What’s the point of having a Minimum Wage? If the idea is to ensure that an individual’s work effort is not exploited so much that they cannot afford to sustain a basic, minimum lifestyle at that pay level, has it worked? No. Why not? Because it is a basically flawed remedy for a social problem imposed on an economic construct. It doesn’t work, it won’t work, and, in fact, it is polluting our political process by encouraging economic interests to subvert our political systems in order to restrain the impact of Minimum Wage legislation on their operations. (James K. Galbraith, Attack on the Middle Class, Mother Jones, Nov/Dec 2010)
In order for the idea of a Minimum Wage to achieve it’s stated objectives, two preconditions have to exist: people must have employment, and the Minimum Wage must be sufficient to sustain life. But in a capitalist society the availability of employment rises and falls with the business cycle of capital-intensive enterprise, so a Minimum Wage does nothing to help the worst off: the UNemployed. And in today’s capital-democracies the political process is subservient to the capitalist process, meaning that the level at which the Minimum Wage is set is subject to the approval of the largest capital interests (who control the politics).
At it’s heart the concept of the Minimum Wage accepts the subservience of the social order to the economic order, and attempts to extract a concession from the economic system to maintain the fabric of the social system. This ‘world view’ is a legacy of the awe with which we witnessed the incredible rise of capitalist enterprise in the 20th C. The basic flaw in that model is the notion that the economic system is sufficient to sustain the social system, it isn’t and won’t ever be – the economy is a subset of society and to no amount of imagination can subvert that reality. This is part of the structural problem at the root of our perilous rush to oblivion, the economy is dependent on the society, not the other way around. It is only when our social support systems are assumptively included in a picture of our society that it appears to the casual observer that the economy is our master. Belief in the ascendency of markets and capitalist economics is akin to belief in creationism, it requires ignorance of the facts. The facts are that our economy is 100% and inextricably dependent on our the health of our society.
On the other hand, no economist locked in a room with only economic theory could construct an argument in support of the Minimum Wage, it is a basically distorting mechanism that meets no economic goals. And that’s the point, the Minimum Wage is a social construct designed to try and deliver a social end. It’s time we stopped trying, and starting actually delivering the end we mean to. If we believe that a citizen is entitled to a basic minimum lifestyle (and we had better believe that if we value a peaceful, sustainable society), then we need to start delivering that, instead of playing with market mechanisms in an attempt to deliver the same. To quote Morpheous, “Stop trying to hit me, and hit me!”
If we carry on with our current approach, we are just floundering around in a nebulous construct that we know, deep down, is completely flawed at its foundation. It’s time to stop playing cricket on a football pitch and move the game to its home turf. Face it, live up to it, call it out and be proud: “We believe that every single person in our society is entitled to the basic services that sustain life. We’re not asking for permission to deliver on that promise, we’re going to deliver on that promise first and sort the rest out on top of that.” That we is you and me, we aren’t asking business to sort it out for us, we are taking responsibility for sorting it out ourselves. We’ll pay for it exclusively out of our income taxes and we’ll get it done without a single dime in corporate taxes, without a mandated wage and without the involuntary participation of any commercial enterprise. It’s our society, we live in it and we take full responsibility for it.
The minimum wage is history, it’s time for the return of sanity, responsibility and honesty. The minimum wage is an excuse for inaction, an innocent but ignorant attempt to pass our buck to people who can’t and won’t do what we say we mean to do. There’s plenty of income tax to do the job, we just need to do it, and for the sake of preserving a thousand years of civilization, we need to start doing it now!