More Questions for Proponents of Pricing Low-Skilled Workers Out of Jobs

by Don Boudreaux on December 4, 2013

in Seen and Unseen, Work

Like philosopher Michael Huemer and my colleague Bryan Caplan, my libertarian ethics grow from, and remain grounded in, what Huemer calls “common sense morality” – a common sense that understands the homage that statism pays to liberty.  With this short background in mind, I have yet other questions for proponents of minimum-wage legislation – namely:

Suppose that you’re at a McDonald’s restaurant or at a Safeway supermarket or at the office of a maid-service company and you see a 20-something young woman.  The woman is obviously poor by American standards and her English is broken and heavily accented.  She has no certifiable job experience.  She applies for a job and is rejected.  She – with entrepreneurial gumption – responds to the rejection by offering to work, not for the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour but, instead, for $5.00 per hour.  You observe the manager’s evident interest in her counteroffer.  The manager ponders for a minute or two and then whispers to her – yet loud enough for you to overhear – “Look, that’s against the law, but I can use you at $5.00 per hour.  So, okay, you’re hired!  But please don’t tell anyone or else I’ll be in serious trouble and you’ll lose this job.”

Would you – you personally – intervene to stop this woman from taking this job?  Would you – you personally - be willing to look her in the eyes and tell her that she may not take that job?  Would you – you personally – inform this young woman (with regret, of course) that she must remain unemployed for the time being and resume her job search elsewhere?  And would you – you personally - be willing to use force against this woman to prevent her from working at $5.00 per hour if she stubbornly ignores your demands?  Would you be willing, if her stubborn refusal to refuse the job persists, to poke a gun in her face to prevent her from working at an hourly wage of $5.00 per hour?

I have little doubt that many of you would willingly – even happily – take action against the manager who offers to employ this woman at $5.00 per hour (although you’d probably prefer to take this action out of eyesight and earshot of the woman whose job you’ll destroy by bringing the scofflaw manager to ‘justice’; you don’t want the woman to know that you, personally, are responsible for her misfortune).  And I have no doubt that even more of you would be eager to rush home to call the police to report this incident and demand that armed cops intervene to punish the manager and to keep this woman from working at $5.00 per hour.  But I wonder how many of you – you personally - have the courage of your moral convictions to be able to look the woman in her eyes and expose yourself personally, to her, as someone willing to deny her the opportunity to work at the highest wage she can now earn.

And if I’m correct, how can you, in good conscience, continue to feel that minimum-wage legislation is ethically justified?

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