I So Wish that H. L. Mencken Were Still Alive

by Don Boudreaux on August 29, 2008

in Politics

Political types say the darndest things.  Earlier today I heard, on NPR, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake interviewed about John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate.  Ms. Lake said something like "Gov. Palin will have to convince voters that she and Mr. McCain are in touch with women’s issues.  For example, how will she deal with the fact that, as Senator, Mr. McCain voted many times against raising the minimum wage?  The minimum-wage is absolutely a women’s issue."

What??  Let’s assume — contrary to economic logic — that the minimum-wage achieves the very goals that it’s advocates publicly assert that it will achieve with no downsides.  Why would the minimum-wage be a "woman’s issue"?  What is it about higher wages that is of unique concern to women?  Are low-skilled men indifferent to what they earn?  Are men indifferent to what their low-skilled wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters earn?  To what their low-skilled fathers, sons, and brothers earn?  Do men care less about these things than women do?  (If so, does that mean that men are less materialistic or less greedy than women?)

I don’t mean to pick on Ms. Lake (whom I never heard of until a few hours ago); she’s simply one among a horde of political activists.  I cite here her ridiculous statement about the minimum-wage being a "woman’s issue" only to give further evidence that the vast majority of political talk is childish — ridiculous — fueled more by thoughtless presumptions than by considered thought.

Politics is absurd.  Looking to it as a source of earthly salvation, or even as a good means of getting potholes filled, is mystifying.

(The above quotation from Celinda Lake is from my memory.  I can’t now find any on-line version of this statement by Ms. Lake.  If you can find one, please do send it to me.)

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Methinks August 29, 2008 at 3:08 pm

"The minimum-wage is absolutely a women's issue."

Well, I'm a woman and I'm against it. So, I guess it's an issue for me.

Jeez. There's just no level of stupidity too low for politicians and pundits to stoop to.

Grant August 29, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Given the larger amount of variance in male IQ scores, isn't it possible that a majority of minimum wage earners are men?

Jp August 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm

I see your point, but to be fair, there are 2 ways an issue can be a "women's issue" (or, insert-group-here's issue). It can be directly related (keeping women as the example, abortion rights) or it can be an issue that that voting bloc has shown particular interest in.

Perhaps women, on the whole, show more interest in the issue of the minimum wage than men do. I don't know if they do, I'm merely offering up the possibility that they do, and if so, that this is how Ms. Lake meant it.

Mesa Econoguy August 29, 2008 at 3:32 pm

a) Why are you listening to National Socialist Radio, and

b) I thought McCain picked Michael Palin…?

Matt Bandyk August 29, 2008 at 3:35 pm

I'm kind of unsure about Palin's free-market credentials. I have some more thoughts on my blog:


Charlie August 29, 2008 at 3:39 pm

"Perhaps women, on the whole, show more interest in the issue of the minimum wage than men do. I don't know if they do, I'm merely offering up the possibility that they do, and if so, that this is how Ms. Lake meant it."

I was thinking the same thing. I would imagine even the question was something like, "Will this choice give McCain a boost with women voters?"

Methinks August 29, 2008 at 4:22 pm

a) Why are you listening to National Socialist Radio,

I know a lot of professors and all of them listen to NP(S)R. It seems to be an obligation. I'm starting to think you can't obtain tenure unless you can prove that you listen to public radio.

Methinks August 29, 2008 at 4:25 pm

I would like to know if women are more interested in the minimum wage issue, as a group. I've never seen any reliable statistics that make that case.

As an anecdote, I've never met a woman for whom it was an important issue.

kebko August 29, 2008 at 4:49 pm

The majority of minimum wage workers are women, which the activists combine with the myth that half the country are single mothers working tirelessly for decades in minimum wage jobs to support 3 kids. The majority of minimum wage earners are women because they are almost all middle class mothers taking work so they can get out of their house a little bit, earn tip money over the wage level, socialize, or be involved where there kids are, or get access to day-care benefits. Of course, the classes of workers I just described are harmed by increases in the minumum wage. But, for the activists, the 50 million people getting stroked with myths that support their political identities are much more important than the couple of million who might actually be affected by the law, which is what makes it such a useful issue.

spencer August 29, 2008 at 4:55 pm

two out of three minimum wage workers are female.

Last year there were 648,000 male minimum wage employees and 1,234,000 female minimum wage workers.

The share of women employeed at the minimum wage is almost double that of men.

Across the board even when adjusted for women dropping out of the labor force to have and raise children women's wages are significantly below that of men.

Why am I not surprised that methings thinks he has never met a woman for whom it was an important issue. Of all the women you have ever met how many have you discussed the minimum wage with — 0.001%?

Ike August 29, 2008 at 4:58 pm

Sorry Kebko, but the majority of minimum-wage earners are teenagers.

