False Prophets of Mammon, the Real Non-Negotiables, and the Real Politics of Envy

False Prophets of Mammon, the Real Non-Negotiables, and the Real Politics of Envy June 3, 2015

To begin with:

Why can’t our rising generation do this anymore?:

The result is what analysts are calling the hourglass economy where the wealthy do well, those with low-incomes fare poorly, and the middle-class disappears. Others have described the most recent income trends as the Great Slide where more and more Americans fall out of the middle-class because of job loss, rising foreclosure, and dwindling savings for retirement.

In contrast to such insanity, the Church urges a living wage (Rerum Novarum 45-46).

What’s a living wage? A living wage fulfills four criteria:
1. Families in general seem to be living at a standard of decency appropriate to their society;
2. They do so without working undue hours;
3. They do so without wives being forced to work outside the home or children forced to work inappropriate hours or under inappropriate conditions (if they choose to do so, that’s another story);
4. They do so without undue reliance on government support or consumer credit.

And the Church repeats this call for a living wage constantly:

Pope John XXIII, Pacem et Terris, (11 Apr, 1963), 20. “The worker is likewise entitled to a wage that is determined in accordance with the precepts of justice. This needs stressing. The amount a worker receives must be sufficient, in proportion to available funds, to allow him and his family a standard of living consistent with human dignity.”;

Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, (15 May, 1961), 18 “They concern first of all the question of work, which must be regarded not merely as a commodity, but as a specifically human activity. In the majority of cases a man’s work is his sole means of livelihood. Its remuneration, therefore, cannot be made to depend on the state of the market. It must be determined by the laws of justice and equity. Any other procedure would be a clear violation of justice, even supposing the contract of work to have been freely entered into by both parties.”;

Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, (15 May, 1961), 71 “It must be determined in accordance with justice and equity; which means that workers must be paid a wage which allows them to live a truly human life and to fulfill their family obligations in a worthy manner.”

Nowhere in the United States can people making minimum wage possibly afford a 2 bedroom apartment. If you are one of the many who have been trained to think that the only Catholic Social Teaching that matters is abortion, let me put it this way: What this translates into is immense pressure to abort when new families are holding down two and three jobs to barely keep their noses above water, or when dad can’t take it and ditches the family.

So some people (many of us motivated precisely by Church teaching) advocate, as a small measure to improve the lot of the working poor and alleviate pressure to abort, a raise in the minimum wage. It’s not a panacaea, but it’s a step in the right direction. If you care about preventing abortion, you should care about this.

But the response from the reliably wrong Movement Conservative is not “Abortion is a non-negotiable!  If this will help reduce abortion rates, I’m all for it!”.  Instead, it is a reliably cocky demand that we trust in his infallible prophetic powers and pull out the stops to prevent a raise in the minimum wage. It will hurt the economy. Job loss! Replacement by robots. Business driven into bankruptcy! Ruin! Be very afraid. We just know this. Trust us!

Now before being stampeded by such folks remember: you are listening to the same people who have been so wrong about so much so many times for so long that nobody should trust them to predict a coin toss, much less this. We are talking about people who predicted a glorious outcome to the Iraq War. People who hailed Cliven Bundy as a folk hero. People who, just last month, were foretelling that Obama was going to invade the southwest with a  massive force of 1200 people, declare martial law, and seize everybody’s guns.  People who labored for years to say that torture was perfectly compatible with Catholic teaching. People who are reliably wrong in ways visible from the International Space Station. Gas was going to be $5.45 per gallon by 1/1/15. Unemployment was supposed to be stuck at over 8%. The stock market was supposed to crash. The entire U.S. economy was supposed to collapse. Remember these guys?:


Or this guy?:

Kristol wrong

Or the fact that they lied even to themselves in order to fend off the blandishments of reality with “math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better”?

In short, here is the conservative prophetic track record compared to the Church’s: When Bush assured him the war would be quick and easily won, Cardinal Pio Laghi told him “that three things would happen if the United States went to war… First, it would cause many deaths and injuries on both sides. Secondly, it would result in civil war. And, thirdly, the United States might know how to get into a war, but it would have great difficulty getting out of one.”.

So, given the choice between the Church’s cloud cuckoo land, pie in the sky teaching and the hard-headed, rock solid prophetic powers of the Wrong About Everything Party, I think the obvious and prudent choice is to listen to the Church and not to the Wrong About Everything Party. For the hard-headed, rock solid fact is that, in opposing the call for a raise in the minimum wage, that Party repeatedly offers prophecy and nothing but prophecy as the evidence for their case.

But we don’t need prophecy. We have, you know, data and facts and stuff showing that raising the minumum wage actually helps the economy and has done so repeatedly–in, like, real places in the Real World. Because taking a step toward living out the Church’s social doctrine (in this case, a living wage for workers) turns out to lead to blessing, just as God promises.

I pointed this out recently to some of my readers elsewhere who had been strenuously arguing against raising the minimum wage.  She, like many others opposing this small but sensible move, claimed to be “prolife”.  Yet when shown that the minimum wage hike was both beneficial and helps reduce pressure to abort, she (like so many other allegedly “prolife” conservatives) suddenly changed her tack and said that she didn’t see what good it would do since only 3% of workers are on minimum wage. Why all this fuss over the minimum wage?  Why not focus on abortion instead?

It was a remarkably revealing thing to say when you think about it. It meant the following:

a) Sure the minimum wage raise works in reality. But will it work in theory? What matters more than responding to facts is clinging to massively imprudent manmade dogma. (This from the subculture that based its whole rejection of the Church’s urging to avoid war on the claim that “prudential judgement” meant we could blow off the warnings of two popes and all the world’s bishops because the “real world” wisdom of the Bush Administration and the War Party knew better than the Ivory Tower Magisterium). She was as impervious to fact as a Soviet shooting “counter-revolutionary weather forecasters” because they didn’t fit the Five Year Plan. It is something we see being repeated wherever Movement Conservative dogma triumphs over reality in Louisiana, Kansas, and Wisconsin.

b) Those 3% people and their unborn children don’t matter. Forget the lost sheep and attend only to the ninety and nine. Screw the least of these.

c) I will now use the unborn as human shields for changing the subject and leaving the working poor destitute (even though that means a much greater pressure for them to abort).

d) Whatever I *say* about abortion being a “non-negotiable”, my *real* Pearl of Great Price is making sure that not the tiniest penny is sacrificed to the poor by the rich who refuse the working poor a just and living wage.

In this, she was backed by the very highest leadership in the supposed “Party of Life”.  Indeed, that leadership has made clear its bitter envy of every penny the poor have to the degree that John Boehner said he would commit suicide before raising the minimum wage. Message: the wages of 3% of the work force are “trivial”–and we would rather die than relinquish one penny to them.  That is the real Politics of Envy, and it shows the real bottom line: Namely, Abortion is not the non-negotiable for people who make such arguments. No, the real non-negotiable is the superstition that the paymaster, not the worker, is the rightful owner of the worker’s just wages. And that is a superstition denied throughout the history of the Church, to the degree that two of the Four Sins that Cry to Heaven for Vengeance are oppression of the poor, and defrauding workers of their just wages:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are motheaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure* for the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you. (Jas 5:1–6).

St. Ambrose: “You are not making a gift of your possessions to poor persons. You are handing over to them what is theirs. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.”

St. John Chrysostom: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”

St. Gregory the Great: “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”

St. Gregory the Great: “For if everyone receiving what is sufficient for his own necessity would leave what remains to the needy, there would be no rich or poor.”

St. Basil: “Are not thou then a robber, for counting as thine own what thou hast receivest to distribute? It is the bread of the famished which thou receivest, the garment of the naked which thou hoardest in thy chest, the shoe of the barefooted which rots in thy possessions, the money of the pennyless which thou hast buried in the earth. Wherefore then dost thou injure so many to whom thou mightest be a benefactor.”

St. Bede: “He then who wishes to be rich toward God, will not lay up treasures for himself, but distribute his possessions to the poor.”

Leo XII: “Every person has by nature the right to possess property as his or her own […] But if the question be asked: How must one’s possessions be used?, the Church replies without hesitation in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: ‘One should not consider one’s material possessions as one’s own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when other are in need.’ […] True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for one’s own needs and those of one’s household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly one’s condition in life. […] But when what necessity demands has been supplied and one’s standing fairly provided for, it becomes a duty to give to the needy out of what remains over.”

Pius XI: “The right to own private property has been given to the human by nature, or rather by the Creator himself […] At the same time a person’s superfluous income is not left entirely to one’s own discretion. […] On the contrary, the grave obligations of charity, beneficence and liberality, which rest upon the wealthy are constantly insisted upon in telling words by Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. However, the investment of superfluous income in secureing favorable opportunities for employment […] is to be considered […] an act of real liberality, particularly appropriate to the needs of our time.”

Gaudium et Spes : “God has intended the earth and all that it contains for the use of all people and all peoples. Hence justice, accompanied by charity, must so regulate the distribution of created goods that they are actually available to all in an equitable measure. […] Therefore, in using them everyone should consider legitimate possessions not only as their own but also as common property, in the sense that they should be able to profit not only themselves but other people as well. Moreover, all have the right to possess a share of earthly goods sufficient for themselves and their families. This is what the Fathers and Doctors of the Church had in mind when teaching that people are obliged to come to the aid of the poor, and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods.”

