Is the minimum wage “good for what ails you”?
Medicine shows of the 19th century featured doctors loudly claiming highly positive results of their most recent patented medicinal elixirs. These salesmen never explained exactly how these cure-alls really healed. The pitch would often feature calling on sick people from the crowd and asking them how their lives would improve with the benefits promised by the elixir. Just imagine it. When you’re abjectly suffering and in such a crowd, it has to be almost impossible to not personalize such hope. These shows were never complete without the always-riveting anecdotal evidence of people claiming to actually have been cured by these elixirs.
Today’s push for minimum wage legislation, much like medicine shows of the 1800s, is rolling out from city to city. Its appeal is based on today’s shaky economic recovery from 2009’s Great Recession. This recovery has created the perfect scenario for an economic legislation medicine show because of the combination of two conditions that never before have existed in an economic recovery:
- Creation, albeit very, very slow, of new jobs over the last 4 years, with
- An actual reduction in overall wages
In other words, more people are working, but everyone is making less money. Such a situation not only mimics socialism, but breeds loud calls for “economic equality.” To many suffering financial hardship, there is no sweeter sound than to hear that they’re entitled to someone else’s money.
Enter the elixir of minimum wage legislation. Politicians, without ever explaining how it will actually fix citizens’ economic troubles, promise deeply suffering voters today’s patent economic medicine: legislation to grant voting citizens more money. Evidence, however, is beyond dispute that nobody can support a family on $15 per hour, with an employer tax of $17,500 per year. But minimum-wage-legislation politicians, like 19th-Century snake oil salesmen who avoided the discussion of long-term proper rest and nutrition, prefer to avoid discussing the long-term benefits of time and resources to increase the skills of perpetually low-income wage earning citizens. They instead focus on the elixir … the promise of throwing money at these voters. Their pitch: Minimum wage is good for what ails you.
Notably absent in their pitch also is any explanation of who will pay these extra wages for the same work. Most businesses are trying to merely survive while operating in today’s economy with razor-thin margins of sold product or services. They cannot afford to pay higher wages for the same work. They will flee from minimum wage cities to more business-friendly cities, leaving behind unemployed workers.
There is no stronger proponent of minimum wage legislation than Democratic Party presidential candidate, and self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, whose website includes the following implied promise for minimum wage:
Millions of Americans are working for totally inadequate wages. We must ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty. The current federal minimum wage is starvation pay and must become a living wage. We must increase it to $15 an hour over the next several years.
Like some doctors of traveling medicine shows of the 1800s, many of today’s minimum wage politicians might mean well. Many others, however, know full well that minimum wage is the 21st century’s legislative version of “patent medicine.” Nonetheless, some suffering voters will buy the elixir by casting their votes in the next election, and will unfortunately find afterwards that the cure was generally worse than the illness.