Sunday, September 22, 2019

Privilege Obscures Importance of Minimum Wage

Hunter Savery ’20

Opinion Editor

Last week this paper published an article calling for the elimination of the minimum wage, the article attempted to normalize the idea, to make it seem rational, even desirable, that is a dangerous and irresponsible idea. The minimum wage is essential to ensuring the basic rights of workers across the globe. If it hinders utility or efficiency, it does so in the name of human rights. The article asked us to examine the policy in a vacuum, but policies are not enacted in a vacuum. They hit the ground outside of theory and away from the comfort of the fraternity house. Too often in America we praise the wealthy, as if they are somehow smarter or more deserving of their place, and ignore the humanity of anyone in a lower income tax bracket. The establishment of a minimum wage was the work of generations, it safeguards against the kind of predatory and slavery-like practices that businesses have historically dealt in. Arguing against the minimum wage is moronic and reveals not only ignorance to the conditions of people who do not have a house on Nantucket, but also a lack of understanding of history and the on-the-ground reality of massive deregulation. Sorry, but the world is not an Ayn Rand novel; striving as a society to ensure that everyone is taken care of is a noble and necessary pursuit. The world does not need anymore spoiled white boys telling working class Americans that their misfortune is the result of laziness or a refusal to sacrifice, when these same people would never dream of asking CEO’s to take a pay cut. 

The concept of a world without a minimum wage is not a new one, in fact for most of human history there was no mandatory base pay, in fact there were no workers rights at all, and guess what? It was terrible. Slavery, serfdom, indentured-servitude, share-cropping, child labor, etc. were all commonly practiced forms of dehumanizing oppression that people have suffered and died to end. If a world without minimum wage is so wonderful, try working a factory job in 19th century America, or better yet, somewhere like modern China. 

Slavery was an economically efficient system, why don’t we just go back to that? In fact, a lack of economic regulation allows modern day slavery to continue, look no further than Walmart’s business practices in Mexico, where employees are paid in store credit. They are stripped of their agency, a common practice in America prior to the mid-20th century. The idea that an economy without a minimum wage would somehow lead to greater benefits is a farce. This assumes that if owners make more profits, they will flow down to the worker, but trickle-down economics has been repeatedly and demonstrably proven untrue. And whose backs will this efficiency be made on? People who at present cannot afford to live a decent life will be stripped of even more agency within the market. Who will be hit the hardest? Minorities and immigrants of course, because who else would the conservatives love to attack? The people most directly affected by the removal of a minimum wage are minorities and immigrants, the people consistently marginalized, ignored, and discriminated against by conservative policies. Perhaps the author of the article was just ignorant, but whether ignorant or not, a removal of a minimum wage is just another economic policy to benefit white people and hurt minorities.

The article published last week made some absurd challenge that one could not possibly find a case where the minimum wage was not disastrous. The author must have it backwards, look around the world, the countries with the highest wages, with the most significant welfare states are among the freest and most prosperous nations in the world. How can anyone say that Norway, with its $21 minimum wage, is a failed economy? The trend continues across the countries that consistently outrank the United States across the board, these countries take care of their people. I challenge anyone who does not believe in the minimum wage to live the life of a working class American in 2019, walk a mile in their shoes, see that it is not enough to keep up with the cost of living, and then tell those people that they are being payed too much. 

Wake up, we don’t live in The Fountainhead, there is nothing heroic about harming the less fortunate. Take Econ 101? Take Intro to Human Rights. Our beliefs have real world consequences- removing a minimum wage might make the economy more efficient, but at whose expense? The same people rich white men have always oppressed.

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