Paul VI: “Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right. No one is justified in keeping for one’s exclusive use what one does not need, when others lack necessities.”

John Paul II: “It will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as people – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.”

When all this is pointed out, the next tactic trotted out to justify denying a living wage is this extremely popular sleight of hand (from the Young Conservative site which boasts that “Sarah Palin Decimates Fast Food Workers Complaining About the Minimum Wage“:

You can find variations on this beloved meme repeated hundreds of times across the Interwebz.  It is a lie.  Here is how the lie works:  It is designed to make you hate unskilled workers as lazy, selfish cowards by comparing them to Revered Uniformed Authority Figures who are also underpaid. What it never ever does is state the obvious point that the real selfish cowards are those who underpay both the Revered Uniformed Authority Figures and the unskilled worker. It is a deliberate sleight of hand and a lie designed to misdirect your anger away from those responsible for the sin that cries to heaven for vengeance and toward the one person who has the least power to help the Revered Uniformed Authority Figure. It is deliberately designed to keep you from asking why both the Revered Uniformed Authority Figure and the unskilled worker do not receive a living wage. In short, ask yourself “Cui bono?” Who benefits from this meme and the zillions like it? Not the underpaid workers *nor* soldiers. Only those who refuse them the living wage the Faith demands. Only those committing the sin that cries to heaven for vengeance.  Don’t get played.

Now the crowning irony of all this is that, very often, the people getting played are, themselves, the people most oppressed and cheated by these lies. Again and again I hear from people who tell me they work for minimum wage, hold down two jobs, barely get by, and are, as the phrase goes “poor but proud” and reject this “socialist” stuff.  This is something deep in the American spirit and it is, in one sense, profoundly admirable.  It was John Steinbeck who once remarked that “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

The problem lies in the fact that Church teaching is not socialism, but is constantly cast as socialism by Movement Conservatives whose interest is in neither the Church’s teaching nor in the unborn, but in preserving the perks of the rich who deny a living wage.

This is not sustainable, for the reason given in the top graphic. And if it doesn’t change and soon, the Social Darwinists who casually declare that “In life there are winners and losers” as they write off the increasing percentages of the poor and eroding middle class are going to be faced with violence. That’s not something I hope for. It’s something I dread. But it is something inevitable if we do not find a way to change the present course we are on. As JFK said, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

All of which is to say, yet again, that the way out of our troubles here, as in so many other areas, is to listen to and learn from the Church and evaluate our politics and economics in light of it, rather than to cannibalize Church teaching in order to accessorize our politics and economics. One way to do that is buckle down and read the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Or if that seems too daunting, consider taking a look at a little series I am writing for the Register that sketches the four pillars of Catholic Social Teaching: The Dignity of the Human Person, the Common Good, Subsidiarity, and Solidarity.

There so much goodness in the Church’s teaching and it is such folly to ignore it.

18 “Come now, let us reason together,
says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,

you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Is 1:18–20)

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  • EK Dagenfield

    The idea that only 3% of the workforce works for minimum wage is a red herring in the face of a minimum wage hike to the proposed $15. According to this Fortune article (http://fortune.com/2015/04/13/who-makes-15-per-hour/), a Federal minimum wage increase to $15/hr would benefit 42% of all workers. Forty. Two. Effing. Percent. To further extrapolate that number, nearly half of all workers in the United States make less than $31,000 a year. But John Boehner would rather kill himself than see that change.

    • You seem to think that this is a feature, not a bug.

      Distorting the wages of the lowest paid so they get a living wage when all other options are exhausted has a reasonable Catholic argument. I think that it’s ultimately a losing argument for stewardship reasons 9 times out of ten but it’s legitimate. Distorting the wages of the middle class who are already earning far above a living wage has a much weaker justification from a Catholic perspective.

  • zebbart

    I agree wholeheartedly in principal, but wouldn’t a government wage subsidy be more just than a minimum wage? Why should the corner store feel the pinch but the software developer not? A wage subsidy paid for by a wealth tax would actually take from the rich their excess and return it to its rightful owners, where a minimum wage would take from a lot of small business owners who themselves are probably making minimum wage when you look at the hours they work. Plus say a $10/hr wage subsidy would allow me to pay a disabled neighbor $3/hr to sweep the sidewalk or greet customers where at $15/hr I might leave those jobs undone and those neighbors unemployed. Of course a minimum wage hike would be a positive change from what we have now and maybe more achievable, so I support it, but I don’t think it is exactly what justice calls for.

    • Doyle

      DO you really think that taxes from the government will, “return it to its rightful owners”?


      “So where did all that sweet stimulus money go? Of the money spent in swing state Wisconsin, 80 percent went to public sector unions-those with already locked-in jobs. In fact, right-to-work states got $266 less per person in stimulus money than heavily unionized states. Where Democrats had a vast majority of representatives, their states got $460 per person more.”

      • zebbart

        If someone got thousands of dollars of your money by unjust means wouldn’t you wan the state to step in and return your money? Possible present circumstances of corruption don’t change the fact that it is the function of the state to establish justice and return misappropriated property to its rightful owners.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      I agree wholeheartedly in principal, but wouldn’t a government wage subsidy be more just than a minimum wage?

      Steven Lansburg – perhaps the freshest of the freshwater economists – expresses this concern at more length. It’s worth a read.

      I tend to agree with Lansburg that the effects of the minimum wage on employment are small, although I don’t agree that the difference between having a minimum wage job and having no job at all is so negligible that we shouldn’t care about the job losses that do result. I also share Landsburg’s concern that the financial burden of lifting the working poor out of poverty should not be concentrated among those who happen to run low-margin businesses that employ low-skill workers. Poverty is everyone’s problem; it’s not solely the lawn-cutting service and fast-food owner’s responsibility to fix.

      However, my primary concern about the minimum wage is that it could be another one of those worker-protection laws than functions as the Wal-Mart Market Share Expansion Act. As with most regulations, it’s easier for Wal-Mart to comply and eat the short-term costs. All employers will feel the pinch if they have to pay their employees more. That pinch might be small. But while Wal-Mart can tolerate the losses for a while, the neighborhood store can’t. So the latter closes. Fortunately those workers still can get jobs… at Wal-Mart, which now controls even more of the market.

      • Andy

        Thank you for your perspective. I had not thought of the implications that Walmart for example could come to control more market share because it can absorb the increase in salaries more readily. It leads to created concentration of control and I would guess a later reduction in salary as Walmart will be the only option.

      • Hezekiah Garrett

        Thanks for bringing good sense to this discussion. Usually it’s just TM Lutas and Martha Lepine. Solving the problems of poverty and wealth concentration will absolutely require more.

  • The amount of economic stupidity encased in this post is astonishing. Oh, not what the Church is saying, just all the other stuff that’s shoehorned in this post.

    Economics is about discovering the truth about where, when, and how to deploy the material resources and labor available to greatest effect. The baseline truth is that we don’t have enough stuff to guarantee a middle class lifestyle to everybody in the world. To achieve that we have a great deal of growth that is needed. If all you want is to achieve local decent conditions, you can apply tariff and other economic barriers at the border that result in lower growth and living standards overall so that we can benefit from artificially concentrated wealth in this country. But don’t worry, hardly anyone who cares about the poor will notice how that prosperity in the US is purchased with an increase in global misery. If you don’t put up barriers, investor money will flee to other countries along with the jobs that money funds. This way lies Europe where lavish benefits and great wages in theory are covering up a world where more and more people only can find work in 3 month stretches via contracts and unemployment is rampant.

    The only way to achieve actual prosperity without exporting misery is to persistently increase labor demand while reducing labor supply. This leads to a bidding up of free market wages to the point where full time workers have a living wage and employment is reduced to the frictional rate (frictional unemployment is “good” unemployment).

    You increase labor demand by legalizing work that is currently malum prohibitum, banned work that is not in itself sinful. It’s also possible to increase labor demand by focusing on inventing new things and creating new companies. We simply do not understand how much economic activity has to be banned in order to drive wages where they are today so that so many are below a living wage. It is this banning of economic activity that drives wages down. But minimum wage advocates want to leave all that economic activity banned and achieve a living wage by also illegalizing the market labor rate, an act that distorts the markets even further and yields poorer economic choices.

    You reduce labor supply by diverting people from solely earning their daily bread via the labor market and moving at least partially into the investing world where they enhance people’s ability to increase labor demand. This means reducing the friction to invest and regularizing the legal status of the possessions of the poor so they can be pledged as collateral.

    • Doyle

      This sounds interesting. Do you have links that go into more depth?

      • This is all Economics 101 (purpose of economics, supply and demand interplay) plus a couple of observations.
        1. that the labor market *is a market* and all laborers are producers in it.
        2. that the capital market *is a market* and all savers are producers in it.

        These observations look very banal to me but I have to return to them time and time again because so many of us simply don’t act as if these two markets are normal markets.

        The social justice concept of a living wage is something that we purchase or we don’t as a society. When we choose to purchase growing house equity, large lot sizes, peace and quiet instead of commercial hustle and bustle, a lessening of our competitors in economic activity, and all the other things that are indirect competitors to the good of a living wage, we alter the prices produced by the markets. The Church is asking us to optimize for a living wage instead, which is just. We have a duty of stewardship to buy a living wage efficiently, which means in a free market way.

