What if Minimum Wage Opponents are Frauds?

Riddle me this, riddle me that: who's afraid of the big black bat?

Riddle me this, riddle me that: who’s afraid of the big black bat?

(Andrew Napolitano, the senior judicial analyst for Fox News, wrote an editorial for Reason about the $15 minimum wage that consists of nothing but rhetorical questions, which inspired us to wonder: can’t we do that too?)

What if the longest-running craze among the trickle-down crowd in both major political parties is to use threats about the mysterious “invisible hand” to force employees to work for less than a living wage?

What if those artificially low wages are a violation of the employer-employee relationship? What if employers are effectively saying that they know the financial worth of employees’ services despite the fact that wages have been stagnant for decades?

What if the minimum wage, now on the verge of being raised to $15 per hour everywhere in the land, is really an attempt to ensure that Americans who work 40 hours a week don’t have to live under the poverty line? What if the $15-per-hour figure was actually lower than if the minimum wage tracked American productivity since 1968—a stunning $21.72 an hour?

What if the minimum wage increase will have profound economic consequences and will positively affect everyone by increasing the spending power of minimum-wage workers within their communities?

What if the employees who get raises show their gratitude to their employers by increasing productivity and staying at their jobs longer than they would have at a lower minimum wage, thereby lowering the high costs of hiring and training new employees?

What if the right of an employee to sell labor by going to work and the right of an employer to purchase that labor by paying a livable salary are part of the general welfare, which the Constitution was written to promote? What if during America’s most prosperous periods, workers’ right to a livable minimum wage was protected by lawmakers?

What if there are clauses in the Constitution that protect the right of the people to make laws—including laws that raise the minimum wage—but conservative lawmakers undermined them? What if libertarian commentators interpreted the Constitution in such a way that would make all government entirely toothless? What if reality indicated that this was a ridiculous position to take, and that libertarian thought is best left to 18-year-old white men in their freshman year of college?

But what if an adult man honestly believed that all taxes and regulations were theft? Wouldn’t the existence of roads and police forces convince that man of the errors of his ways?

What if there were no minimum wage? Doesn’t history indicate that predatory low-wage employers use dubious methods like company scrip to trap their employees in basically inescapable contracts?

What if the the trickle-down crowd had fundamental misunderstandings of the way businesses earn money, create wealth and pay salaries? What if their mindset is stuck in the mechanistic economic model of the 1800s? What if that model had no bearing in the 21st century economy?

What if the trickle-down crowd didn’t understand that growth is a product of the virtual cycle of innovation and demand? And what if they couldn’t see that the best way to create growth is to empower as many consumers as possible to participate in the economy as consumers and innovators, rather than leave people out of the economy by paying them so little that they cannot be full participants?

What if raising the minimum wage allows employees to buy the goods and services the employers produce? What if consumers benefitted from a minimum wage increase because—gasp—minimum wage workers are consumers? What if businesses like Subway and McDonald’s didn’t have their artificially cheap goods subsidized by low wages anymore; is it possible that independent small businesses might be able to compete with franchises on a level playing field?

What if the folks who could no longer afford the goods and services they need to survive were suddenly able to get off government assistance programs thanks to the increased minimum wage? What if the trickle downers who have threatened ruination every single time a minimum wage increase is proposed do not know what they are talking about? What if they believe they can use minimum wage increases to threaten the poor with unemployment–even though those threats have no bearing in reality?

What if there are other unintended consequences to keeping the minimum wage artificially low? What if, rather than pay employees a living wage, employers found new ways to slash benefits and available hours? What if government assistance programs ballooned because people working 60 hours a week at three different jobs couldn’t afford rent, food or transportation? What if the rise in the minimum wage has the intended consequence of helping the people who say it will harm them—business owners—by ensuring that the people who work in restaurants can actually afford to eat at restaurants?

What if the poor are better off earning $15 an hour, with an opportunity for advancement, than relying on public assistance to make ends meet? What if the ridiculous public assistance burden created by low-wage fast food employers—$7 billion annually, by some estimates—adds to already overtaxed state budgets?

What if states earn taxes from the additional income and sales taxes created by these increases? What if those one time low-wage employees gain the confidence they need to consider buying a new car, starting a business, or buying a house?

What if all this came about not because of the trickle-down crowd, who threaten any number of apocalypses from robots to shuttered businesses, but because of a better, more realistic understanding of how economics works?

What if the people who threatened to shutter businesses if the minimum wage went up actually made more money thanks to the increased minimum wage? What if they opened more businesses after threatening the exact opposite? What if opposition to the minimum wage increase is a fraud? What do we do about it?

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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.