Over the weekend, a leading financial voice at National Review—central ideological pillar of the mainstream American Right—gingerly endorsed my suggestion that a $12.00 per hour minimum wage be required as part of any Congressional immigration legislation. Perhaps miracles do indeed sometimes happen in real life.
My same proposal had also been endorsed a couple of days earlier in The New Republic, and since economic issues have never been my primary focus, perhaps I should recapitulate a little of the history.
Back in 1999 I had published a major cover story for Commentary entitled “California and the End of White America,” analyzing the implications of the massive racial transformation that my own state had recently undergone. During most of the 2000s, I was preoccupied with software projects and did almost no writing, despite having meanwhile become owner and publisher of The American Conservative. But in late 2011 I finally decided to produce a sequel to my Commentary piece, an updated analysis of those same demographic changes, which were now well on their way to transforming American society as a whole.
I had accumulated many additional ideas over the previous dozen years, and as might be expected, my text grew and grew, eventually exceeding 12,000 words. “Immigration, Republicans, and the End of White America” came to cover a great deal of ground, discussing the political, social, and economic aspects of America’s ongoing demographic revolution.
But one major difference was that the American economy of 2011 was far worse than that of the late 1990s, therefore becoming an important part of my analysis. The last portion of my piece presented my proposed solution to many of America’s most serious immigration problems, arguing that a large rise in the federal minimum wage, perhaps to $12.00 per hour, might halt and reverse the downward spiral in American living standards that had partly resulted from the large influx of low-wage labor competition over the previous thirty-odd years. During the early 2000s I had been struck by the obvious connection between minimum wage and immigrant influx, and had been surprised that such an clear relationship had not already become part of the national dialogue.
My lengthy article was very well received, with National Review’s Reihan Salam discussing and analyzing it in a five-part series, though he remained skeptical on the minimum wage hike. On the political margins, the response was even more favorable, with anti-immigrationist blogger Steve Sailer fully endorsing my wage proposal and the late arch-leftist Alexander Cockburn repeatedly hailing it as a matter of overriding importance.
Since I claim no great expertise in economics, I had been cautiously tentative in my wage proposal, and was therefore much relieved when James Galbraith, a leading liberal economist, several months later brought my idea into mainstream respectability by endorsing it in a national column. But did I ever think it might become law? Never in a million years.
The notion of substantially raising the minimum wage then percolated around in Congress, without really going anywhere, and late last year The New America Foundation suggested I produce a piece for them focused solely on that issue. “Raising American Wages by…Raising American Wages” attracted some further attention, including an invitation for me to participate in an Aspen Institute panel.
After President Obama unexpectedly included a minimum wage increase—though just to a paltry figure of $9.00—in his State of the Union Address, the issue gained far greater legitimacy, especially after Nobel Laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz endorsed a minimum wage hike. But none of the $9.00 or $10.50 proposals introduced into Congress seemed to gain any traction, rendering my own suggestion of $12.00 the stuff of utter fantasy. I still thought my idea was a good one, but did it have any chance of becoming law? Never in a million years.
With America’s bipartisan elites now pushing immigration legislation as their top priority, I decided to refocus attention on that aspect of my argument, and last month I published a column in Salon entitled “No Immigration Amnesty Without a Minimum Wage Hike,” reemphasizing the obvious economic connection between those two issues, almost never mentioned by pundits or the media.
In some respects, the political connection may be even more crucial. America’s bipartisan ruling elites seem almost entirely indifferent to minimum wage issues, but are overwhelmingly united in their massive support for the immigration reform legislation currently moving through Congress. Therefore, I would argue that working-class advocates have an ideal opportunity to “hitch a ride” on that other issue by requiring a $12.00 minimum wage as part of their price for supporting the immigration bill. Given that a high minimum wage would serve to deter future illegal immigration, many conservative immigration restrictionists would probably support such a proposal for their own reasons. And in any event, all polling data indicates that a large rise in the minimum wage is overwhelmingly popular, across all political, ideological, and ethnic lines.
