No, Raising the Minimum Wage Isn’t a Socialist Experiment

In a delightfully deluded letter to the editor, a citizen of Maine, Douglas Papa, rails against a higher minimum wage and its effects on the local economy. He warns his fellow Mainers that there should be “no influence to determine a higher minimum wage from people who do not own a business with staff paid hourly.” (By this logic, no citizen can participate in a policy discussion unless it directly affects them. How ridiculous.)

He perpetuates the myth that “every time the minimum wage goes up, available jobs disappear.” Yet, a quick fact-check by The Associated Press shows that this “supposed” negative employment effect “usually doesn’t happen.” In fact, according to Al Jazeera’s Gregg Levine, “if you go back to the late 1970s, four of the five times an increase in minimum wage was followed by job losses came during recessions, when higher unemployment is part of the general economic picture. And that fifth time came only months after the end of the 1990 downturn.”

But historical facts be damned! Papa warns his legislators that “there will be no socialist revolution that will divide people into bullying employers to increase their starting wages.” (I wonder if he would have thought government was “bullying employers” when the US government said “no more” to child labor and enforced a series of workplace safety standards?)

He goes onto claim that Maine possesses an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent precisely because the minimum wage is at $7.50. But Maine’s unemployment rate is only 0.9 percent lower than Washington state’s unemployment rate of 5.2 percent and our minimum wage is currently the highest in the nation at $9.47 per hour. How can that be if Papa’s thesis is correct?

And for Seattle, where “forced socialism” is “shoving us” to a higher minimum wage? Well, Seattle’s minimum wage is currently on its way to $15 an hour and our unemployment rate sits at an incredible 3.8 percent.

But let’s be honest here folks: numbers will never convince people like Papa that a higher minimum wage is good for the economy. Conservatives like him have been saying the same things for a very long time now. In fact, I wonder if Papa borrowed some of his language from Justice Van Orsdel, who said in 1923: “No greater calamity could befall the wage earners of the country than to have the legislative power to fix wages upheld… It will logically, if persisted in, end in social disorder and revolution.”

Or maybe he listened to Senator Arthur Vandenberg in 1938 who said: “federal wage-fixing…will lead to compulsory arbitration in labor relations –  not voluntary but by sheer force of necessity as we are driven closer and closer to the centralized authoritarian state.”

This whole line of anti-minimum wage thinking has been around since we started mandating a wage floor. Yet the disasters which conservatives always claim are right around the corner never come to fruition. That’s why Robert Reich and Nick Hanauer call their arguments “chicken-little economics”.

But since the minimum wage was established in 1938, the sky has yet to fall. And this truth exposes trickle-down economics for what it is: an intimidation tactic masquerading as an economic theory. Time has shown that statement to be correct, yet people like Douglas Papa continue to drink the trickle-down Kool-Aid.

Nick Cassella

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