        You need to ask “what are we buying instead of a living wage” and you won’t go far wrong. There is a long list of policy choices that optimize against a living wage. Individually they don’t move the needle much but there are so many of them and they appear on all levels of government.

        • Matt Talbot

          TM – here’s the “Market” for labor, absent some counter-balancing force to stand up for labor (all of which I’m sure you oppose):

          Worker: “Hey, Boss. Looks like the company is thriving – I was hoping I could get a raise.”

          Boss: “What business is our profits to you?”

          Worker: “Well, me and some of the other guys just thought–”

          Boss: “‘…the other guys’? Are you trying to make trouble, Peabody?”

          Worker: “No, sir. It’s just that a lot of us feel that–”

          Boss: “Don’t speak for anyone but yourself, Peabody. Now, look. I realize you work hard, and I appreciate that. But the thing is, my second yacht needs a helipad, plus the vacation house on the Riviera… Not to mention, our shareholders will kill me if I spend more money on wages. Let’s talk again next year.”

          Worker: “But sir, I can barely feed my family as things stand right now. What am I supposed to–”

          Boss: “Peabody, I have work to do – show yourself out. Oh, and if I catch wind of you stirring up trouble among your co-workers again, you’ll be looking for another job. Do we understand each other?”

          Worker: “Yes sir, better than I ever have before.”

          • If Peabody wants to participate in the success of the business, he should ask for some of his wage in stock. Companies are usually happy to do so. What Peabody is proposing is to take advantage in the good times but not give back his gains in the hard times.

            You are wrong about my position on standing up for labor. I have a nice model for a modern labor organization that would have little trouble organizing the “problem children” like Walmart but I don’t deploy the thing because I would be competing with traditional labor unions and I don’t feel like getting my legs broken. There is zero reason why a new entrant labor organization couldn’t deploy the “freemium” model except for the fear of violence from incumbent competitors. Now, if you think I’m wrong about union violence and if you please, you can deploy the thing yourself.

            • Matt Talbot

              As a practical matter, Peabody can’t spend “stock” on groceries, TM.

              The thing is, increasing labor’s share of income will provide Peabody’s boss with *more customers* – but he doesn’t care because that’s slightly over the horizon from the next quarterly report.

              • As a practical matter, the company offers money three different ways, paying before, during, and after sales. Wages are payments before sales. You trade the security of regular payment for income. Commissions are payment during sales. You make a sale and earn your money and the increase in risk increases compensation. Dividends and stock price increases are payments after sales. If things work well, the payments are the most extensive but you have the highest risk of not being paid at all. For all three payment types, if you oversupply in that category, the money coming back via that category goes down. What you’re seeing as unjust wages is a massive price signal of too many people trying to get low risk compensation.

                Do you object, in principle to the risk/reward trade off? Do you object to pricing signals cheaply informing people that the need is for more of a different category of compensation?

                I want honest pricing signals transmitted and society shifting in response to those signals. In this case that means more capitalists, fewer laborers.

                • Matt Talbot

                  I advocate wages increasing as a portion of national income, which will result in more demand in the economy, and thus more demand for labor.

                  As a bonus, that guy on CNBC will froth at the mouth in gratifying ways.

                  • What you haven’t done is show how to do that without masking pricing signals. Masking pricing signals causes misery, every time.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  By the way, why should a billionaire always expect a high return on his investments? He has more than enough to live very comfortably. Maybe a billionaire who understood the Church teaching on social justice could make some investments into not-for-profit businesses that provide useful services and create jobs with living wages, and bring other benefits through a multiplier effect of the money thus invested. Some such businesses could be, for example, building affordable housing, retirement homes that provide decent quality of life for their clients, some kinds of health services, and these are only a few examples of needs that could be met in such ways. It seems to me that such organizations would be very good for the economy, when we see the economy as existing to serve the people instead of the people being there to serve the economy.

                  • Who says capitalists are billionaires? The more common scenario is that it’s retirement fund money aggregated from tens of thousands of middle and working class investors.

              • Guest

                You can’t spend stock on groceries? There is an entire genre of blogs by people who do exactly that – with a partial sale of their holdings in between, of course.

              • Guest

                PS: Selling the stock might not even be necessary. My dad’s company offers employees periodic chances to buy its privately held stock, which my dad opted to do every time a bonus came out. By the time my younger brother was college age the dividends alone were enough to pay all of his tuition at a private college. (They had also covered his tuition at the Catholic high school we both attended, and the tuition there for me a decade earlier after factoring in a scholarship. It’s a generous dividend, and has fortunately proven to be worth the risk of such a skewed asset allocation.)

            • Hezekiah Garrett

              Please email it to me at bsdnfraje @ yahoo

              I’m not saying I’m heroic enough to try, but it certainly isn’t without its appeal.


    • Dave G.

      Please understand I am no economist. So what do you mean by work that is currently malum prohibitum. I don’t mean translate, I mean examples. I know that our company told us, about five weeks ago, that we just smashed profits and are able to burst into new markets. And then three weeks later gathered us together in a department meeting and told us there would be no raises next year. I also know my wife’s company cut her and a thousand others a few Christmases ago (replaces the Christmas bonus I suppose). And now they will hire her back, but only as a contract worker for a project at a time. Despite the company, based on what I’ve read, doing quite well.

      I also notice that, without any mandatory raises in the minimum wage, products continue to be produced that are slipshod (my boys once asked if I remember a time when ‘good old American craftsmanship’ wasn’t sarcasm), at low quantities and at increasing prices.

      These are things I notice. Again, I don’t know the why. So I’m probably not a good one for a solution. I’ll listen to any solution that will fix problems that seem to be hurting consumer and worker, if not the country as a whole, alike. So if you could unpack that a little, I’d be interested in reading it.

      • Spastic Hedgehog

        I imagine that the malum prohibitum works that Mr. Lucas speaks of are those professions that are difficult to join because of regulation.
        I have mixed feelings about that (as a member of such a profession). The argument that caveat emptor and the free market would weed out those who are either ill suited for the profession or dishonest makes sense in theory: After all, a restaurant where people continually get sick soon goes out of business. But the harm in some cases is so great and the consumer so ill equipped to make a truly informed decision about who is a good “such and such” that I can’t imagine that completely deregulating trade professions would do much good. Sure, more people would enter the market place for work increasing labor demand, but the costs of bad laborers would be born by, yet again, the people who can’t afford it.

        The thing most incredible to me about these conversations is that we lived through a deregulated economy and it was *horrible* for the working class. Sure, it was crony capitalism. But how do you guarantee that a deregulated economy doesn’t lead to crony capitalism again? Corporations, because they’re sole motivator is profit for shareholders, have every incentive to pay the least amount to their workers possible in order to increase profit margins. If the government doesn’t step in, it sets up a race to the bottom to pay the lowest wage possible, even if that wage isn’t a living wage.

        • This sort of licensing is certainly part of what I’m talking about but only a small part. The Institute of Justice’s fight for Louisiana monks to be able to make and sell modest coffins without a funeral director license is an example of licensing gone wild. https://www.ij.org/saint-joseph-abbey-et-al-v-castille-et-al

          Look at the number of licensed professionals over time and the growth astounds most people. I think that we can afford to buy the safety you talk about to a certain extent but not at the cost of a living wage. Hair braiders are a perennial in this category. Do they really need cosmetology licenses?

          We have not lived through a deregulated economy in the information age. The cure is to make more sophisticated labor producers who are able and willing to shift to the capitalist role when there is too much labor supplied. The ‘gig economy’ that is coming and in many cases already arrived can be with a living wage or without. My proposal is for the establishing of a living wage sustainably and efficiently. It’s not for the reintroduction of the gilded age.

          • Spastic Hedgehog

            I’m not quite sure what a hair braider is — I’m assuming that’s like a person who isn’t a hair stylist but is instead like one of those folks you see at a kiosk on the boardwalk in the summer?

            That said, as some one who regularly partakes of cosmetic services (hey, it’s hard to look this naturally beautiful), I do think that hair stylists and barbers generally ought to be licensed. The risk of chemical burns or infection is high if people don’t know how to use their tools. Is a simple kiosk hair braider a cosmetologist? Are there really enough of them that requiring cosmetology licenses is strangling an otherwise lucrative industry? I don’t know.

            I’m not quite sure what to make of your last paragraph. Could you explain a little more about what you’re calling the “gig economy” and how it will raise pressure to pay a living wage (and by extension curb the corporate appetite to increase profits for shareholders)?

      • John S

        Consider the difference in the change in minimum legal living conditions between 1912, and 2012.

        The places and ways in which the working poor lived in 1912 would be declared “uninhabitable” by today’s building inspectors. And that is just one increase in the “height of the gate.” Regulation increases the standard of living, yes, but it also increases the cost of living as well. Carbon taxes sound like a great idea, and the rich could afford them, but the poor also have to pay them, and they won’t find it nearly as easy to pay for that regulatory interference.

        The barriers to entry for labor were lower in 1912, as well. Less automation and less powered machinery meant that someone with no training but a strong back could find work. Today, most manual labor has been minimized by the use of powered equipment and standardized systems design (See: container cargo systems).

        In 1912, the number of men required to load or unload a cargo ship was almost 100 times what it is today. The standardized cargo container system that exists today dramatically reduced both labor numbers, and labor costs. Today, less than 10 men are required to unload a much larger cargo container vessel, and the standardization means that trans-shipment is much cheaper as well.

