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Walmart, Peter Thiel, the Weekly Standard, and Other Dog-Biters

Our media naturally tends to cover stories that are surprising or unexpected far more than boringly routine ones, and this has certainly been a central aspect of my ongoing initiative campaign to raise the California minimum wage to $12 per hour, the highest rate in America.

Labor unions and some prominent liberals have promoted minimum wage hikes for many years with mixed success and often scanty coverage, typically breaking into the headlines only when raucous public protests draw television cameras or print photographers. But given my reputation as a conservative Republican, I needed merely to draft my ballot measure on a single sheet of paper and prepare a $200 filing-fee to generate a major story in The New York Times, followed by considerable secondary coverage. Perhaps that might seem unfair, but I suspect that any prominent liberal who launched an effort to totally abolish all capital gains taxes would draw similar attention. Man bites dog trumps dog bites man.

However, in the ninety days since my initiative was filed, men have begun biting dogs at a truly remarkable rate, drawing wonderment from many outside observers.

Soon after I began my effort, I was interviewed by the hosts of several leading conservative talk-radio stations and their initial shock at my idea quickly turned to surprise at the cogency of my conservative arguments for the proposal. Cutting social welfare spending, saving taxpayer dollars, eliminating hidden subsidies, making work pay—those all sound like longstanding conservative policy goals. What sensible conservative could oppose them?

A few weeks later, Phyllis Schlafly, an iconic conservative sometimes regarded as Pat Buchanan’s female counterpart, publicly declared for a higher minimum wage in her syndicated column, citing the same reasons that I had, thereby providing me with my first big-name public ally on the right.

Soon afterward, The Daily Caller, one of America’s most widely read conservative publications interviewed me on the topic, publishing a blistering 2,500 explication of my position, with tone and title of the piece emphasizing my argument that a $12 minimum wage might constitute the “rocket fuel” conservatives needed to revitalize their movement and broaden their political base.

A few days afterward, almost certainly as a consequence of the Daily Caller article, Bill O’Reilly—the biggest conservative star on television—used his Fox News show to declare his support for big minimum wage hike, endorsing the Democratic Congressional proposal of a $10 figure.

With several dogs now licking their man-bites, the San Francisco Chronicle published a major front-page story and then a quick follow-up on this sudden epidemic of rabid conservatives promoting a minimum wage hike.

Soon afterward, Joel Fox, former longtime president of California’s enormously influential Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, contacted me and solicited a minimum wage article for his highly-regarded Fox & Hounds webzine, which had previously run several pieces on the other side of the issue. I jumped at the opportunity to present “The Conservative Case for a Higher Minimum Wage” to his readership, and was quite pleased at the reaction. Given his current role as president of the Small Business Action Committee, which during 2012 spent some $42 million to oppose Gov. Brown’s tax hike ballot measure, Fox’s conservative credentials on fiscal and economic matters obviously remain as strong as could possibly be imagined.

A week or two later, I published an article in Forbes arguing that Walmart—America’s largest low-wage employer and often treated as the Great Satan by pro-minimum wage activists—would benefit greatly from policies that would lift the disposable incomes of their struggling customer base, a point I had been making to people for several years. By fortuitous circumstances, my article was immediately brought to the personal attention of a prominent Walmart board member, and perhaps coincidentally, less than two weeks later, a story on Bloomberg Financial News carried the shocking headline “Wal-Mart Says ‘Looking’ at Support of Minimum Wage Rise”. The breaking Bloomberg story was quickly republished across numerous other major business media outlets and Tweeted out several hundred times,

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Within hours, Walmart had denied the Bloomberg account and claimed that its official position on a minimum wage hike remained unchanged as being completely “neutral,” with the remarks of its corporate spokesman having been misinterpreted; but the incident was certainly a very odd one. I find it difficult to believe that Walmart’s official spokesman would be careless in his words and equally unlikely that Bloomberg journalists—who constitute a gold standard for breaking business news—would have totally mischaracterized the position of America’s largest corporation on such a sensitive matter. Slate also found the events very curious, and reported my own speculation that Walmart’s remarks had constituted a trial balloon in support of a minimum wage , with the company quickly caving under massive pressure from the Congressional Republican leadership, who are desperately trying to hold their own ranks firm against a Democratic-sponsored minimum wage hike.

