“There is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom … there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody.”
Which dastardly villain of the Left uttered the above socialistic-leaning statement? If you guessed (or just plain knew) that the above quote is lifted from F.A. Hayek’s seminal book, The Road to Serfdom, you are correct. Hayek is about as far away from being a dastardly villain of the Left as possible; taken in context, that quote isn’t close to being socialistic-leaning. For many, however, the quote’s sentiment is reflected, at the least and wrongfully, in the current Leftist desire to artificially raise wages. The problem is that many who support raising the minimum wage have an understanding of economics (or lack of understanding) that is divorced from Hayek’s sturdy economic theory, so much so as to make any affinity for Hayek’s quote from proponents of minimum wage hikes intellectually dishonest. On the other side, however, many opponents of raising the minimum wage appear to lack any of Hayek’s compassion.
But, setting aside for now the quote from the famed conservative economist, I feel compelled to stake out a rather strident position regarding artificially raising wages. As my first shot across the progressive economic bow, I’m going to rely on Murray Rothbard to provide the foundation for my thesis, for Rothbard knew that, “In truth, there is only one way to regard a minimum wage law: it is compulsory unemployment, period.”
Several years ago, I watched as a friend’s marriage teetered on the cliff of dissolution. While I’m sure that there were several contributing variables, his ownership of a fast food restaurant played a very substantial, if not the primary, role in the tension within his marriage.
Recently retired from the military, this friend had saved enough money to buy the franchise rights and open the restaurant. From all appearances, his restaurant was thriving; it was a rare meal service that the restaurant wasn’t full. But, restaurants have high overheads and low profit margins. In the restaurant industry, there is a rule that the owner should be prepared to work without pay for the first two years. In order to help ensure his family’s financial future, my friend worked open to close seven days a week, with the very occasional day off. This was to help keep the overhead down. Of course, this wise business and financial decision put a strain on his marriage. If he had been forced to raise wages to $15 an hour, I imagine that not only would his marriage not have survived the added strain, but his business would’ve closed, too. The employees that he did have would’ve become unemployed.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, businesses with fewer than twenty workers make up 89.6% of all businesses. Small businesses are the economic backbone of this country. My friend isn’t the exception; he’s the rule. But, and here’s the rub, I want my friend’s fast food employees to make $15 an hour. However, unlike those who want to force my friend to pay his workers $15 an hour, I believe, like Hayek, that a free market can create enough wealth to provide everyone with a comfortable living standard.
Sadly, based on much of the rhetoric, it appears that many of my fellow conservatives don’t want fast food workers and their fellow low income workers in other fields to make $15 an hour. Over the last couple of years, many articles have been written attributing moral words like “value” and “worth” to low-income workers – according to a recent Slant News article, “Fast Food Workers Do Not Deserve That $15 an Hour.” Even conservative blogger Matt Walsh penned an article last year titled, “Fast Food Workers: You Do Not Deserve $15 an Hour to Flip Burgers, and That’s Ok.”
To be clear, I’m not necessarily quibbling with the content of Walsh’s article, and I understand the value of “click bait” titles (I mean, scroll up), but I am discomforted by the tone-deaf use of moral language in reference to low-income workers. Humans are not commodities, and using the language of commodities in reference to humans is counterproductive. Conservatives should want fast food workers to make $15 an hour, and we should be the loudest voices leading the low-income workers into the Promised Land of the free market. On top of the seeming lack of compassion, claiming that fast food workers “don’t deserve” $15 an hour also seems to betray a misunderstanding of how Hayek believed free market economic principles worked and what the free market could accomplish. This isn’t new, of course.
Several have argued, included Matt Lewis in Too Dumb to Fail, that prior to a Jack Kemp-influenced Ronald Reagan, many within conservatism had a stagnant view of the economy. They believed themselves to be the guardians of the economic pie, making sure that the pie was cut and served appropriately. However, President Reagan understood that free market theories allowed for the baking of many, many pies. According to Reagan, there was no reason that everyone couldn’t end up with his very own pie.
Unfortunately, many who adhere to the current progressive demand for artificially raised wages have fallen prey to the belief that the current pie(s) can satisfy everyone equally. The biggest problem with this erroneous belief is that the proponents of raising the minimum wage don’t want to leave the actual bakers enough of the ingredients to make more pies. In other words, if liberals have their way, our economy is going to become a nasty fight over a quickly gobbled up pie. To bring it back to actual economic terms, wealth doesn’t exist in a vacuum and needs to be created.
Obviously (or rather, it should be obvious) minimum wage hikes bring a bevy of economically catastrophic consequences. Just as obviously (or rather, it should be just as obvious) adherence to free market principles creates enough wealth for fast food workers to legitimately make more money. I want low-income workers to make $15 an hour—and more, for that matter. This is why I support the free market and why I’m opposed to artificially raising wages. Maybe more low-income workers would begin listening to conservatives if conservatives stopped telling them that they don’t “deserve” $15 an hour. Maybe more low-income workers would embrace economic principles that will actually help them if more conservatives would stop demonstrating a tone-deaf moralism in relation to the wages of low-income workers. As conservatives, we hold to an economic theory that allows for all to benefit from the growing wealth. That’s what conservatives should be compassionately preaching instead of lecturing fast food workers about how they’re not worth a certain amount of money.