If Progressives Had Perspective on the “Living Wage”


Maybe it’s an act, but sometimes it’s almost comical how little progressives understand economics and how unable they are to think of other people as, well, people trying to make the best decisions they can under the circumstances.  Oh, they say they have empathy for this group or that, but anybody who responds to actual incentives in the real world slips immediately into the bad-guy-who-gets-no-empathy column if they conflict with progressive fantasy.  Consider:

States and cities whose lawmakers proudly passed “living wage” laws are finding it difficult to make sure employers actually pay their workers accordingly.

Here’s a thought: Maybe the employers are finding it difficult to pay their employees at the level “lawmakers” decide suits their own ignorant vanity.

And many workers — especially those in precarious situations — fear they’ll be fired if they speak up.

And maybe those “firings” wouldn’t be retaliation so much as the simple calculation that government has forced on the employers.  See, wages before the increase were the rate that employers’ ability to pay matched employees willingness to work.  Progressives dehumanize workers by insisting that they can’t actually be making rational decisions to work for what they accept, and they devalue work by assuming it gives those who do it well no leverage — that they’re at the mercy of their employers.

If one imagines these interactions from a more empathetic point of view, the scenario can be one in which employers tell their employees the honest truth that meeting the arbitrary demands of government officials will put them out of business or at least force them to lay off employees’ coworkers and insist on more work from those who remain, leading the workers to voluntarily stick to the pay that they were already willing to accept.

How instances of that positive scenario balance out against instances of the evil-people scenario that progressives prefer is almost immaterial.  Politicians who pass these dumb laws are forbidding adults from making such decisions.

So, progressives double down on stupid:

“It’s pretty shocking how common the violations are,” said Donna Levitt, director of the labor enforcement office in San Francisco, which began ramping up to $15 an hour last year. …

The new laws are meaningless without proactive enforcement, labor advocates say, citing research that shows roughly one in four businesses nationwide already cheat their workers out of minimum wages.

What comes to mind is the IRS practice of aiding and abetting illegal immigrants who are committing fraud with Social Security numbers because, “It’s in everybody’s interest to have them pay the taxes they owe.”  So, why isn’t it in everybody’s interest to let people work for what they’re willing to work for?

The government would rather make it more difficult for people to come to voluntary agreements that ensure that they have some income.  That way, the taxes of those who actually keep their jobs can be used to make politicians and bureaucrats feel good about themselves, again, when they hand out welfare benefits.

  • Russ

    So should we similarly allow adults to voluntarily enter into indentured servitude? Isn’t that also in “everyone’s interest?” And who wouldn’t want a few slaves… er, I mean “rehumanized workers” around to keep things tidy?

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Wherein Russ illustrates how irrational progressives are.

      • Russ

        It’s a legitimate question and interesting that it’s not one you can answer. And I didn’t call you a bad guy anywhere in the post! Are workers or are workers not rational enough to make that decision for themselves? Isn’t that a “dumb law” forbidding a type of simple contract between consenting adults?

        It’s not like that’s a fantastic scenario. Many parts of the world allow or at least tolerate just such an arrangement. VICE just did a report on Trump projects in Dubai employing slave labor.


        • Mike678

          No, it’s not a real question Russ…more a statement when you insert the the word ‘similarly.’ Actually, more a logical fallacy–and I’ll let you research which one. You can also look up the answer to your other question–but you know it already, no?

          Since you like questions, please inform us how indentured servitude is relevant to an employer/employee relationship in the US? As to what happens in Dubai, as an enlightened progressive who understands multi-culturalism, who are you to judge what another country does? Isn’t their culture as good as yours?

          Additionally, what makes a person worth $15 an hour when they made $10 a week earlier? Did their productivity go up? What of the guy who made $15 an hour? Does he go to $20? That path leads to inflation, does it not? What will inflation do to that $15?

          Labor is a commodity…if its cost goes up the business owner can afford less. The ones hurt are the least educated, as they are squeezed out by the more educated–or automation. So on-the-job training required for the poorest goes south, as does future employability. But you’ll solve that problem with quotas, right? Then we’ll solve the problems that ‘solution’ causes by….

          • Russ

            Hey, this is Justin’s stawman that he set up and knocked down. I’m just playing along. Quote:

            “So, why isn’t it in everybody’s interest to let people work for what they’re willing to work for? The government would rather make it more difficult for people to come to voluntary agreements that ensure that they have some income.”

            Apparently indentured servants are better off having some income than no income so let’s just let the market work it out, right? Again, not a hypothetical. It even worked that way here not so long ago before regulations like the minimum wage.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            INDENTURED SERVITUDE:was a labor system in which people paid for their passage to the New World by working for an employer for a fixed term of years.
            What has this got to do with this discussion?

          • Mike678

            Absolutely nothing……

          • Russ

            Rhett, that’s historically accurate but indentured servitude is a reality of life for many workers in countries with no minimum standards for what constitutes valid employment contracts.

            Justin outrageously suggests the only standard should be that the contract is entered voluntarily and that workers are better off with something rather than nothing. It’s an extreme position, easily dismissed with a little perspective.

      • OceanStateCurrent

        Not much point in responding to Russ. He’s either arguing in bad faith or can’t see obvious distinctions. It’s simple progressive thinking: a wage below arbitrary government minimums = indentured servitude = slavery. If the government doesn’t set a minimum wage, we might as well legalize slavery again because there are no distinctions to be made anywhere along the spectrum and in our modern society millions of people are just about ready to sell their lives away and submit to the whip.

        As I said, arguing with people like Russ is a fool’s occupation.

        • Mike678

          True–his reasoning and logic are substandard, but asking questions sometimes causes people to justify their close-held beliefs and actually think vice provide an emotional response. In the past I was of the opinion that people don’t stop learning. It appears I was optimistic.

        • Russ

          So instead of answering you make up something and claim I said that instead.

          What’s clear is you don’t actually believe your own argument. “Why isn’t it in everybody’s interest to let people work for what they’re willing to work for?” Because some agreements are unjust and exploitative, even if they are voluntary. Again, I’m just playing along with your reasoning, which I agree was in bad faith as you point out.

          Progressive would say that a living wage is essential for supporting children, family structures, and civic engagement and for ensuring the businesses don’t free-ride on the social safety net, essentially a tax on the rest of us who foot the bill when families need assistance. Those are things conservatives should care about or at least address head-on if they were being honest about it.

          • OceanStateCurrent

            After years of this, Russ, I’m just no longer interested in parsing your baloney. You’ve never given evidence that you’re interested in real discussion, and you’ve given plenty of evidence that you just derive enjoyment from frustrating other people.

            So maybe you’re playing what you think are clever word games as a form of self gratification. Or maybe you lack the intelligence to understand real distinctions. Or maybe it’s some combination of these and other factors.

            There’s simply a logical distinction between the level of a wage and the long-term (even permanent) change of one’s status based on temporary conditions.

          • Russ

            Yes, more name calling and personal sleights. Quite persuasive.

            But I can see you’re backing off your initial premise. Now it’s, “Why isn’t it in everybody’s interest to let people work for what they’re willing to work for so long as one’s status is based on temporary conditions?” We’re left to wonder what that means or who should determine whether the arrangement is long-term.

            So as near as I can tell from the responsive part of the comment, you’re for voluntary indentured servitude provided it isn’t long term or permanent. At least that’s honest. I suspect there are a few staunch libertarians who are with you on that one. But aren’t many minimum wage positions long-term? Sounds like an argument for, not against a living wage except perhaps for seasonal or temporary placements.

          • Mike678

            Russ–always the victim….