        While I acknowledge the author’s good intentions, he really should be less judgmental about the political beliefs of his coreligionists, and he shouldn’t paint Catholic Social Justice teaching as synonymous with the policy prescriptions of the Democrat party. The principles of Catholic Social Justice teaching are just that: principles. There are good Catholics who are conservative who follow those principles as well, with different policy prescriptions.

        • ManyMoreSpices

          This, along with the first graphic on this post, raises an question that I’ve been grappling with:

          From a Catholic perspective, was the American economy of fifty years ago fundamentally unjust? In other words, is it wrong to ask a 2015 family to live under the median conditions of American families in 1965? If not, is there a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses principle that the Church says we must adopt?

          The list of 2015 luxuries, conveniences, and even “essentials” that were out-of-reach for the middle class or simply didn’t exist in 1965 is long. Your paycheck goes a lot farther if you’re not paying for cable, cell phone, restaurant meals, chemotherapy, internet, a modern car, and central air conditioning. So if you’re being paid well enough to live like the middle class of 1965, are you being paid a just wage?

          • Hezekiah Garrett

            Some of those are definitely luxuries, but a few of those are fast becoming necessity in this society. Chiefly cell phone (not smartphone ) and internet. Others, like HVAC, are rendered necessary in some climates due to changes in architecture brought about by the almost ubiquitous presence of HVAC. You nearly can’t survive southeastern summertime with 8′ ceilings.

            A lot of the problems facing the poor in this country are regulatory. You can’t build a proper modest house due to code and zoning (and forget shacks like I grew up in! ) You can be a whiz at braiding hair and applying makeup, But without a license…

            Heck, it’s safer to sell illicit drugs on an American street corner than to sell hotdogs at the same location. And if you’re a Chinese family, You can forget delivering the most popular takeout food in America from your home kitchen.

            • ManyMoreSpices

              Let’s use health care as a better example than the ones I used, because that’s been one of the big drivers of wage stagnation (i.e., money that would have gone into year-over-year salary increases goes to pay health insurance premiums).

              There were no MRIs or CT scans in 1965. Chemotherapy was in its infancy. There wasn’t even Advil in the United States. So I’m wondering if there’s a principle that says that if such semi-miraculous technology exists, affording that becomes part of the Living Wage criteria.

              • There is no excuse to hide the fact that you can get a $500 MRI down the street from a $3000 MRI for the same service, but we do, and call the result “free market health care”. That’s a bitter joke. We have regulated the market to the point where it cannot arbitrage away such massive price differences.

            • JM1001

              Interestingly, such barriers were what motivated Joseph Stack to fly a plane into an IRS building back in 2010. It doesn’t justify what he did, of course. But it was telling that that part of the story mostly got ignored.

            • Actually, I would reverse the cellphone/smartphone issue. I just bought $30 smart phones at walmart for my kids. That gives them the tools necessary to become economic producers in a way that a flip phone wouldn’t.

              Providing “grubstake” conditions so that the poor can launch into a dignified economic life is something that we need to do better on. I mostly agree with your observations, it’s just you’re missing that one trick.

              • Hezekiah Garrett

                Oh, I agree, but being reachable by phone 24/7 is an economic necessity for more and more jobs. The cheap smartphone is a better solution, but I was trying to tailor the argument to the audience.

          • Rebecca Fuentes

            Chemotherapy isn’t exactly as optional as much of the rest of that list.

      • Here’s my go to example of malum prohibitum. In hundreds of counties throughout the US, it is illegal to hail a cab off the street. There’s nothing sinful about the activity, it’s just banned. It’s illegal to wait at a train station to pick up a fare by the same law.

        Raises are a labor market function, not a function of profit. If you want to participate in the profit of a company, buy stock in it. If your labor unit costs go too high above other competitors, your function will be outsourced to cheaper methods of giving the company the needed services. This is what is going to hit the fast food workers. Burger flippers at $15 an hour are replaceable by machine. This automation destroys labor demand (replacing it with capital investment) so raising the minimum wage is going to eliminate a lot of jobs.

        Once you view yourself as a producer and the company you work for as your customer, you start to see how absolutely dangerous it is to your production operation to have a full time job with benefits. You become a captive producer. You play the part of Vlasic and your employer plays the part of Walmart. Read the story ( http://www.fastcompany.com/47593/wal-mart-you-dont-know ). Walmart is not evil for wanting to sell a gallon of pickles for $2.97 but it is devastating for Vlasic to play that game. A great many people rationally should differentiate their customer base but they do not view themselves as a labor producer and do these calculations with a large emotional component that clouds their judgment.

    • Mike Petrik

      TM, may God bless you for your heroic patience.

      • In the time I’ve participated here, I’ve learned a great deal. It’s a learning experience. Don’t turn me into some selfless hero that I’m not. That said, I can use all the blessings thrown my way. Thank you.

    • chezami

      Good solid Malthusianism that. Winners and loser. Survival of the fittest. And all this despite the fact that raising the minimum wage works in reality, just not in Conservative theory. Because the *real* non-negotiable is Mammon, not abortion. Meanwhile… https://www.google.com/search?q=USCCB+raise+minimum+wage&oq=USCCB+raise+minimum+wage&aqs=chrome..69i57.9137j0j4&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8

      • There is absolutely nothing malthusian about my argument. You either misunderstand what I wrote or you misunderstand Malthus who is generally wrong in my opinion but you don’t seem to think that we disagree. A minimum wage is a blunt force instrument that is not well suited to creating a living wage. On this, I agree with the USCCB. Where I dissent with the bishops is whether the minimum wage is ever going to establish a living wage regime without producing effects contrary to the teachings of the Church. The link you provided doesn’t go into such details and I wouldn’t expect it to but clearly the document is a product of thinking that there is a way to thread that needle.

        We are in the tail end of an extraordinary time. A billion indians are having their labor freed of the permit raj system. More than a billion chinese are having their labor freed from maoism. This has huge implications for the labor market that literally span decades. Achieving a living wage with actual employment for us all is a very difficult undertaking with such a large increase of labor supply. Chinese businessmen are shifting their business model because China is no longer able to compete with the low labor costs of other countries. This is an extraordinary thing that the bishop’s statement utterly ignores.

        • LFM

          I think Mark may be confusing Malthus with David Ricardo.

          • If that’s the case, he really needs to lay out where Ricardo is wrong so I at least understand his argument.

            • ManyMoreSpices

              I don’t know who Mark is confusing with whom anymore. I just know that Catholic and Enjoying It! turned into DailyKos so gradually I don’t think anyone really noticed.

              • Allen

                I’ve noticed! This blog has become a biased presentation. It’s one thing to present Catholic teachings, but another to attack one party (the Iraq war non-sequitur for example) while ignoring the short failings of the other.

              • I think it’s safe to say that I noticed. Mark has a compellingly lower propensity to ban people and to use four letter words so he’s still several steps above Kos. I noticed that too.

            • LFM

              I meant that Mark may have picked up the “iron wage law” theory, and assumed that you believe in it. Checking just now, I noticed that Wikipedia attributes this theory, or rather its name, to Ferdinand Lasalle, and the concept itself to Malthus, so Mark may be right after all. However, I had always understood that it was first promulgated by David Ricardo.

              • Marthe Lépine

                I have seen some references in more than one Church document that claim it is contrary to justice that wages should not be subject to the market theory, since the economy exists to serve the people, not the other way around.

                • LFM

                  Did you perhaps include a negative here unintentionally? Your statement that the Church says “it is contrary to justice that wages should NOT [my emphasis] be subject to the market theory ” etc. contradicts the other things you have to say on this subject. I assume what you mean is that it is unjust that wages should be subject to market theory?

                  The economy may exist to serve the people but it cannot be compelled to guarantee a just or even a living wage until certain conditions are in place: the rule of law, a steady food supply (i.e. no famine), a slight shortage of labour, a growing economy that enables people to keep buying goods and services, and so on.

                  • Marthe Lépine

                    You are correct, I meant to say that wages should NOT be subject to the market theory, and then changed the beginning of the sentence while forgetting to check the last part of it…

              • Lasalle is probably wrong but his ideas were understandable given the times he lived in.

      • Guest

        Mark, how does it feel to know that your efforts are making people less receptive to Church teaching? Maybe you think you’re a prophet, but you’re really just a stumbling block. At least that’s what I experience.

        The number of people convinced by your name-calling is likely negative. I only offer this because you are clearly a gifted writer, able to take a calm, loving tone in other areas, so perhaps you’ll be able to take the criticism in the spirit in which it was intended.

        Frankly, reading your blog here is almost becoming a near occasion of sin for me.

      • Hezekiah Garrett

        Ridiculous, Mark. You’re name calling, and poorly at that, one of the most honorable free marketeers in existence. Me and Lutas May disagree on a lot, but he’s no Malthusian, and frankly he’s a sincere friend of the poor trying to find really solutions which reinforce our own dignity and abilities to help ourselves.

      • falstaff77

        “…the fact that raising the minimum wage works in reality”

        Fact? From the CBO report:

        …Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent, CBO projects (see the table below). As with any such estimates, however, the actual losses could be smaller or larger; in CBO’s assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers….

        • Patrick

          In fairness to Mr. Shea, he didn’t define what “works” means, so you can’t really complain. Ben Bernanke can say “Central banking works” and he means it…it does work, for him and the rest of the tiny group that central banking benefits hugely, the rest of humanity be damned.

