Minimum Wage: Politics, Fairness, Compassion and Efficiency not all in the same line

By Stephen Cataldo, 25 June, 2016

My exploration of the fairness, compassion and efficiency of a $15+ minimum wage.


I believe that employers should pay a living wage for a number of reasons:

Fairness: I think the market negotiating power of people doing basic but necessary jobs is very weak, and they get underpaid compared to their real contribution. I think the Walmart owners, for example, are extracting more value than they create, and paying their employees less, thanks to imbalanced negotiating power.
Decency/Compassion/Abundance: Even if people really were incapable of contributing enough to have a living wage, I’d think that our society has enough abundance and many of these people are raising families who will suffer enough at $15 or $20/hour, and it would be decent of the billionaires to help create a world with less misery.
It gets complicated for me from here: Even a $15 minimum wage would cause economic problems (especially in rural areas), not achieving what it sets out to achieve. And $22/hour, which would be a wage that would keep low-paid Americans at about the level that lower-paid white males had a generation or so ago, would create a lot of problems even if I think it is fair.* But a policy proposal designed to create a fair world without creating market distortions would be very complex and would not create the same kind of soundbite.

So my preference is an aspiration politician on the left who calls for at least $15/hour as fair, but is ready to talk to conservatives once elected and negotiate a different approach instead of a minimum wage law — probably minimum income or earned income credit. It might also make sense to demand that large corporations pay enough that all their employees are food stamps and so on; if there have to be horribly underpaid jobs, let them be filled by small businesses, not have Walmart dominate a community employment opportunities — especially because large corporations are better at keeping people pigeon-holed, unskilled and thus low paid, they don’t create the same path upwards you might see in a story of a junior stockboy at a small shop and talking with the owner every day.

The robot economy is going to create vast misery quite soon if we don’t make some big changes.

*fair: That the old minimum is about what people deserved, imo. Though how to be objective about much the person who picked the strawberries I just ate, or a childcare provider without a degree, or stock trader, each “contribute,” I think we’re all just shoving our biases into frameworks that return the results we already wanted to hear. The far left says that labor creates all wealth, the far right says that your contribution can be measured by what you are able to negotiate as pay in a competitive marketplace. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.