Lee: Suck it up, pay a few cents more
Justin Vega's explanation of the "natural economic laws" that should prevent raising the minimum wage (Forum, August 16) is based on ideology rather than an actual understanding of those economic laws. The district Republican official from Fargo ...
Justin Vega’s explanation of the “natural economic laws” that should prevent raising the minimum wage (Forum, August 16) is based on ideology rather than an actual understanding of those economic laws. The district Republican official from Fargo is also ignorant of the laws of demography.
The economic law of supply and demand says that when a commodity is in over-supply, its price drops. This results in restricted production because the commodity is no longer profitable; the price will increase again when demand matches or exceeds supply. This is the “law” that Vega wants to apply to minimum-wage workers. However, as most real economists know, the most important commodity in any market economy is not produced according to the law of supply and demand: People. The supply of potential workers will not contract because their price (wage) drops. They have nowhere to go, and they still have to eat.
We have had an over-supply of workers since the baby boomers hit the working ages more than four decades ago. Since then, the minimum wage has lost over one-third of its purchasing power to inflation. If we had not had a minimum wage and had allowed wages to vary “naturally” as the supply of workers expanded, we’d have had mass starvation. This is why we have the government intervention that Vega so detests; the alternative is, if we really think about it, unthinkable.
Nearly two-thirds of all families living in poverty in America today contain a full-time worker. Among poor adults, more than three times as many are employed as unemployed. This is because wages are so low for so many people that, even working full-time, they cannot support themselves or their families. Vega may believe that the world should work this way, but many of us don’t.
It is also apparently necessary to point out that all of the “devastating effects” that Vega insists follow inevitably from increasing the minimum wage – runaway inflation, a weakening dollar, economic bubbles, plus increased unemployment, which he doesn’t mention – have never happened after previous increases in the minimum wage. Ideology, unfortunately, is impervious to evidence.
Yes, raising the minimum wage will contribute a marginal amount to the inflation rate. Vega and the Oasis Cafe are quite correct to point out that the cost of a restaurant meal will go up a bit because of it. C’mon, Mr. Vega, suck it up and pay a few cents more for your dinner so some of your fellow citizens have a better chance at a decent life and maybe can feed their kids. Like taxes, it’s a price we pay for civilization.
Lee earned a Ph.D. in 1973 from the University of Minnesota. He is former chairman of the department of sociology at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio.