A MORAL MINIMUM WAGE, by Peter Dreier and Kelly Candaele
Kansas City, Mo.
As a lifelong "liberal, commie pinko, left-leaning, union-dues-paying" Democrat, I endorse everything in the article by Dreier and Candaele. If space would have allowed, perhaps they could have carried the argument for "class warfare" to the obvious conclusion.
"Class warfare" is being waged by the top 1-2 percent of the population, which receives the bulk of Bush's tax giveaways. This qualifies as "income redistribution"--which seems to cause so much apoplexy in Republicans.
As an individual among the top 5 percent of wage earners in the country, I find it maddening to watch liberals in Washington sit on their collective butts and let the other side frame the debate. I have close contact with some of the working poor, and they express no faith that Congress will help them.
But I will not give in to the desperation that I feel. Being able to read your magazine is my source of hope that all is not lost.
Of course it is a scandal that the minimum wage has badly lagged economic circumstances, particularly relative to Bush's efforts to redistribute income from the working class to the non-working, non-productive inheritance and business-scam class.
But politically, the minimum wage issue has little clout. Minimum-wage workers don't vote in large numbers, tend to shift from job to job for obvious reasons and thus have no constituency of consequence. Add to this the fact that moderately successful people, making say $30,000 to $80,000 a year, tend to judge their status by comparison with lesser wage-earners, and you can see why many middle-class folk see the minimum-wage worker as the economic enemy. The psychological factor of presumed superiority based on income overrides the fact that a person making $75,000 a year occupies an economic stratum much closer to a fast-food worker than a CEO, celebrity investor (Trump, Martha, etc.) or sports/entertainment star. At the present time, the middle classes have fairly comfortable lives, albeit supported on deep seas of debt that will inevitably lead to mass drowning.
People who are opposed to the current regime cannot win by mainly championing the cause of the poorest and most downtrodden. They must demonstrate to the middle class that they, too, are being abused by W's policies. And to do that, they will have to overcome consumer pride, a twisted religious sensibility that poses Jesus as a cutthroat capitalist and corporate media that judge the Peterson murder tragedy as more important than the Iraq War.
Wages should be kept as low as possible to give all who want to work an opportunity to learn the job skills necessary to earn better wages. The free market is the best indicator of what the minimum wage should be. If there were no minimum wage, there would be more opportunities for those wanting to work to earn a good wage. Manipulating the wages politically (through the minimum wage) creates unemployment, higher cost of living and more illegal immigration.
Illegal immigrants compete for the positions that teenagers need to learn necessary job skills. And the immigrants have an advantage, in that they can work full-time and as adults are often better candidates for entry-level jobs.
While Democrats do not need to get more religion, they should start talking about morals. Since when did morality become the exclusive domain of religion--and of conservative religious groups in particular--anyway? If I, a nonbelieving liberal, had been exit-polled, I too would have reported that values were my primary concern in voting the way I did.
I believe that an economic system based too much on competitive individualism and trickle-down, supply-side dynamics is less moral than one that provides a safety net to meet the basic needs of the poor and levels the playing field so the children of the nonrich have the opportunity to get ahead too. Moreover, my values system leads me to believe that it is more moral to make international policy as if all people mattered, not just Americans.