Left's Real and Unreported Belief: High Job-Killing Minimum Wages Are Okay

April 6th, 2016 9:24 PM

Perhaps this is why the press has been reluctant to cite economists who are predicting that sharp increases in state minimum wages like the $15-per-hour minimums just passed in California and New York will reduce employment: They're with many of their lefty brethren who don't care whether jobs are lost. So they must believe that no one else should care either.

At the Washington Post's WonkBlog on Friday, in what was not an April Fool's-related column, Lydia DePillis ridiculed "warnings of a job apocalypse." And besides, she wrote, "the economic architecture that supports the Fight for $15 is built entirely different logic" — logic which the establishment press has refused to report as the hikers' real agenda.

Here is DePillis's attempt to explain the "logic" (HT Noah Rothman at Commentary via longtime commenter dscott; bolds and numbered tags are mine):

The $15 minimum wage sweeping the nation might kill jobs — and that’s okay
We don't evaluate other policies by insisting that they have zero effect on employment.

... Despite generally finding that minimum wage hikes don’t depress employment, [1] a few months ago (former Obama advisor Alan) Krueger had published an op-ed opposing a nationwide $15 minimum wage — later cited by Hillary Clinton — saying it could hurt job opportunities in some places with lower wages.

During the question and answer period, Mark Levinson got up to ask a question. Levinson is the chief economist for the Service Employees International Union, [2] the labor group that made $15 a thing in the first place, and he took issue with Krueger’s cautionary op-ed.

"What should be the criterion about setting a minimum wage?” he asked. "Should it be the level which produces minimal job loss? Or should it be, in the language of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the maintenance of the the minimum standard of living necessary for the health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers?” [3]

... Levinson’s argument may be gaining traction: [4] In a press conferencing announcing a deal between California's legislative leadership and labor unions to pass a $15 minimum wage, Gov. Jerry Brown responded to a question about imposing hardships on business by saying that this isn’t just about employment levels.

"We understand that this can be difficult," Brown said. "But the fact is that there's a principle called the living family wage, which is a doctrine that has been around for a long time, since probably before the 1900s, which is that you can't expect someone to work if the wages for that work can't support a family." [3]

Liberal economists also see a degree of hypocrisy in the idea that job losses shouldn’t be tolerated when it comes to setting minimum wage policy. That wasn’t the standard when we outlawed child labor or passed basic safety and health protections. It hasn’t been the standard when regulating coal plants, or negotiating international trade deals, which economists figure might weaken employment in some industries, while benefiting the economy overall. [5]

... "Why shouldn’t we in fact accept job loss?” asks New School economics and urban policy professor David Howell, who’s about to publish a white paper on the subject. "What’s so bad about getting rid of crappy jobs, forcing employers to upgrade, and having a serious program to compensate anyone who is in the slightest way harmed by that?" [6]

Howell is talking about something like the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which assists people who lose their jobs due to international trade deals. ... money could be re-invested in vocational training, subsidized jobs, and direct income supports for those who can’t find work. [7]

"The problem with having a criterion of 'no job loss' is that it guarantees that the minimum wage will always be at a level so low that it won’t come close to achieving this living wage standard,” Howell says.

[1] — Krueger's contention is horse manure.

[2] — WaPo's DePillis, as has almost universally been the case since Day 1 of the $15 per hour movement (the Los Angeles Times, in a rare exception I noted late last week, slipped up and reported this fact as California's $15 minimum neared passage), failed to disclose that outfits like the SEIU directly benefit from minimum-wage increases because many of their negotiated pay rates are pegged at a multiple of the current effective minimum wage.

[3] (tagged twice) — This is the essence of the "living wage" argument. A job isn't worth having and should be permitted to be made available unless a person can support a family on its pay. Brown is using it to explain why he reversed his former opposition to $15 per hour. Following the living-wage "logic," wages should apparently be individualized based on marital (or "attached") status, family size, and the like, not on the value to the employer of the work being performed. Of course, the definition of what it takes to "support a family" would, over time, advance exponentially.

[4] — The SEIU argument is gaining traction because, as we'll see, there is a growing belief that some jobs aren't worthy of existing, even if there are people out there willing to take them, and to do them well.

[5] — At least in the debates over regulatory matters, the possibilities of job losses were raised and recognized as potentially negative factors. Now the left wants to say that job losses shouldn't be considered at all in evaluating minimum-wage policy. It's the "moral imperative" of a living wage, regardless of the (arguably immoral) consequences of forced unemployment and the predictable bad behaviors which often accompany it.

[6] — Getting rid of what Howell considers "crappy jobs" will, of necessity, shut some people who are currently incapable of doing more than menial, unskilled work out of the job market forevee. By the way, that would include people who might otherwise have gotten their first job and progressed beyond that because they got their foot in the door. One person's "crappy job" is another person's lifeline, or the beginning of another person's career path. Howell obviously doesn't care about any of this.

Additionally, "forcing employers to upgrade" will often mean automating jobs that people used to perform, and at a far quicker rate than would be seen in a genuine free-market economy.

[7] — The track record of government  "job-training programs" is so dismal that it's a wonder that anyone who suggests them isn't laughed out of the room.

So the agenda has always been to advance the cause of the "living" minimum wage regardless of the job-loss consequences. Surely the left- and union-dominated press has known this. They just didn't think that the American people deserved to know it.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.