I was about to fall in line with the "perception" argument, that women seem to think it is an issue therefore it is.

But no. Show me polling data where minimum-wage shows up as one of the top five issues for women. Open-ended question, not ranked as one of six, thank you.

You won't. Income equity will be big, minimum wage will not.

Health care.
Child care.
Income equity.

I would wager that ALL of the above would beat out minimum wage, by a long shot.

spencer August 29, 2008 at 5:00 pm

kebko — can you give me a cite for your statement that almost all of female minimum wage employees are middle class workers working part time.

I can not find any data supporting that assertion.

BoscoH August 29, 2008 at 5:06 pm

If Menchen were alive today, he would note that minimum tire pressure is a much more important women's issue than the minimum wage.

Ike August 29, 2008 at 5:21 pm

If Mencken were alive today, he would be beating furiously on a padded door, screaming "Let me out of this box!"

spencer August 29, 2008 at 5:37 pm

kekbo — let me help you on your assertion.

16.6% of minimum wage workers are married women.

Still want to stick with your assertion about minimum wage workers being middle class women working part time?

Tom August 29, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Imagine getting on the radio and saying, "In 2007, 82.1% of people making the minimum wage were white. The minimum wage is a white issue and Obama is half black. Obama will have to convince white America that he is in touch with white issues. The minimum wage is absolutely a white issue."

Imagine breaking down every issue on the basis of race and sex. I guess if you are a Democrat you can not only imagine it you actually live and breath racial and gender segregation.

Methinks August 29, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Why am I not surprised that methings thinks he has never met a woman for whom it was an important issue. Of all the women you have ever met how many have you discussed the minimum wage with — 0.001%?

I'm not a "he". I'm a "she", thus I tend to hang out with women a lot. I've brought up minimum wage with women and they've mostly shrugged their shoulders. This happened even when they were low skilled women – probably because they were trying to figure out how to make more money regardless of what the minimum wage was or because they were teenagers just making spending money. Again, anecdotal.

The fact that the majority of minimum wage earners are women doesn't necessarily mean that minimum wage is a big issue for them.

Sorry, I can't help support the moaning about income "inequality" between men and women. Instead of wasting time whining about it, I just figured out how to make more money. Seemed like the logical solution.

The Albatross August 29, 2008 at 9:04 pm

So most minimum wage earners are women? I do not have the knowledge to say this is true are not, but I take this to mean that most of the people who lose their jobs to minimum wage increases will be women. I guess minimum wage really is a “women’s issue” after all. I feel sorry for single mothers.

P.S. Methinks (please accept this compliment with good humour–as I am sure you will), but you argue like a man–please keep swinging.

kebko August 30, 2008 at 1:33 am

I apologize. I see that I mis-spoke a bit on my earlier post. First, here is a link:


The point I was trying to make was that when you parse the numbers, even though most min. wage workers are women, there are VERY few women trying to raise a family at a full time job at mininum wage. If you look at all the numbers, yes, most are teenagers. 29% are women over 25. And of those, the vast majority fit into the categories I described. I screwed up my wording, because I don't know how many are mothers. For instance, 60% of all min. wage workers are in food service, where their total income will almost certainly be much higher than the stated wage, and 60% are less than 25 hours per week or varying hours, and half of the over 25 set have a spouse present. So, just factoring that in, you're down to something like 2% of min. wage workers being unmarried women over 25 who aren't earning tips and are anywhere near full time. That's something like 40,000 people nationwide, just by factoring in those few details. Once you factor in all these things, you're left with a very small number of women who could possibly be working min. wage full time trying to raise a family.
The number is so small, that I would doubt that the anecdotes we hear from the candidates about min. wage earners finding them on the campaign trail & telling them their hard luck stories are true at all. Even if the candidates weren't known to tell a tall tale when it suited them, statistically, it would be hard to find the people they are describing even if you were looking for them.

Unit August 30, 2008 at 9:12 am

Since minimum-wage legislation pitches relatively well-off white kids against blacks, Obama would have to be against it. Likewise he probably should be pro-school-choice. However, democrats are not. So maybe that explains his choice of Biden as VP? Still how can a ticket hold opposite views on the same important issues?

BTW the same could be said of McCain-Palin: they speak of gas-tax-holidays and windfall-profit taxes in the same breath as if it was the most natural thing to do.

Linda Seebach August 30, 2008 at 10:31 am

Razib at http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2008/08/women_care_more_about_abortion.php#more
just posted data on another issue, abortion, showing that on the pro-choice side, women are much more likely than men to say the issue is important to them, while on the pro-life side men and women scarcely differ. Maybe Lake thinks minimum wage is an issue principally for women because among the people she hangs out with, it's bigger with women than with men. (It doesn't have to be big compared with other issues for that to be true.)

Randy August 30, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Fortunately, Mencken's words live on. Just Google "Mencken quotes".

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