        • Marthe Lépine

          That quote is all about assumptions about what could happen in 2016, which are not facts, since we are still in 2015. They are only the opinions of some people who actually do not have a crystal ball… But are just defending their preconceived ideas.

          • falstaff77

            The minimum wage has not yet been raised by the federal government. The CBO is making a forecast, as it does, on what will happen if the wage is raised. The CBO study is based on economic analysis, to include observation of what has happened in prior forced wage raises.

  • ivan_the_mad

    My political disposition inclines me to be wary of any regulation of wages by the state, but in this matter I think I must defer to the bishops. It is the position of the USCCB to support and advocate both the existence of and increase in the minimum wage; see this backgrounder, from their page on employment.

    Further, as a conservative, all I “reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk”. Benedict XVI concisely states the relationship between the bishops’ advocacy and the realization of this expectation in §35 of Caritas in Veritate: “The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well.”

    • Artevelde

      An interesting post. I was wondering whether you would generally take a positive view on economies that avoid regulating wages by law, but instead try to foster social cohesion by means of principles such as collective bargaining and collective autonomy.
      Perhaps you are right that we – well, *you*:) – should defer to the USCCB’s recommendations, but honestly, I think they are wrong and for this reason: I will never believe that a republic that allows itself to distort worker-employer-relationships to the point of injustice can ever produce a government that can cure it of those illnesses.

      • ivan_the_mad

        I think that’s largely what the social teaching has as its goal, i.e. the establishment of intermediate social institutions, with the classless trade associations being the most relevant to this issue. The Mondragon Corporation is a fantastic example of this. Unfortunately, in the United States, we do not have these strong intermediate institutions, hence the USCCB’s policy position.

        Speaking of, Caritas in Veritate counsels that “it is appropriate to recall how important it is that labour unions — which have always been encouraged and supported by the Church — should be open to the new perspectives that are emerging in the world of work.” US Steelworkers is working with Mondragon to transition from a labor union to a cooperative.

        ETA: Whom does your avatar depict? I do not recognize him.

        • Artevelde

          It is a picture from an old school book, depicting this man:


          I chose the name a long time ago and he’s certainly not a saint, but not a bad choice for a continental Anglophile, I like to think. I’m going to ask you the same question. Who is that and what does he have to do with the nickname of a dead Russian Tsar?

          • ivan_the_mad

            I hadn’t heard of the fellow before. That’s an interesting bit of history.

            The picture is of Hilaire Belloc, one of my very favorite writers. The picture hasn’t got anything to do with my handle, which was a nickname given me by my peers while at university, and the handle doesn’t have anything to do with the Tsar, although the nominal coincidence was noted as humorous.

            • Oh, so that’s itI I’ve long wanted to know what made you “mad.” But was the university responsible, or just your peers?

              (My own avatar is nothing special — a painting by a 19th- century artist named Charpentier. It is supposedly based on the heroine of a George Sand novel. But I just think of the lady in the portrait as my ideal pensive self. It shows up much better when you look at the full-sized version).

  • ManyMoreSpices

    Unemployment was supposed to be stuck at over 8%.

    Odd, in a post about how bad the poor have it and about the necessity of an increase to the minimum wage, to read this Happy Days Are Here Again B.S. about the U-3 unemployment rate. The poor have it bad, unless conservatives say they do, in which case the conservatives are wrong and things are okay.

    And given that we’re not provided with a link or direct quote to anyone who made this 8% prediction (or the $5.45 gas prediction – the biggest I saw from anonymous internet idiots was of $5, and gas did climb north of $4.70 in Los Angeles in 2012, so… even the alarmist morons were pretty close), it’s hard to evaluate it. But U-3 remained above 8% until halfway though 2012. So anyone who predicted it would last that long was — what the word? — correct.

  • Guest

    This is an honest question for anyone with insight. What does “a standard of decency appropriate to their society” mean today? It seems to me that the American standard of living – at least for the “middle class” is one heavily informed by overconsumption, disposable goods, envy, and overall worship of Mammon. Is it possible that that language – not the core principle, but the way it was described – is obsolete after more than a hundred years?

  • LFM

    Let me say first that I believe in high minimum wages, so that people don’t pounce on me for my meanness, in either sense of that word. Now, there are several issues I would like to raise in response to Mark’s post:
    1) Most of the “conservative” discussions I’ve seen about raising the minimum wage in the US do not focus on lazy workers or the need to remain competitive. They discuss the problem of inflation, which is a real issue although inflation can be beneficial if accompanied by increased productivity. They also talk about the problem of driving small businesses out of business, an important issue and one which ties directly into another of Mark’s points, which is:
    2) The problem of the rich getting richer. When you drive small booksellers, drycleaners, grocers etc. out of business by too much regulation (zoning, rent-control, licensing fees etc.) and perhaps a too-high minimum wage that they cannot afford to pay, where do you suppose the demand for those goods or services goes? Straight to the larger corporations that can afford to cope with the regulations, pay the wages, and still provide the same goods or services, probably more cheaply. And so the rich get richer.
    3) About the living wage: what should it be? Should it be higher for heads of families, as it once was, to ensure that women can stay home with their children if they want? But then, how do you pay a “living wage” to families if both husband and wife want to work? Pay both of them the same? Pay one of them less? Neither is practical, unless both spouses work for the same business. Would the unmarried workers in a firm resent being paid less than the “heads of household”? It was resentment over being paid less than men who were or would become heads of household that drove the feminist movement in the early 1960s.
    4) The entry of women into the workforce, so that many households have two incomes, is probably at least partly responsible for the extraordinary rise in the cost of housing since the 1960s. Certainly many went to work because they had to, even then, but their doing so doubled the average household income. When that happens, is it not likely that the price of the average house will double (or more) too? I’m not entirely sure of this point; I never see it discussed by economists or journalists, perhaps because they don’t want to sound like Neanderthals. But I think it must have had some effect.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      #3 & #4 are interesting. If you look at families (or “households”) as the smallest economic unit (rather than individual workers), the causes of inequality and poverty begin to come into sharper focus.

      At one of Mark’s links, a graph shows that during the recession, the income of the lowest 20% of households declined twice as much as the income of the top 20%. Not surprising.

      Now, one of the things that tends to put you in the lowest 20% of households is heading a household as a single parent. It should not surprise us one bit that as the number of households headed by single parents increase, the income inequality of households also increases. It doesn’t matter what you do with the minimum wage; inequality increases as long as the number of single-parent families remains an increasing minority of total households. So if inequality is the real problem (as the Pope tweeted), then we need to do something about single-parent households. This doesn’t mean we can’t also raise the minimum wage. Nor did it mean that rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic provided no comfort benefit to the doomed.

      • LFM

        Yes. That’s another reason for the gradual decline in the mid-level middle class, to coin a phrase. A certain portion of it – the dual-income, two-career couples – gets rich enough to move up into the realm of the upper-middle class, while the single-income families, whether they have two parents or only one, get poorer in comparison, although not necessarily poorer compared to what they might have been 40 years ago. Housing and education are certainly more expensive nowadays, but many other essentials like food, appliances, and electronics, are cheaper than they used to be, food significantly so. When I was a child, air-conditioners, snow-blowers, lawn furniture, landscaping, two or more cars per family etc. were rare in my parents’ neighborhood. Now that I live there again, I see that everyone has them.

        I won’t be popular here for mentioning this, but another element contributing to the low wages paid to unskilled workers is the massive increase in illegal immigration. Illegal immigration reduces wages for unskilled workers while making various goods and services cheaper, so that it is good for the economy but bad for the poor. It also increases inequality in your country (I assume you are American?) in an absolute sense, because there are so many more poor people living there than there used to be.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Minimum wage regulations, properly enforced, and a crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants (instead of on the immigrants) would to a lot to correct that part of the problem. Illegal immigrants have no protection and are being exploited, but keeping wages low in order for Americans to be able to compete with them for those jobs is not the way to go. Two wrongs don’t do a right!

          • LFM

            I’m sorry, but we seem to be talking past each other here. I was not trying to say that wages *should* be kept low; I was saying that wages *are* kept low by the presence of illegal immigrants, who are willing to work for a pittance because they are desperate to escape their home countries, where they might face danger and where wages are even worse. From what I understand, the minimum wage in the US *is* too low, but raising it, especially raising it too high, could easily lead to unintended consequences – like driving more employers to use the labour of illegal immigrants, because they won’t complain if they are paid less than the legal rate. Indeed, I understand that this happens quite often even with minimum wages at their present low levels.

      • Marthe Lépine

        By the way… since you are bringing an argument about single-parent households into the discussion. Has anybody made a correlation between the large population of various prisons, jails, etc (It has been said that the US has 25% of the total number of incarcerated people in the world, with only 4% of the world’s population) and the incidence of single-parent households? Just asking… since looking into that problem might actually help to do something about single-parent households. Otherwise, your comment could be construed as blaming the poor for their poverty…

        • LFM

          The US began incarcerating so many men, especially young black men, because the “crack wars” had grown so intense by the early 1990s that black neighborhood leaders as well as others were begging that their governments do something about it. Flying bullets were killing anyone from babies sleeping in their strollers to couples out for a stroll. Since then, lethal violence in black neighborhoods has declined considerably. Anyway, in Canada (where you are from as well, no?) as well as most other nations, single mothers still tend to be poor, and that’s not because their men are in jail.

