Thursday, January 04, 2007

George Will and the minimum wage

George Will, a syndicated--and no doubt highly paid--conservative scold, tells us, in his column today, that raising the minimum wage to something higher than $5.15 an hour is a bad idea. His evidence is that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression. Well, that's not his only evidence, but that's what he leads with, which indicates the quality of what is to come.

Will, he of the perpetual dyspeptic scowl and tightly buttoned collar (could it be that his mood, if not his conservatism, could be helped by loosening his tie?) goes through the usual litany of falsehood and half-truth to make his case, but it seems scattershot and perfunctory. It's hard to wear what appears to be a Rolex and get too indignant about the laboring classes making too much money. (Well, hard it may be, but his duty is clear. So he manfully sets about it, frown firmly in place, as always.)

Mainly, he says, the poor don't need a higher minimum wage. The poor already make more than the minimum wage, he says. (Six dollars an hour, perhaps? And that because of _state_ minimum wage laws, of which Mr. Will, as it happens, disapproves. Ah, well.)

Having said that the poor don't need higher wages, he then adds triumphantly that most of the workers getting the minimum wage are not poor.

That's true pretty much by definition. If you tried to live by yourself on the minimum wage, you could not pay the rent, much less eat. So you have to live with others. Poverty is defined by the government in terms of households, not individuals. So if you live with one and a half other minimum wage workers, you are above the federal poverty level, which is almost as much of an indictment of the government's definition of poverty as it is of Mr. Will's intellectual integrity.

Other parts of Mr. Will's Heritage press release re-write do not cohere well. For example, he tells us that higher minimum wages will increase high school drop-out rates, luring unwary youths with the promise of easy money. He also tells us that higher wages will increase unemployment.

Now, as it happens, this last factoid has been shown in to be untrue in the aggregate, but, alas for Mr. Will's thesis, true for one subgroup of workers--part time _student_ workers. In other words, high school students are about the only class of people who find it harder to get work when minimum wages are raised. Mr. Will ignores this fact when claiming, on the word of two un-named "scholars" that school enrollment will drop 2% if we raise the minimum wage 10%.

You can't have it both ways, George.

But, actually, conservative apologists for the stacked deck and the screwing of the poor, regularly do have it both ways, simply because they do not care about the truth or consistency of what they utter or write, any more than about compassion or fairness, much less equality (a word that probably makes Will shudder. Everybody can't have a Rolex, right?)

When I imagine Mr. Will, above, wearing a paper cap and a work-stained apron, instead of his suit and tie, behind the counter of a franchised fast food place, it is not out of ill will or unfriendliness, but as imaginary but nevertheless heartfelt acknowledgment that he, over and above other workers would be, on the basis of his merits alone, one of the two thirds of minimum wage workers who, he says, get a 10% raise inside of year.

The free market, as Mr. Will says, must be given its due.

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