Minimum wage, maximum unemployment


In response to Why Democrats Love Obama’s Minimum Wage Hike:

Don’t forget about the allure of high unemployment, which is politically profitable to socialists, provided they don’t get blamed for it.  Unemployable people make great government dependents.  Employed people are less likely to need Uncle Sugar, or join in angry political crusades against the people who sign their paychecks.  They’re resistant to the message of despair, hopelessness, and entitlement spread by left-wing politicians.

When a very high percentage of the populace is working, they grow more resistant to the message of stasis that lies at the core of the hard Left’s appeal.  Socialism denies the possibility of upward mobility.  The rich get richer, the poor stay poor, and the Sainted Middle Class is one paycheck away from poverty.  Working people who are building careers and accumulating valuable work experience have less patience for that message.  People with jobs have less time to spend on protest marches and demonstrations.  That’s one reason the Left is so much better at street theater.  

Making labor more expensive through minimum wage hikes is a great way to keep unemployment high without getting the Left’s DNA all over the crime scene.  The proposal is almost invariably popular, and highly resistant to logical analysis.  Everyone cheers when a politician declares they deserve to make more money.  No volume of scholarly work demonstrating the loss of jobs, especially vitally needed entry-level work, will ever ruin the appeal of mandated wage increases.  Critics are instantly put on the defensive, every single time.  And since the taxpaying class grows ever smaller, it’s difficult to conjure a limited-government proposal that would have the same immediate “money in your pocket” appeal.

Job losses can be hidden in the general static of economic news – who’s to say, in a quick sound-bite way, that this spike in unemployment was due to that increase in the minimum wage?  And even if the public does get the idea that wage mandates killed some jobs, the Left has an excellent chance of blaming it on the greed of employers who decided not to pay the higher wages, rather than the politicians who drove up the cost of labor.

One of the uncomfortable truths about political wage battles is that most people don’t think it’s “fair” for anyone to survive on the minimum wage, no matter what it happens to be.  Entry level employment has a bad burger-flipper dead-end reputation.  Ironically, mandatory high wages for entry level jobs contribute to employment stasis, because they leave employers with less room to reward achievement, or take a chance on unskilled workers.  

The job market should be a machine that draws in just about everyone who wants to work, gives them a chance to establish their reliability, and finds a way for them to move upward.  Employers want that.  They want a way to find the best, most eager employees and provide them with incentives for excellence.  I’ve seen that mechanism at work since the very first fast-food job I took in college.  A system in which nearly everyone is still making the same wage a year into their employment is not working, not even if that early wage has been pumped up by regulatory fiat.