No Superhero to Save Businesses Killed by Minimum Wages


If you harbor any support for minimum wage laws — or, especially, “living wage” laws — Ian Tuttle’s profile of a San Francisco comic book shop is must reading:

“I’m hearing from a lot of customers, ‘I voted for that, and I didn’t realize it would affect you.’” So says Brian Hibbs, owner and operator of Comix Experience, an iconic comic-book and graphic-novel shop on San Francisco’s Divisadero Street, of the city’s new minimum-wage law….

… Hibbs says that the $15-an-hour minimum wage will require a staggering $80,000 in extra revenue annually. “I was appalled!” he says. “My jaw dropped. Eighty-thousand a year! I didn’t know that. I thought we were talking a small amount of money, something I could absorb.”

I don’t know how a small-business owner could have not done the quick math of what a $15 minimum wage would cost him.  Whatever the case, now Hibbs is in the position of trying to think of new add-ons to his business model that will bridge the gap.  A small local bookstore that was going to have to close down was saved, temporarily, by crowd-funding — essentially charitable gifts to cover the additional expenses.

Hibbs notes that only so many businesses can get away with charging a “keep us open” fee before customers are tapped out.  His solution has been to put together a graphic novel club that provides at least some semblance of additional service for the money given, but if it’s enough to bring in another $80,000 in revenue per year, it’s difficult to understand why the store and its customers hadn’t figured that out already.  In other words, it looks like a pretense for charity.

The comic-store owner says he’s a progressive, but even so, he’s inclined to wonder:

“Why,” he asks, “can’t two consenting people make arrangements for less than x dollars per hour?”

One suspects that he’s missing the key aspect of progressivism.  Promising minimum wages allows politicians to buy votes, selling a pledge to make people’s bosses pay them more.  Supporting minimum wages allows voters to capture charitable endorphins on the cheap, by forcing others to pay the bill.

There’s no rational compromise, because the point is for people facing no or minimal consequences to tell other people what to do, and the consequences require some understanding of logic and economics.  Consider: If Hibbs’s new innovation turns out to be a profit center, he might credit the minimum wage law with forcing him to innovate, but the next business down the block might not have the advantages of an artistic and cliquey industry.  One hopes Hibbs and his customers would still be realizing the damage they’ve done to real people’s lives with their votes, but it’s unlikely.