by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
The News & Observer carries the news on this disgusting protest. A sea of proud white faces waiving placards to pressure well-known employers of low-skill, low-wage workers who are often racial minorities — and worse, the General Assembly — into deliberately pricing them out of work in favor of automated kiosks and other Stuff White People Like.
More than doubling the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $15/hr. would certainly do that. The movement is no doubt energized by its success in Seattle, where low-income employers are experiencing a rash of closures.
OK, so the tone of this post is somewhat facetious. It spoofs the knee-jerk implication of racism so readily done on university campus: see an issue with a racial disparity, automatically assume a racist intent, run with that assumption.
The issue being described here is, however, quite serious. I find it disgusting, exploitative, and yes, immoral, for people who ought to know better to deceive poor people into walking off their jobs and demanding, essentially, that they be priced out of work.
And even if today’s self-righteous “progressives” think they’re protesting to “help the poor,” their ideological predecessors instituted the first minimum wage for the very base, racist, horrid reasons I was suggesting above.
Thomas C. Leonard exposed that history in his Fall 2005 Journal of Economic Perspectives article on “Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era.” He wrote:
Progressive economists, like their neoclassical critics, believed that binding minimum wages would cause job losses. However, the progressive economists also believed that the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit, as it performed the eugenic service ridding the labor force of the “unemployable.” Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1897 , p. 785) put it plainly: “With regard to certain sections of the population [the “unemployable”], this unemployment is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health.” “[O]f all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Sidney Webb (1912, p. 992) opined in the Journal of Political Economy, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them to unrestrainedly compete as wage earners.” A minimum wage was seen to operate eugenically through two channels: by deterring prospective immigrants (Henderson, 1900) and also by removing from employment the “unemployable,” who, thus identified, could be, for example, segregated in rural communities or sterilized.
Leonard showed how progressives found a “race-suicide” theory to support pricing out “the colored races” from wage competition with white workers with higher living standards:
For these progressives, race determined the standard of living, and the standard of living determined the wage. Thus were immigration restriction and labor legislation, especially minimum wages, justified for their eugenic effects.
I’m sparing readers some of the more atrocious justifications compiled by Leonard. More discussion of this can be found in Jeffrey A. Tucker’s Feb. 10 feature in The Freeman, “The Eugenics Plot Behind the Minimum Wage” and in Carrie Sheffield’s April 2014 column in Forbes, “On the Historically Racist Motivations Behind the Minimum Wage.”
Walter Williams wrote about “Minimum Wage Cruelty“:
One of the more insidious effects of minimum wages is that it lowers the cost of racial discrimination; in fact, minimum wage laws are one of the most effective tools in the arsenals of racists everywhere, as demonstrated by just a couple of examples. During South Africa’s apartheid era, its racist unions were the major supporters of minimum wages for blacks. South Africa’s Wage Board said, “The method would be to fix a minimum rate for an occupation or craft so high that no Native would likely be employed.” In the U.S., in the aftermath of a strike by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, when the arbitration board decreed that blacks and whites were to be paid equal wages, the white unionists expressed their delight saying, “If this course of action is followed by the company and the incentive for employing the Negro thus removed, the strike will not have been in vain.”
Economists have always known what effects instituting an artificial wage floor would have on poor black workers. Yesterday’s progressives agreed with progressive economists on the goal and means of pricing them out of work. Supposedly today’s progressives oppose that goal, but they fervently push the same means — with the same odious effects.
As Williams put it, “Tragically, minimum wages have the unquestioned support of good-hearted, well-meaning people with little understanding who become the useful idiots of charlatans, quacks and racists.”