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Not Even Minimum Decency

Michael Saltsman explains, in the Wall Street Journal, that a Hillsdale, Michigan, restaurant and its employees fall victim to the minimum wage.  (Sarcasm alert: Perhaps employers have less monopsony power in small, rather isolated hamlets such as Hillsdale than they have in much larger metropolises such as Detroit and Los Angeles.)  A slice:

Michigan’s minimum wage rose in September to $8.15 an hour from $7.40 (the minimum wage for tipped employees rose 17%, to $3.10 an hour). The wage will rise to $9.25 by January 2018. The law was enacted by a Republican legislature, and signed by a Republican governor to head off a more draconian proposal that left-wing activists were attempting to place on the November ballot.

But the good intentions behind these political machinations didn’t make a difference to Jack Mosley, a pastor who until this fall operated a restaurant in Hillsdale called Tastes of Life. The increased minimum wage, he told me, was “the straw that broke that camel’s back,” forcing him to close his doors and lay off his 12-person staff.

Here are some serious questions about the intentions of the Republicans who voted for this minimum-wage hike.  Is it moral, in principle, to vote for a policy that you believe will cause hardship to innocent people just to avoid the prospect of the passage in the future of a stronger, and hence more dangerous, version of that same policy?  If so, what must be the minimum probability of passage of that stronger and more dangerous alternative?  Ten percent?  50 percent?  99 percent?  Given that these Republicans apparently believed that there was significant-enough popular support in Michigan for an even higher minimum wage than the one they enacted, would it be unseemly for some of us observers to suspect that the true motives of these Republicans was not really the altruistic one of preventing a more draconian increase in Michigan’s minimum wage but, rather, simply to increase the Republicans’ chances of holding on to their political offices?

And here are some serious questions for the left-wing activists who pushed for an even higher minimum wage.  Why should we credit you with having good intentions if the core of your policy is to deny to the people who you say you wish to help the single most valuable bargaining chip each one has in competing for work – namely, the ability to offer to work at wages lower than those being paid to other, more qualified workers who are currently earning the government-stipulated minimum?  Why – when attempting to discern your intentions – should we focus on what you (say you) wish in the abstract for the people whose welfare you claim to champion rather than on the means that you propose to achieve your stated goal?  If you saw me preventing a poor person from choosing to sell, say, her car or her necklace at a price that you divine is too low – if you saw me telling potential buyers of these items ‘Unless you pay this woman at least $X for her car or her necklace, I will not allow her to engage in commerce with you, even if it means that she is unable to sell her car or her necklace; better that these things, which belong to this poor woman, go unsold than that she sell them at a price that I believe is inadequate; and I will imprison you if you try to buy her car or her necklace from her at a price lower than $X.’ – would you judge me to be a man of goodwill motivated by intentions that are good and admirable?  Would your answer to this last question change if I hired someone, or a group of someones, to interfere in this way in this woman’s efforts to sell her car or her necklace?