As the president’s flailing, failing campaign on behalf of beleaguered Congressional Democrats coughs, wheezes and stumbles its way toward decision day, he increasingly reverts to a tired theme that has inspired scant enthusiasm from the voting public. “America needs a raise!” the chief executive thunders, suggesting that his fanciful proposal to boost the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour all the way to $10.10 will magically boost salaries for the middle class.
Never mind that figures from his own Department of Labor show only 2.6% of today’s workers actually earn the federal minimum wage and most of them (64%) work only part-time. Never mind that a big majority of the population lives in the 24 states and many cities that have already boosted minimum wage mandates above federal levels; the $15 minimum wage Seattle has scheduled for phase-in more than doubles the prevailing federal standard. Never mind the official figures showing that mean hourly wage across the nation for the 133 million currently employed now exceeds $22, so even a whopping 40% minimum wage increase would mean raises for only a minor portion of the workforce.
The real problem with the “America needs a raise!” sloganeering isn’t that the proposed changes won’t help the middle class, but rather that the policies advocated by the president and his allies will actually damage middle class interests. If you’re already among the nearly 80% of all workers who make more than $10.10 an hour, a government mandated boost for those earning less than you do will inevitably cut your chances of getting your own raise, no matter how hard you’ve worked for it. If a business is required to increase payment for the new-hires and part-timers who make up the biggest portion of minimum wage workers, that means it will have less money available to enhance salaries for the more experienced and productive people on staff.
In other words, a new federal mandate to hike salaries sharply for new-comers and marginal workers who may or may not deserve a raise will leave reduced resources to boost wages for those who have actually earned an increase. The proposal to use the power of government compulsion to lift minimum wages focuses on precisely the least deserving segment of the work force: the employees who have been unable, so far at least, to merit that advancement on their own.
The most revealing aspect of the “America Needs a Raise!” mantra is, in fact, the word “need”—it doesn’t trouble progressives that minimum-wagers may deserve a raise least, as long as they need it most. For more than a hundred and forty years the left has focused considerable energy on the hideous project of separating the benefits that people receive from the rewards they actually earn. In 1875, Karl Marx popularized the phrase, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” In other words, society should ignore the obvious fact that some people work harder than others, and that some citizens bring special talents and imagination to their endeavors that their neighbors may not possess. If those less industrious, less gifted workers fall behind their eager-beaver counterparts and need more help from an all-powerful government, then they should get it, leftists aver as a matter of unquestioned faith. Marx, Engels and all their successors employed ingenious pretzel twists of logic to explain why it actually makes sense to punish success and reward failure, but the scores of governments that have tried this approach in the last century have demonstrated that socialism is not only unfailingly inefficient but also shamefully unfair. It still makes no sense, in either practical or ethical terms, to bestow special benefits on slackers while imposing special burdens on go-getters.
The minimum wage obsession offers a perfect example of this classically demented leftist approach: reducing future opportunities for those who hope to earn them by delivering instant, undeserved rewards to those who have to this point merited them the least.
Despite the rhetoric, this approach won’t even help those who truly “need” assistance most: the out-of-work and out-of-luck who can’t even find a job, even at just $7.25 an hour. How is it supposed to be easier for any of the unemployed to find such an entry-level position when the boss doing the hiring is now required to pay $10.10? That’s especially problematic when the low-tech food service industry provides a disproportionate share of today’s minimum wage jobs. Leaders of that industry have repeatedly warned meddling politicians that a drastic hike in their cost of labor will encourage investment in expensive new technology to make many of these positions obsolete. After all, it shouldn’t be hard to produce machines capable of asking customers, “Do you want fries with that?”
It would be bad enough if the Obama agenda punished the deserving to help the needy. But in fact, the proposed sharp increase in the minimum wage would harm all segments of the working class: making it harder for those in the middle to get raises, and nearly impossible for those who are out of work to get jobs. A minimum wage hike to $10.10 would not only cripple the ambitious in their hopes of getting ahead, but help to lock the unemployed and underemployed in a state of perpetual hopelessness and dependence. It is, in other words, a perfect storm of bad policy, which should contribute to demagogic Democrats getting blown away on November 4th.
This column appeared originally at TruthRevolt.org on October 13, 2014.