Thursday, June 09, 2016

Conservatives Are Just Plain Wrong On Minimum Wage

Let's consider the conservative stance on the minimum wage. Their conventional wisdom holds that raising the minimum wage will cause jobs to be lost. On its face this seems valid, but once you start looking at the underlying assumptions it becomes clearer that this is flawed premise. But let's break it down.

Assumption #1: Raising the minimum wage will cause employers to lay off workers.
This is not going to happen. It ignores completely the cost of hiring a new employee: initiation of benefits (if any), training costs, lost productivity, and so on while the position is open and/or the employee is trained. Raising the minimum wage will increase retention, actually lowering costs for employers.

Assumption #2: The spending patterns of minimum wage workers will not change.
The conservative thinking here is that workers will take that extra money and ... what? Hide it under a mattress? Use it as wallpaper because they're not educated enough to know better? I don't know what the thinking is here; I do know that it is fundamentally flawed.

The truth is, raising the minimum wage means that money is circulated back into the economy. Workers will be spending that money, being consumers, instead of living off food stamps and government largess. Which brings me to ...

Assumption #3: They're already sucking the government dry. Why should we give them more money?
The minimum wage in the United States is the biggest boondoggle perpetrated against the Federal government in history. Because the minimum wage is so close to the poverty line, minimum wage workers qualify for all sorts of government assistance at both state and Federal levels. Raise the minimum wage and they do not qualify any more.

Why is this important? Simple. As it stands right now, a minimum wage worker earns $15,080 a year. However, conservatives like to trot out the fact that, after the Earned Income Tax Credit, minimum wage workers earn $19,656 a year (source: The Fiscal Times, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/03/13/Truth-About-Minimum-Wage-Workers-Take-Home-Pay, Rob Garver, 3/13/2014) . Which is all well and good, except when you consider the following:

  • $19,656 ain't that much either.
  • In Garver's example it raises a family of three just above the poverty line. Add another non-earner to the family, and they are now magically below the poverty line again.
  • The EITC may help with big ticket items around tax time (say, a major car repair, or needing significant dental work), but it does very little for the day-to-day because it's received as a lump sum in the tax refund instead of being distributed equally throughout the year.

In addition, there are the various subsidies for the working poor -- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, child care credits, etc. -- which amount to nearly $153 billion a year. That is money paid out by the Federal and state governments subsidize employers such as Wal-Mart and McDonalds who pay minimum wage. In short, the American taxpayer is paying part of the real salary earned by these folks instead of the employers. Pretty sweet deal for Wal-Mart, when you think about it ... your employee gets the equivalent of around $15 an hour, but you pay less than half of that.

So what happens if the minimum wage is increased? A few things ...

  • The employee doesn't actually see much of a raise, if any; it's simply a case of money being shifted around. Instead of some coming from an employer and some coming from the government, now virtually all (if not all) money comes from the employer.
  • The government saves money on these programs, because people will no longer qualify for benefits and therefore expenditures can be reduced.
  • It also increases the amount of taxes collected by the government ... instead of benefits being paid out, the worker is paying taxes on higher wages.
  • Taxpayers are no longer on the hook for part of the worker's salary.


So what does all this actually mean?

Quite simply, it means that the conservative view that raising the minimum wage will result in job losses is patently false ... in fact, the opposite is true. By raising the minimum wage, we create a whole new crop of consumers, who will generate economic activity, which will cause employers to need more workers, and so on.

So why the big pushback from conservatives on this? Simple, really. Conservatives (and, by extension, the Republican Party) is quite proud of the fact that they are the party of business. Conservatives are very sympathetic to business interests, and one of those interests (even though it is not explicitly stated as such) is that businesses quite enjoy having more than half of their labor costs for low-wage employees subsidized by state and Federal governments. I can't blame them, really ... if I could get the government to pay over half of my mortgage, I would. I don't have armies of lobbyists working on my behalf, though, so I'm not holding my breath for that one.

In the end, it comes down to a fundamental question of what people believe is better for the country. Progressives believe a strong middle class makes for a better economic climate, and points to data from the 50s and 60s (when the middle class was strongest, and before Republicans started in with the ridiculous "trickle-down" thing) as proof. Conservatives, on the other hand, still want to stick with trickle-down economics and believe that if the top earners are doing well then the rest of the country is too, because fuck the poor. I gotta lie down.

Liberal vs. Conservative: Let's Get Ready To Rumble!

I need to address something that seems to be coloring all debate between the right and the left, and that is that I don't think conservatives actually have a clear idea of what the left is in the United States.

