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In my last column I had noted that the national debate over poverty and inequality had drawn a peculiar response from mainstream conservatives. Whereas liberals advocated making work pay by raising the minimum wage, their conservative counterparts proposed raising welfare payments instead.
Sometimes this position was explicit, as when economist Martin Feldstein took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to argue that American wages and welfare should be merged into a single, seamless system able to provide a decent living for everyone in our country. More often, conservative critics of raising the minimum wage have been far less candid, touting the benefits of the EITC, without admitting that it constitutes America’s largest cash-welfare system in thin disguise, whereby the government renders working-poor households somewhat less poor by sending them annual checks based on a complex formula.
The notion of individuals and businesses carrying their own weight seems just as alien to the sort of present-day Republicans whose perspectives are welcome within the confines of the elite media. For example, a long New York Times column by Prof. Gregory Mankiw, a former top economic advisor to President George W. Bush, suggested that it was unfair and morally wrong to expect businesses to cover the costs of their own employees since the responsibility was obviously that of our society as a whole. Whereas Hillary Clinton famously declared that “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child,” the sort of thinkers who will probably be advising her Republican opponent in 2016 are suggesting that “It Takes an Entire Country to Run a Business” (or at least to pay the business’s employees). Back when I was younger, I think this notion was called “Communism,” but these days it’s considered Mainstream Republicanism.
Under Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party praised the benefits of working for wages and denounced collecting welfare checks, but his lobbyist-ridden epigones have completely reversed that popular message, then wondered why their popularity has sharply declined.
Some of the claims made by the more fervent opponents of the minimum wage are simply bizarre. On FoxNews, economist Art Laffer suggested that minimum wage laws were a direct attack against black American workers and urged that they be abolished. Indeed, doctrinaire libertarians have even suggested that minimum wage laws are inherently “racist” and morally repugnant regardless of their actual economic impact. The vast majority of ordinary Americans might regard these views as bordering on insanity, but they represent a substantial and highly influential element within today’s Republican Party.
Still, there yet remain a few hardcore Reaganites around, who have not yet received the memo that what’s good for low-wage business lobbyists is good for America, and one of them is longtime conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, who at age 89 is just a bit too old to be persuaded that advocating higher welfare payments is what all good conservatives should be doing. In a forceful column entitled “Minimum Wage and Welfare: The Tradeoff,” the redoubtable Mrs.—never Ms.—Schlafly points out that a big hike in the minimum wage would automatically produce large cuts in existing social welfare programs and hence save ordinary taxpayers huge sums of money. Making work pay while cutting welfare and taxes seems like a pretty effective campaign theme to me, and perhaps Schlafly should consider entering the presidential primaries, naturally on the Democratic side.
But once we move beyond those Republican appartchicks who are endlessly wined-and-dined by business lobbyists or have made their entire careers within the lavishly funded bubble of Conservativism, Inc., the ideological landscape changes quite drastically, along with attitudes towards the minimum wage. After all, when Feldstein and Mankiw argue that “society” should cover the costs of workers rather than the businesses that employ them, independent-minded conservatives know perfectly well who will be taxed to pay for Mr. Society’s generous largesse.
These days the Internet is brimming with neo-reactionary opinionators, whose bitter hatred for establishment conservatives pours forth in every sentence. Being largely unfunded, they mince few words in providing their hardcore views on a whole range of issues, often laced with a sharp racialist tinge, thereby expressing perspectives that would leave a Reagan or a Schlafly looking like a George McGovern. And over the last couple of years this rightwing blogger community has begun expressing strong support—enthusiasm actually—for my proposal of a very large hike in the minimum wage, just as I had suggested they would in my long 2011 article. Rather than being an incongruity, “Rightwingers for Higher Wages” seems a powerful ideological trend.
Almost from the moment in 2011 that I first outlined the widespread benefits of a $12 minimum wage, the proposal was taken up and treated in very respectful, even favorable, fashion by many of the writers grouped around VDare.com, the hardcore anti-immigrationist website, with Steve Sailer writing several columns discussing the idea, and John Derbyshire, James Fulford, and Peter Brimelow also weighing in. But many years of FoxNews attacks on the minimum wage had taken a toll with rank-and-file rightwingers, and the hundreds of anonymous commentators on the resulting discussion threads were overwhelmingly hostile to this notion of a minimum wage hike. Radical changes in worldview require a little time to simmer.
Two years provides plenty of such simmering time and when the media coverage of my $12 per hour California minimum wage initiative moved the topic back to the forefront of the rightwing blogosphere a few weeks ago, the discussion was transformed. Once again, Steve Sailer ran a long blog post on the topic, reprinting my New York Times column, and a follow-up but this time the reaction of his commenters seemed overwhelmingly favorable rather than hostile.
