2014-01-14

Above Minimum Wage

Ethics is a good means by which to advocate for doing more for the less fortunate. But, when it comes to placing limits on how much good we can afford to do, we need economics.

There is a popular reductio ad absurdum that some have used against minimum wage: If a $9-per-hour minimum wage is good, why not set the minimum wage to something like $50,000 per year? Why not set the minimum at $1 million per year and make sure we're all really taken care of? Let's bend that cost curve down.

This is a good rhetorical punch, but I think the point is better made as follows: Consider the current proposal to set the minimum wage at or about $9/hour. This implies that all those who are currently making, say, $9.20/hour are doing fine.

Is anyone willing to make this claim? None, that I know of. One might say that the $9.20/hour wage worker is "at least making more than minimum wage," but in terms of ethics or personal worth, this is not merely a low hurdle to clear. It is, in fact, an arbitrary one, since we could set the minimum wage at $9.20 just as easily as we could set it at $9 or $10 or any other number.

The point is this: There is always an easy ethical case to be made for an arbitrary increase to anyone's wage, but a specific increase is impossible to justify. That is, it seems naturally ethical for us to increase minimum wages by "two bucks," but I suggest that it is patently impossible to argue that we should increase the minimum wage by "$2, not $2.50;" or by "$2, not $3;" etc.