In favour of the living wage … In the United States and some other developed economies, wages for the least well paid are too low. A mandatory living wage is the best way to redress this injustice. The idea of minimum wages is well accepted, but the American $7.25 an hour does not meet the simple standard of providing enough to support the worker who earns it. For an adult in New York State, self-support requires 55 percent more, $11.25 an hour in a full-time job, according to The MIT Living Wage Calculator. And a just minimum should really be enough to raise a family – something closer to the $23.58 an hour required to support a single wage-earner with one child. The minimum wage is one part of the remarkably complex pay system found in all developed industrial societies. – Reuters
Dominant Social Theme: What the Western world needs is a fair minimum wage.
Free-Market Analysis: This Reuters editorial brings up two points and provides us with two separate conclusions.
Theoretically, we are much averse to the argument that government needs to provide minimum wages. But practically speaking, if government is going to provide money to impoverished people, why not print the money and give it to them directly – instead of sending the money to banking coffers?
So the confusion embodied by this article is compounded by a lack of honesty about the monetary system itself. This article wants to treat our current situation as if the West’s problem is one mainly of governmental fairness. Here’s more:
Economists often suggest that wages are determined by market forces, the supply and demand for labour, and by employers’ calculations of the value of labour. But actual wages influence both the market and the perceived value of labour. It is more accurate to include market forces and economic value somewhere in the middle of the long list of factors which contribute to the ever-shifting social agreement on pay levels.
This agreement is established in the mysterious way that all social orders are built – the powerful push, the weak resist, traditions are followed and evolve, justice is respected and flouted, market forces and economic calculations nudge. By far the most important factor in determining pay is the social judgment of value. The main reason that bankers, advertising executives and doctors are paid more than teachers, childcare workers and street cleaners is that society values the former more than the latter.
And the main reason that the minimum-wage jobs pay too little to support a family is that society has agreed that is what such labour is worth. This is an injustice, because honest labour should always be rewarded with enough to live a decent life. To be fair, the social judgment of these occupations is less harsh than the pay level suggests.
The very poorly paid usually receive welfare benefits from the government, either in cash or in the form of free or cut-price services. It is an awkward arrangement, but unavoidable in societies which have decided that pay should be determined by the job but spending power should be determined, at least in part, by needs and family situation. That division will exist as long as family breadwinners do not receive special pay status.
The macroeconomic objections to higher minimum wages deserve serious attention, but they often hide higher earners’ justified fear of losing out. After all, when those at the bottom end up with more – as they inevitably would with a higher minimum wage, even after benefit cuts – those at the top must end up with less. Doctors would still have much higher incomes than cleaners, but both the doctors’ own pay and the ratio of their pay to cleaners’ remuneration would fall. The desire to maintain consumption and social status is legitimate, but must be set against a higher virtue – solidarity. The fruits of economic success should be shared equitably. A living wage for all is a good standard of success.
You see the argument being made? It is especially clear in this last paragraph. Providing people with a living wage is a “higher virtue.”
But this article in reality has nothing to do with virtue. If it was virtuous, it would tell the truth about how money is produced in the modern era, with a touch of a button. During the height of the financial crisis, Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve admits to generating some US$16 trillion in short-term loans to financial enterprises – much of which reportedly was never paid back.
Such spending makes arguments like this one moot. These are 20th century arguments, in fact, based on a time when people did not fully understand the monetary system. Perhaps one could say they are arguments from the 1800s when there was a gold standard and money was truly constrained.
But today these are arguments without a purpose. Were there sufficient determination, proponents of these sorts of solutions would start to argue that central banks ought to print money and deliver it directly to people instead of banks.
Of course, most of the people making these arguments are statists with an emotional or professional stake in concealing the way money is really produced in the modern era. And they would rather write these sorts of articles, apparently, then tell the truth about money and poverty in the 21st century.
From our standpoint, an even better solution to poverty would be to shut down central banks and let Leviathan begin to starve. Without an unlimited supply of money, the US in particular would have to shutter its military-industrial complex, the vast prison gulags that dot the country and the larger regulatory state that deprives people of the opportunity to work.
There are estimates that between 50 million and 100 million in the US who want to work cannot find employment. Something has gone drastically wrong with what we call regulatory democracy; it simply doesn’t work. It’s reached a dead end.
Agitating that this sort of dysfunctional system should prop itself up by providing tens of millions with a living wage is not a solution but a kind of bribe. The idea apparently is to pay people a bare minimum in the hopes that they don’t rise up in protest against a system that is frozen in failure.
What the West and the United States really need is a long, loud discussion about statism, the incompetence of regulation and the abysmal failure of the current money system.
Conclusion: Opportunity begins with freedom.