Large corporations try to avoid political crossfire and possible punishment at the hands of a political party that controls the House and half the governorships. But technology multi-billionaires are far less vulnerable and can speak their minds much more freely, if they are so inclined. And one of the most outspoken of such individuals is Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, earliest backer of Facebook, and a legendary figure in Silicon Valley investment circles. Late last week, a San Francisco reporter asked Thiel what he thought about my $12 minimum wage initiative, and he said he suggested that the idea might have considerable merit given the enormous problems inherent in our existing social welfare system.

Now there are exist a multitude of different types of conservatives, with Phyllis Schlafly and Bill O’Reilly being social conservatives who are often populist in their economic sentiments. So their support for a minimum wage hike was perhaps not nearly as surprising as the media believed. But Thiel is widely regarded as perhaps the staunchest conservative-libertarian in America on economic issues, having been the largest financial backer of Ron Paul in 2012 and considered far harder-core than the Koch brothers. His public sentiments favoring a $12 minimum wage constituted an ideological thunderclap, and was treated as such, generating major articles in ThinkProgress and the Huffington Post, and quickly generating over 700 Tweets, nearly twice the number of the Bloomberg piece on Walmart, perhaps because Thiel’s minimum wage support was twice as astonishing as the pro-hike sentiments of our top corporate retailer.

Around the same time, Debra Saunders, one of California’s most prominent Republican-leading columnists, wrote a piece treating my arguments in favor of my California initiative in very respectful fashion and the Los Angeles Times just this morning released a major Q&A with me on the same subject. Also, an Associated Press feature with the provocative title “5 Tycoons Who Want to Close the Wealth Gap” just ran in a large number of publications; although I was enormously flattered at being included in the august company of Warren Buffett, I must emphasize that my own personal wealth is so microscopic compared to Oracle of Omaha that I found the juxtaposition more humorous and ironic than anything else.

Finally, the latest issue of the Weekly Standard carried a 2,000 word article by Irwin Stelzer, director of economic policy at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, in which he endorses the minimum wage hike proposed by the Democrats in Congress and rebuts the contrary arguments based on the CBO report. My impression is that Stelzer has always been quite close to Rupert Murdoch, which raises the intriguing question of whether public endorsements by the Wall Street Journal and Fox News can be far behind. One might suggest investing in a life-insurance policy on Speaker John Boehner, except that such contracts rarely allow payouts for suicide.

Meanwhile, the growing cries of man-bitten dogs continue to echo across the land. At this rate, the major news media may soon revise its preconceptions and conclude that supporting a minimum wage hike is just another typical conservative position similar to opposing gun control.

 
• Category: Economics, Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, Minimum Wage 
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  1. It’s really been astonishing how rapidly your ballot initiative has made an impact by fueling a national debate over raising the minimum wage.

    Unfortunately, academic economists are still largely adamantly opposed to boosting the minimum wage and instead support increased entitlements and wage subsidies, either to individuals or to employers. They even prefer a national guaranteed income over a moderate increase in the minimum wage.

    Thiel’s ideological comrade Tyler Cowen is a particularly odious opponent of your proposal. On the one hand he projects a future in which as he puts it in his latest book, “The Average is Over” for the middle class, and Americans will have to get used to living cheaply like their Latin American neighbors on rice and beans, and on the other hand he also sheds crocodile tears for the unemployed over raising the minimum wage by a few bucks.

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  2. Therapsid, I doubt Unz’s ballot initiative is fueling the national debate. Obama recommended raising the minimum wage in his 2013 State of the Union address:

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/12/remarks-president-state-union-address

    And shortly before Unz submitted his ballot initiative, Obama endorsed a $10 minimum wage:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/08/business/10-minimum-wage-proposal-has-obamas-backing.html

  3. NB – I thought you were only interested in attacking Unz’s article on “The Myth of American Meritocracy”? I didn’t know you had an interest in any other issue, whatsoever.

