Welcome to Liberrants, a blog dedicated to editorials, discussions, and studies of all things libertarian. Don't let the title mislead you; it's merely my attempt to be creative in describing myself as a "hopeful curmudgeon" who embraces the goal of the free, peaceful, economically vibrant society envisioned by America's founding fathers. Jump in! Contribute! Enjoy!

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Location: Tucson, Arizona, United States

A critically thinking curmudgeon whose goal, in addition to creatively venting about the imperfect world in which we live, is to induce critical thinking in others. The ultimate goal is to help bring about a peaceful world in which we can all live in freedom.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

You've Got to be Kidding!

I was listening the other day to an afternoon talk show on a local AM radio station in the Baltimore-Washington area (in fact, the host of this program is the only talk show host on any level, national or regional, to whom I can stand to listen), the subject of which was imposition of the minimum wage. The People’s Socialist Democratic Republic of Maryland, it seems, has decided that WalMart, the greatest retail success story in American history, is an evil scourge that must be brought to heel. The reason? Big Bad WalMart, in the opinion of the Party Commissariat ruling Maryland, oppresses its workers by not paying them salaries massively in excess of the minimum wage or providing all of them with lavish medical benefits. Thus the Maryland Politburo decided to attempt to ram through legislation, aimed specifically at WalMart, forcing the company’s Maryland operations to provide extra pay and benefits. Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich, to his tremendous credit, vetoed both of the bills in question, although the overwhelmingly Democratic Politburo overrode this veto.

The local talk show host was interviewing a representative of an organization (its name escapes me) that claimed to represent “the underemployed ‘working poor’” of Maryland. The upshot of the guy’s presentation was that minimum wages are the only thing saving the workingman from utter penury and that state-enforced generosity is well worth the costs. Nothing said by the host or callers to the program (a few of whom were small business owners who’ve suffered the consequences of minimum wage) could dissuade the guest from his position. But there was one statement the guest made that nearly made me run off the road into a telephone pole.

In response to the empirically provable fact that minimum wage rises cause unemployment among unskilled workers, the guest’s response was something to the effect of: Well, you’ve got to break eggs to make omelets. Of course some people are going to suffer as a result of a minimum wage rise.

Let me see if I understand this correctly. The spokesman for an organization purporting to represent those without a voice, that being the unskilled minimum wage earner, is saying that those most without a voice are expendable if it furthers some greater nebulous good?

Clearly socialism hasn’t died after all. It’s just amazing that anyone would go on the air in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands and not feel the least bit embarrassed by making an idiot of themselves through contorted and inconsistent statements. But then again, this is Twenty-first Century America.


Blogger Convoluted Muse said...

Good article! I have a question for you though and its something that has had me puzzled for a little while now. I believe in allowing the market to balance itself out as proposed by Adam Smith BUT it seems that often the unskilled workers, or, to be more precise, the poor, end up getting screwed even more without some sort of external (from the market) intervention. Am I missing something here?

4:25 PM, May 05, 2005  
Blogger liberranter said...

I think (and that's all this is: my own humble opinion) there is, to some extent, a misperception of what constitutes "unskilled labor." From what I've pick up from both public discussion and the op-ed/econ press, the unspoken definition of "unskilled" labor is just about any type of blue-collar job not requiring an advanced education degree or certification of some sort.

In practice, "unskilled" labor actually means the entry-level type of job that requires no advanced level of education, technical skills, or specialized talent. Streetsweeper comes readily to mind. WalMart Greeter may also qualify. I should note that I'm not trying to denigrate these jobs; they're both necessary on some economic level, but they don't require any specialized skills or abilities. On the other hand, similar blue-collar jobs that do not outwardly seem to require special skills, higher education, or experience may actually require tremendous skill, much of which is acquired through on-the-job experience. For example, someone who may start out working at WalMart as a greeter for bare minimum wage might, depending on their skill and dedication, work their way up to sales clerk, stocker, or even a departmental manager. Because each of these incrementally more demanding jobs requires new and different skills (e.g., organization, time and resource management, communication, money and inventory management, etc.), the individual adds professional experience, and thus value to his/herself, thereby removing his/herself from the minimum wage category.

I guess where I'm going with this is that, statistically speaking, very few people with pulses and any ambition seem to remain in unskilled, minimum wage jobs indefinitely, even in today's tough labor market.

I think something else that has contributed to the current controversy over the minimum wage issue is that many people seem to have a fierce sense of entitlement, coupled with the idea that once they land a certain job, they can "coast." My own brother is a good illustration of this. For the last eighteen years, all of his adult life except for his four years in the Navy, he has worked as a delivery distributor for a certain metropolitan newspaper on the West Coast. This is a job that, at least outwardly, would not seem to require tremendous skills or abilities, and yet over the last eighteen years he has risen from menial laborer to district manager, earning a decent high five-figure salary. However, he is also acutely aware that technological and market forces may render his job redundant and obsolete. Despite knowing this fact, he has made no effort to prepare himself for the eventuality of a career change by going to school, training in other skill sets, or taking part-time work in another field. If I've learned nothing over the last ten years, it's that you ALWAYS diversify your skills to make yourself as marketable and mobile as possible. Since I anticipate (or rather, HOPE) that at some point in the not-very-distant future Americans are going to wake up and realize how much money their government is wasting on "Defense" and put a stop to wasteful contracting, I see no reason to get comfortable in my current job and am diversifying my skillsets to aim at a more commercially viable market.

I suppose what I'm trying to say in summary is that "unskilled labor" as currently defined, should not be looked at as a sustainable career path. In other words, if you want to earn a living wage, make yourself competitive. THAT is the best form of "intervention" for mobility. Minimum wage "floors" will do nothing but give people the illusion that they don't need to have ambition or goals to earn a living (witness most government employees).

5:27 PM, May 05, 2005  

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