Here Are the Six Steps of Denial for Minimum Wage Opponents

Step 4, as described by the Seattle Times Editorial Board.

Step 4, as described by the Seattle Times Editorial Board.

In a brilliant bit of aggregation, Working Washington has collected all of the Seattle Times Editorial Board’s anti-$15 editorials in one post. Using headlines and a line or two from each of the 15 editorials the Ed Board has published, the post runs in chronological order from October 2013 to two days ago, and it spans the fight for $15 in both SeaTac and Seattle. It’s a fascinating look at how opponents always respond to arguments for raising the minimum wage with the same canned replies. And this collection is particularly interesting because it provides a taxonomy of the steps of denial that minimum-wage opponents go through. Here they are, in order:

1: Apocalyptic threats.  “…forget about anyone building another hotel in the city of SeaTac,” the Editorial Board warned in their very first anti-$15 editorial, as though travelers would suddenly stop needing places to sleep because the minimum wage increased. Less than a year later, when Seattle started considering a $15 minimum wage of its own, the Editorial Board warned that doing so could “undercut the economy’s resurgence,” thereby casting us forever to the hellhole that was the Great Recession.

2: We’re through the looking glass, here, people! It’s vital for minimum-wage opponents to try to trigger feelings of shame and alienation in municipal areas by pointing out that they are doing something that has literally never been done before. Surely if nobody else has raised the minimum wage this high, it must be a bad idea, right?  “SeaTac has just volunteered to conduct an economic experiment on itself,” the Editorial Board warned. Then, when Seattle got in on the fight, the Editorial Board’s metaphors got a little eerie: “Seattle is about to take off on a flight unfathomable just a year ago.Oh, no! You mean like in Lost? They try to shame the city for standing alone: “Significantly, no other local city is proposing such a broad wage hike.” They warn that “the higher [the minimum wage] goes beyond historic precedent, the higher the risk.” This step might go extinct as more and more cities and states embrace $15, but it’s likely to be replaced by more region-specific shaming: “okay, it worked in Seattle,” other editorial boards might claim, “but it would never work here because of a lower cost of living/landlocked geography/we live in a red state/our city’s name doesn’t rhyme with ‘Seattle.'”

3:Calls for take-backsies: Once the laws have passed, the Editorial Board tries the classic cry of “you’ll regret this!” They quote so-called experts who are willing to make dire statements warning that raising the wage “is a pretty dramatic change and could have some significant impacts.” They call for a panic-button that can be pushed so the law can be immediately withdrawn the moment something baaaaaad happens: “Seattle’s leadership must promise the law is not etched in stone…If the most dire predictions are realized, the City Council must revisit assumptions it used in passing the highest minimum wage in the country, and reopen the law.”

4: Calls for quarantine. After it becomes clear that there’s no turning back, the Editorial Board wants to treat the area as though it’s just suffered an outbreak of swine flu: “Will investors stop building hotels in SeaTac? Will airlines change operations to avoid higher labor costs here?…Caution is warranted.” They warned other areas considering a raise that they should not “let the rhetoric of the minimum-wage debate obscure this fact: Seattle is gambling with its economy.” These gambling-addicted regions should be contained under non-porous domes, the Editorial Board charges, so the rest of the world can watch and see what happens.

5: Bargaining. Here’s where it gets really sad. The Editorial Board tries to get special treatment for some business owners, as in the story headlined “Seattle’s minimum wage law unfairly discriminates against franchise owners.” And they even try to take away the increased minimum wage for some people: “Washington should consider reducing the minimum wage for 16- and 17-year-olds.” If they can’t shrink the minimum wage for everyone, they at least want to carve out as many special-interest groups as possible, to make them ineligible for the increased wage.

6: But what do we really know, anyway? This is a riff on quarantining, in which they argue that in order to appear rational, we must wait until all the evidence comes in. (Presumably, all the evidence will never come in.) In their most recent editorial against a $13.50 statewide minimum wage, the Editorial Board warns that “the jury is still out” in Seattle, that since enough time hasn’t passed—and really, who knows what quantifies “enough time?”—they can’t recommend the change for everyone else. After the wage was raised in SeaTac, the Editorial Board quoted someone who said “I would counsel the folks in Seattle to see how it goes in SeaTac.” Presumably, if the Editorial Board had their way, we’d still be waiting to raise the wage here.

The most amazing thing about these six steps? None of them are based in reality. The apocalyptic threats are untrue. Claims that raising the minimum wage is unprecedented are patently false. Demands to insert a back-door into the law are just a desperate attempt to turn back the tide. Calls to quarantine the region are just a desperate attempt to keep other cities from realizing that a higher minimum wage would be good for them. Attempts to carve out smaller groups from the increased wage are an attempt to diminish the positive impact of the law. And cries of ignorance after the wage has been raised are simply an attempt to obfuscate the positive impact that anyone who lives in an area that has raised the wage can see with their own eyes.

I have a message for the Editorial Board. Speaking as someone who has dealt with grief, speaking as someone who has quit smoking after a pack-a-day-for-12-years habit, I understand that these steps are totally necessary. Humans can’t adapt to major change without a long process of mental gymnastics. That’s fine. It’s totally normal. But what’s not normal is to keep cycling through the first six steps again and again, as you’ve already done now with SeaTac and then with Seattle. Do you really want to go through this whole frustrating six-step cycle again, on the state level? It’s time for the members of the Editorial Board to finally come together and take that important leap to the seventh, and most important step in this process: Acceptance. Trust me, it feels great up here.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.