We live in an age of causes: transgender equality, harmful speech, anti-Islamophobia, BDS, and many more. These causes all carry similar traits, and all are marked by moral outrage, absolute demands, and an uncompromising stance on the part of their advocates. Another such fight which rumbles on today is the so-called “Fight for $15.”
The “Fight for $15) is is a push by low-wage workers to try to force employers to pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour. This push happens even as employers like Target and Wal-Mart are already raising their workers’ wages.
The arguments in favor of the Fight for $15 are almost always moral, not economic. Consider an article run last week in the Detroit News:
They argue no person working full-time or close to it should be living in poverty. Given the rising cost of living and the increase in economic inequality — with wealthy fast-food companies making billions in profits and paying their CEOs more than 1,000 times what front-line workers make — it does not seem like too much to ask.
The author closes with these lines:
The fact is the biggest threat to our economy is not a fairly paid worker, but a hopelessly impoverished one. Combating poverty by providing a living wage is not only morally right, it makes economic sense.
The ardent sincerity of his words is only matched by their moral and economic stupidity. Moralizing about the evils of poverty and the ills of corporate malfeasance solves nothing. However, this is not an honest attempt to truly solve the ills of America’s low-wage workers. An honest attempt would look at both the reasons for which so many American workers are struggling and what causes those problems.
In many cases, the chief cause of worker’s problems is the misguided action of governmental do-gooders.
The Fight for $15 is not a spontaneous eruption of popular rage at being mistreated by vile corporate masters. It is the push by a politicized union to protect itself. The union in question is the Service Employees International Union. SEIU, which has made news by using thugs to assault those it dislikes, is a boil on the skin of the Democratic Party, to which it donates hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
It’s no secret that minimum wage hikes harm they very people they are meant to help. California Governor Jerry Brown recently acknowledge this: “Economically, minimum wages may not make sense. But moral and socially and politically they make every sense.” Even the liberal outlet Vox has written that a $15 an hour wage hike will have effects we can’t know yet, because the hike is so large.
But why would SEIU support such an anti-worker policy? Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian, has suggested that “if you can raise the wages in those sectors that have been pulling down the general wage level – i.e: fast food and retail – then it makes it easier for unions to create a higher standard and go on and get more stuff” (emphasis added).
Could simple greed be the answer? Perhaps. After all, a labor union exists to protect the interest of those already in the union, not the general population. Economist George Reisman brilliantly explains how labor unions are actually anti-labor:
Indeed, the efforts of labor unions to raise money wages are profoundly opposed to the goal of raising real wages and the standard of living. When the unions seek to raise the standard of living of their members by means of raising their money wages, their policy inevitably comes down to an attempt to make the labor of their members artificially scarce. That is their only means of raising the wages of their members. The unions do not have much actual power over the demand for labor. But they often achieve considerable power over the supply of labor. And their actual technique for raising wages is to make the supply of labor, at least in the particular industry or occupation that a given union is concerned with, as scarce as possible.
This fight is marked by two traits that we’ve seen. One the one hand, there is the intellectual failure displayed by supporters of the Fight, men like Jerry Brown, who honestly think that the morality of higher wages should trump the economic realities of doing so. They will find in time that economic laws cannot be altered. The second trait is the deeply cynical support for the Fight given by the SEIU, which is pursuing its own gain on the backs of non-union workers who have no voice.
The push for higher wages is not, in an of itself, an evil. We all want higher wages. Demanding them in such a way, however, is the behavior of a child who thinks that he’ll get what he wants if he stamps his foot hard enough. To support a policy while ignoring its economic damage–especially when that damage could cause greater harm–is the action of people who care only for their own status as do-gooders.
Doing good is a fine thing, but a $15 minimum wage hike will cause more harm than good.