  • John S

    Except that, like most such articles, the author misses the most important point: The natural minimum wage is zero. Nobody has to hire anybody, and if a business can’t afford the artificially inflated cost of labor, then they will either move to a place that has cheaper labor, replace that labor with some cheaper method, change their business model, or go out of business.

    Having closely and carefully watched the $15 minimum wage push in Seattle, WA, I can tell you that the studies that “prove” that minimum wage laws benefit people are flawed. The reality on the ground is that people loose their jobs, businesses move or simply close, businesses that can, automate, and it becomes much harder for people who are in the minimum wage bracket to get a job.

    One of the strongest supporters of the $15 minimum in Seattle was a group of companies that make machines to get rid of minimum wage workers. Has the author not seen the “self-checkout” machines in the grocery stores? Automated teller machines? The huge cranes and power machinery that replaces hundreds of workers with just a few?

    Worse, all that a minimum wage increase does is drive a bit of inflation. That additional cost has to be paid for, and that cost is passed along to every customer, not just the rich. The working poor get an increase in their wage, yes, but that increase has to be paid for by raising costs, and the working poor just end up paying more for what they must buy.

    The thing the author does not understand is that the amount you get paid is meaningless. It is the relationship between what you get paid, and the cost of what you have to buy that is important. The net effect of a minimum wage increase is that the working poor have less and less jobs available to them (due to offshoring, outsourcing, business model change and automation), while those who still have a job end up getting paid more, but they also have to pay more to get the same goods and services, ending up with bigger numbers on the bills in their wallets, but bigger numbers on their bills.

    • Matt Talbot

      There is a thing called the “profit share of income”, and another thing called the “labor share of income”. Increasing the latter decreases the former, but (here’s the thing) will result in an economy with more consumption in it, leading to higher (absolute) profits from a bigger economy.

      The middle ground between capital having all the power and all power to labor is a situation where the profit share of income is dialed back from the record levels it is at now.

      • Increasing the profit share of income is a pricing signal. You’re proposing to mask the signal (you call it dialing back) instead of treating it as a normal pricing signal. This is wrong. You reduce the profit share of income properly by increasing the supply of capital, reducing its cost. I am in favor of that because it is not masking the problem but treating it.

        • Matt Talbot

          Or, companies can pay their workers more and capital (peace be upon it) can accept a slightly smaller share of the proceeds.

          Right now, companies aren’t doing that because, well, yachts need helipads and so forth.

          The time in our history when the market was closest to being “free” as you would conceive it was the Gilded Age. The result was lots of capital formation, roaring markets, mansions going up one after the other in Newport and the Hamptons — and a Dickensian nightmare for workers.

          NOTHING helped until the Roosevelts (both Teddy and Franklin) stepped in and said, “Enough.”

          • Capital seeks the highest return available by law. If a company is too inefficient in the uses of its capital, it’s bought, broken up, and the assets sold off to the profit of the buyers and all those jobs just go away.

            The Gilded Age was also one featuring huge movements of labor as mechanization of agriculture rendered farm labor largely surplus to need. The profits from absorbing that labor force yielded the mansions of the time and the low wages didn’t cease until the mass shift in labor from farm to factory ended and the countryside largely emptied out.

            So a company that overpaid labor and underpaid capital would see its stock price and dividends drop. The company would be bought and the labor price offered would revert to mean. To accomplish what you say you want, you’d have to regulate the hostile takeover virtually out of existence. We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work and yields bloated, inefficient companies that aren’t very good at producing wealth.

            • Matt Talbot

              I think you just agreed with me, TM.


              The profits from absorbing that labor force yielded the mansions of the
              time and the low wages didn’t cease until the mass shift in labor from
              farm to factory ended and the countryside largely emptied out.

              …actually supports my position, and Mark’s, too — not to mention anyone else with a functioning moral compass. Whatever the accuracy of your historical analysis, it took decades for all the processes you describe to happen – decades of grinding misery for workers and, when they objected, company goons to break their legs.

              This is your utopia??

              • LFM

                Nobody said that that was a Utopia. It’s a thing that cannot easily be stopped by legislating higher wages, however. Can you stop the mechanization of farms – which yields cheaper food? If you do, will you not render the workers in the city hungrier? Can you stop the displaced agricultural workers from moving to the cities as their jobs disappear, thus driving wages down for the workers who are already there? If you compel the industries and businesses that employ these people to pay higher wages to their workers, would consumers continue to purchase their products? Can you *compel* the consumers to buy when they think prices are too high?

                The only reason TM’s comment surprises you is that you had not understood his position in the first place.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  Once again: “Consumers” are the workers spending their wages. They will stop bying when they find that their wages are too low…

                  • LFM

                    Your point about consumers as workers is valid but not relevant to the discussion. Most worker-consumers in the Western world today earn enough that they only cut back in hard times in order to protect themselves from the possibility of unemployment, not because they absolutely lack money. Unskilled low wage workers are now a relatively small portion of the population in North America and Europe; their buying power is low, as you say, but their numbers are too small for that to matter to the market for higher-priced consumer goods (stoves, TVs). It is how best to help *them* that is being debated here. Would a rise in minimum wage help? It might, but it might not.

                  • Joseph

                    Not if you privatise utilities then legally mandate those *consumers* to pay for those services. Then you guarantee that they keep spending. *This seems to be the direction most western governments are going*

            • Marthe Lépine

              Maybe there is a need to change the law that says that capital comes first, or the absolute highest return (for just one of the essential 3 factors of production) is required.

              • Guest

                It’s not a hard law, it’s just the tendency of the vast majority of investors to demand it from their agents. The effect can be mitigated somewhat by having owners with an exceptional goal. This usually means concentrating ownership of a company in a few hands, though – the average investor who owns through mutual funds doesn’t even have a shot at that sort of influence, even if he were so disposed.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  Therefore there is a good argument for cooperatives instead of corporations.

          • ManyMoreSpices

            This myth again.

            The Robber Barons did some of their most significant robbing when the great crony capitalists often do: during wartime. J.P. Morgan, Philip Armour, Clement Studebaker, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the du Ponts, and Andrew Carnegie were all Civil War/Reconstruction profiteers. The Hamilton-Clay program, as put in place by Lincoln, was a bonanza for rent-seekers. And once these profiteers had control, they didn’t give it up. The Gilded Age was a corporatist period, not a laissez-faire one.

            As for the Roosevelts, Teddy abetted crony capitalism and Franklin created the modern military-industrial complex. Perhaps the latter was a temporary necessity due to WWII, but he created it nonetheless.

          • Guest

            Yes, yachtsmen need corporate profits – but so do pensions.

            • Matt Talbot

              You mean, the pensions companies have been getting rid of as fast as possible? Yes, Those need a piece of the profits too.

              • Guest

                Don’t be naive. 401Ks, IRAs, and non-tax-advantaged approaches to retirement planning all rely on the performance of the stock market.

                If you hope to retire at all you need to be either saving a massive portion of your income or making far more on what you do save than even the bond market can provide. That means you rely on stock performance – provided you intend to be self-supported, of course.

                • Matt Talbot

                  Do me a favor: Look at an historical graph of the Dow Jones.

                  Now, imagine that you are 64 years old on Oct. 1, 1929, and had just about reached the point where your investments would provide you with a comfortable retirement. Four years later, your stocks are worth 1/10th of what they were in 1929, you are three years into retirement and those savings are dwindling away to nothing.

                  You just have to wait another 22 years or so (when you’re 89) to get the retirement you were counting on.

          • Marthe Lépine

            Could it also be said that better paid workers could in turn be able to save and amass their own capital to contribute to the economy, instead of having to spend their entire earnings, and even get into debt, in order to simply obtain the necessities of life?

            • Matt Talbot

              No, that’s just crazy talk 😉

    • Marthe Lépine

      You are wrong. The Church teaching means that those who own the capital have a duty to create work opportunities, and, yes, hire workers. That is the reason some people are given more money by God. It is not for their own and unlimited use, Church teaching is clear about this.

  • ctd

    Mark, you compiled a decent list of teachings to support your position, but you left out a very good one from the Catechism. The Catechism’s discussion about wages makes a strong case for the state imposing a minimum wage. It states: (1) Failure to provide a just wage is a form of theft; (2) the mere fact that a wage is freely negotiated does not mean that it is just; (3) the state has a duty to prevent theft and ensure a just wage is provided.

    People can argue about the difference between a just wage and a living wage and at what wage the minimum should be but on the question of whether the state should even impose a minimum wage the Church has clearly spoken.

    • The state is the one limiting labor demand and flooding the market with labor supply. Fix that and the wage will rise. The state’s causing economic gangrene and proposing to put a bit of perfume labeled minimum wage on the putrid affair. I’m saying treat the gangrene and skip the perfume.

  • Marthe Lépine

    There is a problem that a lot of people seem to be totally blind to: Most people seem to miss the fact that workers and consumers are the very same people. Therefore, the more inequality will be allowed to increase, the more wages are allowed to remain lower than living wages, while corporations increasingly go to developing countries in order to pay ever-decreasing wages… There will, inevitably, be a point when nobody except the wealthy will afford to purchase anything! If the workers in industrialized countries are no longer to purchase those consumer goods being produced in ever increasing quantities by workers who are not paid wages that are sufficient to allow them to purchase those consumer goods, much of the economic system will eventually collapse. (Except maybe the parts that are devoted to the production of weapons, which would still be able for a while to prosper on government money, until… because the fact that workers will be too poor to pay much taxes, and the wealthy are doing all in their power to avoid paying any taxes at all, governments in turn will collapse.)