The "leftists" label they apply to liberals in the United States is inaccurate, at best. The leftists to which they often refer -- violent anarchist, fascists, statists, etc. -- are actually leftists in the European sense. For example, Mussolini's fascist movement was branded as leftist, even though it shares some common points of philosophy (capitalism unfettered by regulation, for example) with American conservatism. Similarly, Britain's Conservative Party shares common ground with American liberals.

This leads to some interesting dichotomies. For example, conservatives regularly claim they are about personal freedom and getting government out of peoples' lives. Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservatism, famously proclaimed that "government is the problem."

For the record, claiming that conservatives are about personal freedom while simultaneously trying to dictate not only when a woman can have an abortion but also implementing some pretty invasive measures to try to talk her out of it is, at best, disingenuous. In particular, I refer to the Virginia law that mandated a trans-vaginal ultrasound before having an abortion so the woman could hear the fetal heartbeat and thus "make an informed decision," when it was really an attempt to shame her into carrying to term after cramming an electronic dildo into her vagina and waving it around. Conservatives like to dress these things up as "promoting women's health," but everyone knows it's bullshit ... it's just another way for a political philosophy that is fundamentally anchored in the belief in the superiority of rich white males to promulgate this view.

Another example of this is the law in Texas that mandated that any clinic performing abortions (which is recognized by the American Medical Association as an outpatient procedure) had to have admitting privileges at a hospital and all the facilities accommodations of a surgical center. These modifications to facilities would often run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This resulted in the closing of dozens of facilities (the actual intent of the law), and as a result there are only nine centers performing abortions in Texas ... and none at all west of San Antonio. This means that some women have to travel nearly 550 miles for an abortion. And because of the other restrictions put into place by Taxes's H.B. 2, a woman now must prepare for a multi-day ordeal because she is required to make two visits to the same provider no less than 24 hours apart -- the first for an ultrasound, and the second for the actual procedure (which, ironically, routinely includes an ultrasound).

In contrast, the left in the United States holds the view that, when it comes to a medical procedure like an abortion, it is a decision that is best left in the hands of the woman and her doctor, and government should butt the hell out. And before anyone gets their bloomers knotted up by saying that liberals are trying to promote their position through legislation, all I can say is, yes, we are. The difference is that conservative legislation on this issue is intrusive, patriarchal, and authoritarian, telling a woman what she is allowed to do and not allowed to do with her own body. Liberal legislation on this issue is simply trying to protect the right of a woman to make her own choice and prevent others from infringing on this right.

I don't have a problem with anti-choice people trying to promote their position through peaceful means. It is well within their rights to make their case as best they can. I will go to the mat to protect an anti-choice activist's right to protest peacefully, and to counsel women on alternatives to having an abortion. What I do have a problem with is trying to promote that view through legislation and mandate a "one size fits all" approach that hews closely to a doctrine espoused by a particular branch of evangelical Christianity.

For the record, I was adopted. When conservatives learn this, they often triumphantly pounce on it as proof of their view point, and the conversation goes a little something like this:

Me: Yes, I was adopted,
Anti-choice Activist: Really? So where would you be if your mom had decided to have an abortion?
Me: Well, I wouldn't be at all upset about it, because I never would have been born. None of the people I know would have felt any feelings of loss, because they would have never known me. The only person who would have been upset by that is my birth mother.
Anti-choice Activist: Well, aren't you glad she gave birth to you?
Me: Of course I am. I've had a good life, I have great kids, a lawn tractor that starts whether I want it to or not, and two semi-dysfunctional dogs that like to bark at individual air molecules.
Anti-choice Activist: But you want all women to have abortions!
Me: No, I want all women to be able to make the choice to have an abortion free from interference. And just because she has a choice to do so, does not automatically assume that will be the choice she makes. And you made the argument for me, when you asked where I would be if my birth mother had decided to have an abortion. You were assuming it was her choice, were you not? You may have used the word "decision" instead of "choice," but the meaning is the same: given two or more options, my birth mother selected the one that resulted in me being born and being adopted by my parents. Yet you want to take that decision-making power away from her and put it into the hands of the government. How is that "personal freedom?"

Yes, I have thought about this a lot. Moving on ...

The point of all this is not a diatribe against the anti-choice movement (although I cold go on for days on this topic). It's that conservatives who complain about "violent leftists" often do not have a full understanding of that the terms actually means, and are often conflating the European definition of "leftist" which includes any radical movement that seeks to upend the status quo, and does not account for their position on the political conservative/liberal spectrum) to the American definition of the word (which includes liberal activists, politicians, and groups ... some violent, but mostly not).

I do not intend to demean conservatives here (I'll save that for another blog post!), only to clarify things. I gotta lie down.

Changing tack

About a week or so ago I announced that I was taking a break from politics. As it turns out, this is not entirely true. In fact, I am taki...