Ironically enough, relatively little opposition might be expected from the ultra-wealthy elites who today almost totally dominate American political life. Unlike a tax hike or restrictions on the accounting treatment of various financial transactions, changes in the minimum wage have almost no impact on America’s plutocratic class, as indicated by last year’s Bloomberg News editorial strongly endorsed a minimum wage increase. After all, Wall Street would much prefer to assuage popular resentment by raising working-class wages a few dollars an hour rather than risk a populist backlash demanding an increase in the capital gains tax rate or restrictions on the carried-interest provisions of hedge-fund managers. But unlike the famously apocryphal quotation of Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat $12.00 per hour” actually sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
Similarly, the ideological libertarians who now dominate much of conservative thought may not like a higher minimum wage any more than they like the existing minimum wage, but probably won’t fight such a proposal tooth and nail. For example, I recently discussed the notion of a large hike in the federal minimum wage with one of America’s most influential conservative opponents of government taxes and regulations, and the issue hardly seemed to register as a leading concern. He said he opposed a higher minimum wage mostly on the grounds that it would hurt American workers by costing them their jobs, a position rather similar to that held until very recently by many liberal economists such as Krugman and Stiglitz. But he noted that since the workers in question overwhelmingly supported the proposal, it was hardly his top priority to save themselves from their own folly. The analogy he cited was government lotteries, which amount to “a tax on stupidity.”
Proposals that are wildly popular among the masses and viewed largely with indifference by the elites may have a reasonable chance of becoming law, at least if their supporters follow the shrewd strategy of attaching them to the right legislative vehicle.
Given this political landscape, apparent National Review support for a $12.00 minimum wage might have massive, strategic consequences. Large numbers of economic progressives and union supporters have grown rather disgruntled over the last few years with the relatively meager benefits they have gained from an Obama Administration they did so much to elect and reelect: Bush’s Wall Street crowd have merely been replaced by their Democratic opposite numbers. As a presidential candidate, Obama had promised a $9.50 minimum wage and now five years later, he has timorously reduced his promise to a $9.00 figure, while doing little to make even that a reality.
But now these angry advocates of the working class may soon be able to raise the powerful outcry “Even National Review now supports a $12.00 minimum wage!” and perhaps that will finally allow them to attract the necessary backing from their Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House. At the very least, it can’t hurt, and the weeks of House debate on the economic aspects of America’s immigration policy may be interesting ones.
A minimum wage raised to a $12.00 level would boost the income of ordinary American workers by hundreds of billions of dollars each year, and probably vie with Obamacare as the most significant change in domestic policy over the last few decades, while certainly being vastly more popular according to all polling data. I wouldn’t give my minimum wage proposal great odds right now, but with endorsements appearing in such mainstream Washington organs as The New Republic and National Review, at least the idea has finally moved into the realm of actual possibility. So perhaps the fifteen-odd articles and columns I’ve published on this subject over the last two years were not written totally in vain. Miracles do sometimes happen.
On a completely different matter, I also received a copy of the latest academic journal article by Heiner Rindermann, one of the world’s foremost psychometric researchers. His paper—revealing that despite vast socio-economic differences Vietnamese and Germans had virtually identical tested IQs—was quite interesting and potentially significant. But I was absolutely delighted to discover that Dr. Rindermann had also included a substantial discussion of my own “Chinese Social Darwinism” hypothesis as a possible theoretical explanation for such surprising empirical results. Being a lapsed academic, I am always very gratified by any such scholarly citation, and having my theory respectfully discussed so soon after its publication by so noted a researcher raises hopes that my demographic evolutionary model will gradually become part of the accepted ranged of opinion.
I was also very pleased to see that Harvard’s Niall Ferguson, one of our most prominent public intellectuals, had extensively cited my disturbing Meritocracy findings in his lengthy article entitled “The End of the American Dream.”
Finally, over the last week a very high-brow California blogger published a favorable three-part [Two] [Three] 8,500 word discussion of my Race/IQ analysis from last summer. The writer mentioned her own immigrant background and claimed to have received the highest PSAT in all of New York State a couple of decades ago, a claim that does not seem totally implausible to me.
All in all, this may have been one of my most successful recent weeks, all the more remarkable because none of these important developments involved any effort on my own part. Perhaps if you set things up the right way then political gravity will do the rest.