The most Dickensian moment of 2015 came in November, when the Republicans who would be president gathered to debate in Milwaukee.
Outside the debate hall, crowds of actual working people marched for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights.
Inside, moderator Neil Cavuto asked billionaire Donald Trump, “As the leading presidential candidate on this stage.… are you sympathetic to the protesters’ cause, since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year?”
“I can’t be, Neil,” responded Trump.
With “wages too high,” the billionaire complained, “we’re not going to be able to compete against the world.”
“I hate to say it,” said Trump, “but we have to leave [the current $7.25-an-hour minimum wage] the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratosphere. We cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.”
Cavuto asked if Trump was really saying, “Do not raise the minimum wage.”
“I would not do it,” responded the billionaire.
In fairness to Mr. Trump, he is rather proud of his personal charity. Give the billionaire his due for that—and for asserting that he really did “hate” to deny working Americans a living wage. In further fairness to Mr. Trump, it should be noted that several of his fellow Republican contenders were at least as hard-hearted as the wealthiest man on the stage. Dr. Ben Carson, a millionaire many times over, peddled the fantasy that paying working Americans a living wage would create unemployment. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who rarely shows up for his own day job, announced that a federal living-wage guarantee would be “a disaster.”
Trump was simply saying, as one of the richest men in the world, that he was not ready to embrace the ancient principle that a fair day’s work ought to be compensated with a fair day’s pay. Like so many of his Republican compatriots, the billionaire cannot muster the generosity of spirit—and economic common sense—required to support modest policy changes that would extend a measure of equity to Americans who work full time but still live in poverty. For these political misers, policies that might improve the lot of the poor are not their business.