    • Marthe Lépine

      A typo, sorry: Going up 8 lines from the bottom of my comment, it should read: “If the workers in industrialized countries are no longer able to purchase…”
      And I am tempted to add for all the naysayers: Oh you of little faith… Are you not able to believe that if you decide to strive towards more justice for workers, and for a living wage, among other measures, that God in His Providence is going to support your efforts? Remember His promises:
      19 If you are willing and obedient,
      you shall eat the good of the land;
      20 but if you refuse and rebel,
      you shall be devoured by the sword;
      for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Is 1:19–20)

      • LFM

        Acting in the cause of justice can have unintended consequences; that is the point that the “naysayers” here are trying to make. To take one example from history: when the English government repealed its protectionist “Corn Laws” in 1846, its intention was to make food available more cheaply and to make it possible for the nation’s manufacturers to sell their goods abroad at reduced tariffs. The repeal worked. Unfortunately, in the short term at least, it also caused considerable hardship for those who depended on the agricultural sector, including everyone from dukes to domestic servants to agricultural workers, because it could not compete with cheap foreign grain. In the long term, of course, such people, or their descendants, took up other kinds of better-paid work. But that change took several generations to complete, and many people suffered destitution before it happened.

        • Pete the Greek

          I think the correct response is to note that unintended consequences are meaningless as long as your intentions are pure.

          • LFM


      • 9/10ths of the workforce does B2B, not B2C. In B2B businesses, the worker is not the consumer.

        • Marthe Lépine

          However, he might be the consumer of the products coming from the 2nd B from the B2 equation, or from further down the line… Except maybe for heavy weapons used in wars…

          • The government economic sector generates about 40% of the US’ GDP. This is not a small category you’re conceding. In a further relevant class, there are a lot of things produced that are so distanced from the ultimate consumer that the linkages are very tenuous.

            • Marthe Lépine

              Government employees are also consumers, so some of the push for a smaller government will also affect the disposable income of those particular consumers…

              • Government employee salaries do not affect the ability of the government to purchase.

  • Petee

    “the real non-negotiable is the superstition that the paymaster, not the
    worker, is the rightful owner of the worker’s just wages.”
    a fundamental point, I’m glad you mentioned it. this idea is deeply embedded in capitalists’ argumentation, in the enthymemic hope that hearers will just be led to assume it, never examine much less challenge it.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      That’s the supposition of a Marxist when he views labor at work. He thinks everyone views employers the way he does: as thieves and rapists. It’s not the thought process of anyone who actually understands how freely bargained-for labor works.

      • Petee

        “freely bargained-for labor”
        thanks for playing.

        • ManyMoreSpices

          Thanks for playing the Marxist card.

          • Tweck

            Anyone who doesn’t fall lock-step into accepting unfettered (and incoherent) libertarian Randian economic theory is a Marxist. I love this hilarious point-of-view. It’s of course false.

            • Marthe Lépine

              Excellent comment!

            • LFM

              I don’t think you know what unfettered libertarian Randian economic theory is. I haven’t read a word in this discussion about how the poor deserve to be poor, nor how they are leeches on the backs of the supermen of this world. *That* would be the Randian approach to these issues; a libertarian would simply go on about “getting the government out of it.” Has anyone writing here said anything like that? Do you suppose that kind of thing is what we really mean when we warn that raising minimum wages does not always have the result of benefiting the poorest workers?

              Look: if it were really that easy to fix poverty by government fiat, do you not think it might have been accomplished already?

      • Marthe Lépine

        Really? Really!! You believe that someone who does not believe that “freely bargained-for labour” actually and necessarily leads to just wages is a Marxist? Interesting!

        • ManyMoreSpices

          I didn’t say that. Read again. I suspect that English may not be your first language, but please read again carefully.

          • Marthe Lépine

            You just repeated it yourself, again, in your recent reply to Petee…

            • ManyMoreSpices

              Find for me where I said that “freely bargained-for labor” necessarily leads to just wages.

              Find it.

              • LFM

                Yes. What Spices means here is that all people, including desperate ones, are free in the sense that they are free to offer their labour for whatever they want for it. In other words, they are free to undercut the rates of less desperate people. That does not make them “free” in an existential sense, but it makes “just wages” difficult to enforce, especially where unskilled labor is concerned. A society needs to be rich enough to create and enforce other rules – not necessarily concerned with wages, but those too in certain conditions – in order to ensure that people are not reduced to such desperation in the first place.

      • Hezekiah Garrett

        That’s the teaching of Holy Mother Church, not Marxism.

        Depriving a worker of his just wages is every bit as evil as abortion, homosexual acts, and exploiting the widow and orphan. These 4 are sins crying out to Heaven for vengeance.

        A just wages is not determined by how desperate a father is to feed his family, which is what you call A freely bargained wage. According to the long established teaching of Holy Mother Church, you are advocating evil, and imperiling your own salvation. You are calling Leo XIII a Marxist, as well as St John Paul, and every pope in between.

        You’re gonna have to keep waiting because leftwingers around here don’t often celebrate Sins crying out to Heaven for vengeance. But as I said previously, you can always find a rightwing Catholic happy to deny the universal destination of goods.

        Repent from your Mammon worship and reconciled yourself to Holy Church, Mater ET Magister.

        • ManyMoreSpices

          You are calling Leo XIII a Marxist, as well as St John Paul, and every pope in between.

          Nope. Reading comprehension. We’ve talked about this.

          The belief that employers hold “the superstition that the paymaster, not the worker, is the rightful owner of the worker’s just wages” is a Marxist conception of how employers view the employer-employee relationship. And Petee said that “this idea is deeply embedded in capitalists’ argumentation.” That’s what I was responding to: Petee’s assertion that such an idea is widely held.

          The assumption that Petee is making is essential to Marxism, which assumes that employers are aggressors in the class war. And if someone goes around accusing others of holding the view that workers do not own their wages, that’s an excellent sign that he has studied his Marx well. So that accusation is pure Marxism. Petee speaks of “capitalists” like a good Marxist.

          That workers own their wages is not at all Marxist, and I never said that it was.

          So do your own repenting, okay, Judge of Souls?

          • Hezekiah Garrett

            Ok, so you’re just ignorant of reality, not worshipping Mammon. That’s A load off of my mind. Because the actual way capital conducts itself in reality is indistinguishable from what petey said.

            • ManyMoreSpices

              Tell me more about how anthropomorphized “capital” works. Tell me about its conscience, its feelings, its desires, its deepest yearnings.

              • Marthe Lépine

                Capital is owned by people, and some people misuse it…

          • Marthe Lépine

            So,Walmart, for example, owns the money that they do not pay to the workers, as well as the money that should be given by them to their workers instead of by the government out of everybody else’s taxes… And it is being a Marxist to point out that maybe that employer might be a bad employer! I get it…

    • Guest

      The “worker’s just wages” are obviously the property of the worker. The argument is about what constitutes justice, not whether to deliver it.

    • This point that the paymaster is not the rightful owner of the worker’s just wages is not wrong. It is banal however which makes it a straw man. By the time the paymaster becomes involved, the work’s been done. The bargain’s been struck. The problem is much earlier in the labor cycle and it is that earlier part that needs fixing with adjustments to labor supply and labor demand until a living wage is natural, normal, and non-living wages are a rare happenstance for the raw apprentice who doesn’t yet know how to get up in the morning.

      • Tweck

        It’s not wrong – I own the money I work for. It’s math. My boss doesn’t own the money I get paid – it already belongs to the position I fill, which is in essence the worker, not the boss or the company.

        • Do you imagine we are disagreeing? In what you wrote here, we are not.

  • Patrick

    “It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”

    • Matt Talbot

      There’s actually a lot of economics – both theory and empirical observation – to back up what Mark is saying.

      • ManyMoreSpices

        Funny that Mark doesn’t note that Washington state’s unemployment rate is now headed in the wrong direction, after years of leading the country downward. Washington was tied with the national rate of 6.1% at this time last year. It’s now at 5.9%, while the U.S. is at 5.5%

        But raising the minimum wage in Seattle totes works you guys! It’s backed up by a lot of economics that Mark will cite, and not disputed by a single source that he will cite!

        • Matt Talbot

          MMS – you illustrate perfectly the old lawyer saying: “If the law is on your side, pound the law. If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If neither is on your side, pound the table.”

          • ManyMoreSpices

            Facts are on my side. What do you got? Besides gauzy assertions about how, seriously you guys, there’s totally a whole bunch of economics to back Mark up here.

            • Matt Talbot

              No, the facts are not on your side. Neither is any theory connectible to facts.

              You’re actually advocating for your own slavery. You DO get that, right?

              • Patrick

                When you support the State in making jobs illegal (because that’s what a minimum wage does), you’re actually advocating for the enslavement of others as perpetual welfare recipients. You DO get that, right? I hope you don’t actually, because then you would be far less culpable.

                • Matt Talbot

                  I support the state standing up for the rights of workers, thus decreasing the chance that they will become slaves.