    Anyone who follows movement conservatism in this country can see with their own two eyes that suddenly prominent people on the the mainstream right have come out in favor of raising the minimum wage. This would have been unthinkable were it not for the efforts of the editor of this website to articulate a conservative defense of a living wage.

  4. Raising the minimum wage may cause more citizens to be hired over cheaper foreign labor.
    However, I would prefer an immigration moratorium more than a wage hike.
    Ann Coulter has also made this same argument.

    regards,
    Delmar Jackson

  5. Bravo, Unz! Now this is proper conservatism – well-argued, well-researched, realistic in that it avoids rabid ideology and shoots for straight self-interest on all sides, and true to America’s traditional high-wage technology-intensive economy! Your campaign is – perhaps – rapidly developing into the best thing to have happened in American politics in recent years.

    Keep pushing and godspeed.

  6. NB, the man-bite-dog aspect of Ron Unz’ proposal for a higher minimum wage was that it was now conservatives advocating it – in Unz’ case far beyond the President’s weak lip service. It seems that unlike poseurs Mr. Unz is not afraid of “pissing off too many powerful people” and not only tells it like he thinks it really ought to be, but takes action to make it so, too.

  7. I favor a minimum wage increase to $12/hr and, perhaps, to $15/hr because I am an automation engineer (system integrator) and will personally benefit from the increases in automation that will result from such a policy.

  8. I have grave doubts about Unz’s proposal having the desire effect on immigration.

    That said, conservatives are foolish in allowing themselves to be cast as the scrooges in issues like this. Modest increases in the minimum wage are essentially harmless to the overall economy and do help marginal earners.

    Why a much higher minimum wage would not be a magnet for more illegals is a mystery to me. We don’t enforce our immigration laws now. Why imagine that we will in the future?

  9. Therapsid, you stated, “It’s really been astonishing how rapidly [Unz's] ballot initiative has made an impact by fueling a national debate over raising the minimum wage.” This is a rather dubious claim for the reasons I stated in my comment; had you limited your remark to Unz’s impact on conservatives, I’d not have challenged your statement.

    You describe my critique of Unz’s “Myth of American Meritocracy” article as an “attack,” implying that my rebuttal is somehow unjustified or untoward. Can you please note any erroneous statements or flawed methodologies in my critique?

  10. Note the other advantages:

    1. More income means more local sales tax revenue.
    2. More social security taxes collected.
    3. Less welfare related payments.
    4. Better service at local businesses.
    5. More income tax collected. It is true that most most pay nothing, but some is earned by spouses of middle income earners, so their income tax is boosted.
    6. More prestige doing America’s hard work.
    7. More Americans applying for jobs that we are told “Americans don’t want to do.”
    8. More incentive to move from welfare to work.

    And all the BS about fewer jobs is BS. Minimum wage workers are the workhorses. Its not like Wendy’s has guys loitering in the back that will be laid off should wages rise. A tiny amount will be lost as some small business owners decide to do more of their own work, but overall, things are better for all. Take a poll among minimum wage workers to see if they are concerned about job losses to due higher wages, and the will laugh at the idea. They know they are needed.

    If the Republicans want to save their party, they should embrace this issue, supported by 70% of Americans. Reward work over welfare! Stop this selfish, screw the poor folks policy because I don’t want to pay 2% for more for my unhealthy fast food. In many areas of our nation, a full-time minimum wage worker doesn’t even earn enough to pay for an apartment!

  11. I’m dubious about the minimal impact on prices you assert in some of your articles, but at least you aren’t out there with the left wing dreamers who think we can simply raise wages using the money from “their profits.” On the other hand, consumers would have to actually, albeit indirectly, pay for our social safety net; as opposed to our congressional vote-whores running up the deficit still higher.

    I’m also dubious about minimal impact on jobs that you likewise assert. The end of the Bracero program showed that some “Manuel labor” can indeed be automated away, once higher labor costs make the investment feasible.

    I fully support the idea that a higher minimum wage will cut back on illegal immigration, provided we remove the exceptions that currently apply to many low-wage jobs in hospitality and agriculture.

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