by Locker Room contributor
The Daily Tar Heel provides a glimpse at how the Edwards Cen ? oops, the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC Law will operate. It’s not encouraging. A few reasons why I say that:
? UNC, which has an Economics Dept., appears to think that the Law School is the appropriate place to study “Poverty, Work and Opportunity.” See Provost Robert Shelton’s comment that “The kind of expertise that [Edwards] will need ? rests in law but also in other departments within the University.” Let’s be blunt here; the only way the law can contribute helping on those issues is by scaling back ? reducing regulation, cutting bureaucracy, returning to a more laissez-faire approach toward people’s incomes and decisions. Even there, however, the Economics Dept. can explain why those moves will work.
? Edwards and UNC officials appear to use the terms “poverty” and “poor” interchangeably. That is not the sort of mistake that responsible academics seeking to address the problem of poverty should make. Poverty is privation, the lack of basic necessities. “Poor” is a relative marker. Being poor in America does not mean ? and usually is not ? living in poverty. Even so, statistical measures of those living in poverty in America generally exclude all current government services (food stamps, housing aid, etc.) they receive. In other words, the poor in America are generally not in poverty, and those who are aren’t as left out as Edwards et al. imply. Making these distinctions, while useful in getting a true grasp of the situation (which a scholar would prefer), does not lend itself to demagoguery (the realm of the politician).
? Edwards and UNC officials favor raising the minimum wage to addressing the poverty problem. For example, see Law School dean Gene Nichols’ comments reported in the DTH:
During his six years in the Senate, Edwards worked to increase both the minimum wage and the awareness of poverty in America ? experience that makes him a great fit for the center, said Gene Nichol, dean of the law school. He is the type of person who will ?grab us by our shoulders and turn our heads to show us these (issues),? Nichol said.
Here is where the above two problems join together to cause a third. The minimum wage (as I argued earlier) only helps those poor workers who retain their jobs and are employable at the new, higher wage rate. It is therefore designed not to help out the impoverished. It also has inflationary effects that consequentially hit the poor the hardest. As George Leef argued here, noting UNC’s enthusiasm for Edwards as someone who “championed … raising the minimum wage,”
Good grief. Appointing someone who believes that raising the minimum wage is a way to ?move people out of poverty,? is about as sensible as appointing someone to head the National Institutes of Health who believes that bleeding the patient is a good way to cure disease. Economists have known for at least a century that if the government artificially raises the price of labor, less labor will be demanded. The minimum wage is one of those feel-good nostrums that politicians fall back on when they need some way of professing their deep compassion for the poor, but it?s actually counterproductive.
? Edwards appears to believe that individuals who care about fighting poverty desperately need government (or worse, him) to show them the way. Consider these statements:
?Students have been very responsive, and it?s encouraging,? said Edwards, who graduated from the law school in 1977. ?But I want them to get involved.? … ?There is nothing partisan about poverty,? Edwards said. ?Republicans, Democrats, Independents, they all care about doing what?s right for the people.? … Edwards said that each person possesses an innate desire to help others and that he hopes to be the spark that ignites change. … ?The most important thing, at least to me, is to inspire a new generation of Americans in this cause,? he said. ?I think there?s a deep feeling to help those who are struggling.?
If that’s the case, then by all means get out of their way! If people care deeply about doing what’s right, if their desire is innate to help people, then advocate reductions in government and laws that will allow people greater resources to serve this need and their fellow man. Don’t advocate reducing people’s freedom to offer (and to take!) jobs at certain wages, especially while substantial portions of those wages are being taken, and pretend that you’re in any way helping.