future may go to work for a competitor. And in some cases the employer of a low-skilled part time worker just may be training someone who becomes a future competitor who out-works, out-performs and out-competes that former employer and runs him or her out of business.
All of which brings up the libertarian alternative.
Open Competition in an Open Society
Let’s imagine a laissez-faire free society in which many different ideas and ideologies can peacefully co-exist if the majority of people accept the non-aggression principle that rejects physical coercion, intimidation and fraud – especially from government. This isn’t some kind of utopia; unless the day comes when medical science finds a way to cure them there will always be psychopaths and sociopaths and just plain mean and dishonest people.
A libertarian society entails wide open competition. No government or any other kind of government-type criminal organization can long get away with imposing its will on others. It means many types of for-profits, non-profits, institutions and organizations in every field of human endeavor competing with one another, not just for money but for every other reason as well.
Without a government to coercively pick and impose winners and losers for the benefit of the people who run the government – which is what always happens – there will be occupations, vocations, trades, livelihoods, careers, callings and pursuits enough for everyone.
In addition to every other way government is typically described government is overhead. It produces nothing of value; it simply takes value from others and uses it to the benefit of those who run the government. Even the “good” things government operatives create for the purpose of benefiting its citizens – military defense, police, law courts – are actually created for the purpose of keeping the powerful in power and the wealthy in wealth.
The Great Walls of China (there were several, not just one) weren’t built to protect the Chinese people from the Mongols; they were built to keep invaders from taking the throne from the Chinese Dynasties. All governments, everywhere, no matter what they pretend, ride on the backs of the people they govern. (Reports claim over a million Chinese laborers were simply worked to death building the walls. Does that sound like rulers concerned with protecting their people or protecting their thrones?)
People Helping People
So, again, imagine a society where government has been replaced by post-statist institutions, or even with a “minimal government” that is funded in a wholly voluntary and non-coercive manner. Without people paying up to 50% or more of their incomes to support politicians and bureaucrats millions of dollars will be available for people who want to assist others by voluntarily working together to create many kinds of non-government organizations (NGOs) like mutual aid networks, charities, assistance services, humanitarian agencies, relief organizations and beneficent societies.
People will help people because that is what good people everywhere have done for millennia. Libertarians and collectivists should agree that there is nothing wrong with workers unions or collective groups or co-ops or communal living or social welfare programs and social safety net provisions as long as they’re voluntary.
People know who the truly needy are in their own neighborhoods. Just as some say “All politics is local” it’s just as true that “All charity is local.” By working together locally, even within national organizations, they can support those who can never support themselves and assist the temporarily down-and-out to get back up-and-in. They can readily identify and weed out the slackers and shirkers, or even develop programs to help them change their mindsets.
It’s been well documented that private citizens did exactly that in the Western World during the 19th and 20th Centuries by creating highly effective networks of mutual aid societies and more.
Government won’t do that. The bureaucrats have a vested interest in finding and keeping as many people as possible on their rolls. The more people they “serve” means bigger budgets, and bigger budgets mean bigger bureaucracies, and in DC bigger bureaucracies mean more political power, more importance, more ego bloat and more opportunities for graft for the bureaucrats who run the bureaucracies.
In 2012 the Agriculture Department spent between $2.5 million and $3 million on paid advertising encouraging “underserved” people to sign up for food stamps. More recipients means bigger budgets and more slush funds to spend on the administrators’ pet projects and to pad their own bank accounts.
More recently, in October 2016, Governing Magazine reported “Last year, on average, states used less than 10 percent of welfare funding for work-related services.” The same article went on to say “In Louisiana, a policy research group recently referred to the state's welfare program as a slush fund “used to plug holes in the state budget caused by large tax cuts."
If a private charity did that it would lose faith with its donors and money would dry up, but when government cheats they just keep getting more money. Yet most people doggedly cling to their unfounded conviction that the only way to fix problems created by government is more government.
The primary purpose of all bureaucracies is to benefit the people who run the bureaucracies. That’s true even of private sector bureaucracies, but at least they are forced to suffer the consequences of their negative actions rather than receive endless rewards for it.
Compulsory collectivism is the path of regression into earliest tribalism and groupthink. Post-statism, a society with voluntary governance that replaces involuntary governments is the legacy of The Renaissance, The Reformation, The Enlightenment, The Age of Reason, with The Age of Libertarianism dawning.
Think the minimum wage is too low? The best possible way to raise the minimum wage is to help create a free and open society in which competition flourishes, neither helped nor hindered by self-serving governments, and every business has no choice but to openly compete with every other business to hire, train and keep the workers they need.
Economically this is what’s known as “consumer-controlled-governance.” Morally this is what’s known as a humane society. In every other way this is what’s known as a culture of choice and human decency.
Hiring and retaining employees in an openly competitive marketplace naturally drives wages up. No wonder Crony Corporatists and the politicians they own in both mainstream parties don’t want open competition.
All who participate in a marketplace should think of themselves as an individual entrepreneur. You are a business of one. No matter how you interact economically with others –wage-earner, salaried, freelancer, contractor, part-timer, buyer, seller, franchiser, owner-operator or in any other way – you are a business in that context. You are exchanging values with others. Negotiate. Employers are interviewing you and you should interview them in return.
In a free society you are always the owner of yourself.