Here’s a letter to the Washington Post (and bonus points if you understand that, should UVA grant these students’ demands, low-skilled workers in Charlottesville who do not work for UVA are more likely to be harmed rather than helped by the higher wages arbitrarily paid to janitors at UVA):
Several University of Virginia students are staging a hunger strike to protest the low wages earned by janitors at UVA (“Virginia football player Joseph Williams on hunger strike,” Feb. 24).
Concern for others is admirable. But this particular display of concern is not. One group of people (the striking students) is demanding that a second group of people (legislators in the State of Virginia, to which UVA belongs) take money from a third group of people (Virginia taxpayers) that is then to be given to a fourth group of people (some UVA employees).
For Williams to demand that Jones take from Smith and then give the proceeds to Miller is hardly for Williams to make a significant sacrifice for Miller. A more direct way of assisting UVA’s janitors would be for each of these striking students to pledge his or her own money to the janitors.
Earning a four-year college degree increases, on average, a person’s annual income by about $25,000. So let each of the striking students issue a promissory note committing that student to pay every year for 40 years, to a selected janitor, $12,500 – which is half of the extra annual income that that student will earn as a result of graduating from UVA. (It cannot be objected that if the number of students willing to give in this way is fewer than the number of janitors then singling out individual janitors to receive such payments unfairly excludes other janitors from receiving such payments. The students’ own proposal suffers from the same problem of arbitrary exclusion, for under it only a handful of low-wage workers in Charlottesville will benefit from any handouts that UVA might be pressured into giving to its janitors.)
Not only would students’ issuance of such promissory notes raise the annual incomes of some of UVA’s lowest-paid workers by nearly 60 percent, it would supply real evidence that these students care more about actually helping the janitors than about basking in the juvenile applause they’re receiving in response to their hunger-strike theatrics.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030