Rightwing libertarian Randall Parker ran a piece on the crucial importance of a big hike in the minimum wage, saying that although he’d much prefer a $15 figure, $12 was still an important step in the right direction. Anthropologist Peter Frost devoted several paragraphs of his year-end science round-up to the minimum wage issue, strongly endorsing a higher figure and accusing conservative opponents of being shills for big business. HalfSigma, now rechristened “Lion of the Blogosphere,” published a couple of posts as well, taking a similar position, as did Audacious Epigone.
Posts by rightwing bloggers generate long threads of angry rightwing commentary, and in all these cases a strong majority of that commentary endorsed the big minimum wage hike, with the discordant voices sometimes being ridiculed as gullible idiots or told to “go back to RedState.com.” One of the highly insulting terms that hardcore rightwingers apply to mainstream conservatives is “Fox-tards” and these days opposing a $12 minimum wage may get you branded with that sort of epithet.
The rightwingers in question have hardly altered their strident ideological framework nor their low opinion of America’s “underprivileged” and I urge liberals of tender sentiments to avoid reading the commentary in question lest their own support for a higher minimum wage be severely shaken. But it seems to me that so long as activists of the Left and the Right can agree on implementing exactly the same policy proposal, even if for different and possibly opposite motives, a useful alliance might exist. As I’ve suggested in the past, if a Jeff Sessions in the Senate were to propose a $12 minimum wage—for whatever reasons— that would certainly provide a great deal of ideological cover for his liberal colleagues to do the same.
Meanwhile, some of the more mainstream conservative critics of a minimum wage hike are certainly living up to their “Fox-tard” reputation. For example, National Review’s Jim Geraghty just ran a column ridiculing the impact of a $10.10 minimum wage by pointing out that only 1.1% of American workers earn the current minimum wage of $7.25. He argued that since such a tiny number of workers likely to benefit from the proposed change, Obama and the Democrats were merely engaging in populist demagoguery on the issue, and his absurdly innumerate reasoning was Tweeted out to a vast audience of fellow “Fox-tards,” probably numbering a million or more. As it happens, almost 31% of American wage-earners would get a raise under a $10.10 minimum wage, and 31% is considerably larger than 1.1% but statistics do tend to confuse some people.
The careless words or careless thinking of Republicans do sometimes get them into trouble, especially if they follow certain ideas to their logical conclusions.
After all, it is totally obvious that every argument currently advanced against the idea of raising the minimum wage is an equally strong argument for lowering it, but individuals who take that position quickly regret doing so. Just a few days ago, the media reported that a wealthy Republican financier running for governor of Illinois had told an audience that his state needed to cut its minimum wage to regain economic competitiveness, and that “pro-poverty” suggestion seems likely to swamp his candidacy, notwithstanding his desperate retraction and even his newfound support for a federal $10 minimum wage.
Meanwhile, Democrats running on a higher minimum wage certainly seem to have the wind at their backs, finding an overwhelmingly positive public reaction in contrast to the endless complaints about Obamacare, with its 2,000 pages of totally incomprehensive regulations. My own Los Angeles Times column from a few days has been widely Tweeted out in Democratic Party circles, and I was pleased to see the interim Mayor of San Diego quoting some of my writings from last year in his own piece endorsing a minimum wage hike.
Just a couple of months ago my DC friends working on the minimum wage issue had lamented that their efforts had reached an impasse, with the leading Democrats in Congress having lost all interest in the subject and no longer willing to even return their phone calls. But just a few weeks later, the American political landscape has been transformed, and raising the minimum wage is now front and center on every Democrat’s radar screen.
Consider, for example, the worshipful profile of Ronan Farrow, son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, that ran in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Under normal circumstances, 26-year-old graduate students lacking any major accomplishments are not suddenly offered their own daily MSNBC cable news shows to host, but celebrity-princelings follow a different career-track, and young Farrow is now reaching millions of Americans each day with his punditry on politics and public policy. According to the article, the first topic that came to his lips was the blatant unfairness of America’s social and economic inequality, and he argued that raising the federal minimum wage represents a crucial part of any solution. Perhaps I’m a bit too cynical, but I’d suspect that just a few months ago, the minimum wage and the notion of hiking it would never have entered his head, and the causes attracting his outrage would have been the need to combat Global Warming or the sad plight of America’s transgendered teens.
But for the moment at least, the minimum wage has become a very fashionable cause for America’s trendy elites, and I’m grateful for this fortuitous situation.