                  • Patrick

                    No, you don’t. The minimum wage REMOVES rights of workers to bid for jobs at certain prices. You most certainly do NOT support workers’ rights. There is no obligation on the part of any business to hire anyone, so if you support a minimum wage of $15, you deny the right of any worker to bid for a job that might pay $8. “But $8 is too low!” you say; but at $9 the job IS NOT PROFITABLE TO THE BUSINESS AND THEREFORE WILL NOT EXIST. So your supposed “support” for the right of the worker gives them $0, and possibly deprives any other future workers of jobs created by the expansion of the business at $8. But you feel good about yourself and your good intentions. Congratulations.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      On the other hand, when a business that build its profitability on the foundation of unjust wages closes, it might open up the market for other, better run, businesses that cannot compete with the larger business that keeps its workers’ wages too low…

                    • LFM

                      Big businesses usually pay better wages than small ones, historically.

                    • Tweck

                      “The minimum wage REMOVES rights of workers to bid for jobs at certain prices. ”

                      That’s empirically false, and you’re making excuses for excessively wealthy people to oppress poor workers.

                    • Patrick

                      Empirically false? What are you talking about? The worker has an inherent right to bid for work; a minimum-wage law makes it illegal for me to enter into a contract for my labor for less than the minimum, thereby infringing on my right to bid for a job that I am willing to do for under the minimum. This is not difficult to understand, unless you have no concept of self-ownership.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      In order words, without the minimum wage, any worker would be free to undercut other workers in order to get the work, no matter what the consequences for those other workers? I have lived trough that kind of situation, as a self-employed person, and it did not work in the long run, because those who undercut others eventually found that they could not live on those low wages that they were “free” to negotiate. Everybody lost. And I think that such undercutting has something to do with hurting your neighbours instead of loving them and showing solidarity (since this current discussion is supposed to be between Catholics, I think that that notion of love for neighbours does have its place here).

                    • Patrick

                      Actually, some people do win. Black workers in the early 20th century, for example, which is what prompted the push for a minimum wage law. Look it up. The white workers didn’t like the blacks underbidding them. But the black workers who were willing to work for less than the whites definitely benefited when they got the work.

                      “The Caucasians … are not going to let their standard of living be destroyed by Negroes, Chinamen, Japs or any others.” – Sam Gompers
                      “cheap colored labor is in competition with white labor throughout the country.” – Clayton Allgood
                      etc etc etc

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      I don’t see that as “the African-Americans” did in fact win. They were still slaves, but the fact was disguised as jobs that paid “slave-wages”. A minimum wage would have prevented some of those groups disparagingly listed bu Gompers, by giving both Caucasian and African-Americans equal minimum wages.

                    • Patrick

                      Tell the black man looking for work that the job he didn’t get because of white-union-supporting minimum wage laws is really a victory for him. I’m sure he’ll understand.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      There is nothing that says that the black man should not belong to the union too…

                    • Patrick

                      His skin color was a bit of a barrier in the day when the whites realized that bringing the power of the State to bear to erect barriers to entry in certain labor markets would help protect their above-market wages. The blacks were excluded thanks to the helpful hand of the government, the one entity that can only distort markets and create vast pools of losers to benefit a tiny group of winners. Yet people clamor for more government “solutions” to the problems that government created.

                    • Allen

                      I think it’s curious that two of the liberal causes promoted by this blog, minimum wage and gun control, have their roots in government ‘solutions’ to the problems of minorities.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      That was some century ago; we are discussing present-day workers, and I would be surprised to see many unions refusing to accept African-American members…

                    • Joseph

                      Bingo, Marthe. Once again… we see here that the logic from the Right is not ‘racism is wrong and shouldn’t have played a part in hiring practices’, but ‘the market can sort out racism by forcing the blacks to undercut the whites by enticing a prospective employer by taking a lower wage that is barely liveable’. Unbelievable.
                      Somehow, in la-la land, that’s not racist.

                    • LFM

                      Absurd. Smacks of the usual leftish struggles to demonize the right. No one said that racism should not have played a part in hiring practises. The comments in question acknowledged that racism was at one time a powerful element in hiring. Implicitly, they also accept that it was one which could not at that time have realistically been stamped out. Note: by realistically I mean the government could not have outlawed segregation and so forth without setting off riots, lynchings, etc.

                      Black men sought to undermine the racism of white employers by using it in their favor, offering their labour at a lower wage than was standard for white men. White men, wanting both to keep wages high and to keep black men out in general, organized to demand minimum wage laws that would keep black men out. How is THAT not racist? What many commentators seem unable to take in is that some problems, like both racism and low wages, are so intractable that they cannot be fixed by fiddling with a law here and there. Even when the laws are successfully changed and implemented, it may take several generations before their full effect begins to be felt. Racism after all did not vanish with the Civil Rights Act.

                    • This undercutting arbitrages away racism. If you don’t see how that’s a win, you are not trying very hard.

                    • Joseph

                      Exactly. As a former contractor/consultant, I totally agree. There is always some idiot with no business sense and can’t perform simple mathematical equations that will undercut everyone just to get the contract… then realise afterwards that the rate he/she took didn’t cover the cost/risk. Usually, the tools that would go in low did so because they lacked the skills and experience that were required for the job in the first place and they wanted to edge out the competition who would earn that contract based on talent had they all gone in at an equal rate. So, they wound up not only hurting themselves and the competitors (who knew what the value of the work was), but also the business that they sold their *cheap* (in every way possible) services to. That behaviour is actually sinful. They cheat themselves, their industry colleagues, and their customers.
                      That’s what you want? When you allow for a *race to the bottom* as a negotiation tactic… what I explained above is the net result. You want a system that allows the underqualified to cheat everyone around them. Awesome. Makes sense though.

                    • LFM

                      People with limited experience need to find some way to get in to the workplace, or they will never be able to get enough experience to earn more money. But of course protectionists like you want to shut them out.

                      You know, one of the reasons unions became so unpopular in some circles is precisely because they pulled this kind of thing so often on younger and less experienced workers, even where it made no sense (like allowing a gym teacher to do the work of a Spanish teacher, in one case I know of) in order to keep some older. more experienced worker employed.

                      Your example, in this case, is a really bad one. because the right of the less experienced to offer their work at a lower rate is perfectly legitimate; in fact, I can think of no one who would object. There are more serious forms of undercutting, usually practised by employers rather than would-be workers. Recent Silicon valley attempts I read about to undercut high wages there by importing workers from Indian on special visas are a case in point.

                    • Joseph

                      Can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you don’t like the move by Silicon valley, then how can you like the greenhorn who lacks business sense coming in low just to get his foot in the door. In both cases, the result is the client suffering from failed projects and less quality. It’s stupid.
                      Accusing me of being a protectionist because I know what quality work costs is rather anti-free market don’t you think? It’s somehow my fault that I wasn’t willing to provide the exact service my clients needed in a timely fashion for less than the actual value of that service… Puleease. I’m also speaking of a highly skilled industry, so it doesn’t fit into your lower skilled industry example.
                      The argument that allowing the *race to the bottom* framework somehow levelled the racist playing field is stupid as hell. Do you actually think black people who were discriminated against because of their skin colour took pride in the fact that they were forced to offer the same service as a white man at half the price? Yeah, they were elated!!!

                    • LFM

                      You appear to have a reading comprehension problem. You attribute to me something I never said I was – a “free-marketer” – and then proceed to judge my comment for failing to uphold a belief-system I don’t actually subscribe to.

                      I am a consultant/contractor myself, an experienced one. When I get outbid by a less costly contractor who is also less experienced, I don’t object because I figure that the contractor knows what he/she is worth, and the client knows how much experience he/she needs. It’s ridiculous to try to argue that less experienced people should offer the same fee for their services as more experienced ones. Most offices work on precisely that principle: junior – i.e. less experienced – workers get paid less, senior ones more. Why this should be different with contractual work I do not understand.

                      Where I object to business or government handling of contract workers is when they subject them to unfair competition, like bringing in workers from abroad (something not usually done in Canada where I live). One practise in my own particular type of contractual work that I resent, though I’m not sure if it’s fair or otherwise, is that clients set an absurdly low price (the minimum wage here, in fact) and demand that contractors accept it. Although the work involved is highly knowledge-specific and skilled, clients know that the demand for it is relatively low just now.

                      My description of you as a “protectionist” was not an accusation. I am on the whole a protectionist myself. I’ve gradually come to the conclusion, however, that much of what workers do to try to protect themselves, or demand that their governments do, does not work and often backfires, leading to fewer opportunities or lower wages (or a ghastly mixture of both, in some markets). I don’t believe in the “race to the bottom” approach to the value of labour, and while I can’t be sure, I don’t think most of the other “right wing” commenters here do, either. What they want to point out is that what look like moves towards fair play for workers may often have quite different intentions and that even when the intentions are good, the consequences can be quite different from those that were intended.

                    • MT

                      You have no common sense. How is it in anyway good to have a system where the poor workers have to have a race to the bottom to get job?

                    • It’s empirically good to know where the bottom is so you can bid it up.

                    • Joseph

                      You should try and bake cupcakes for a living so that you can give us a real-world example.

                    • Yes, poor people can offer to work for less than the legal minimum but if anybody accepts, that acceptance is illegal. Whether this is legal entrapment is beyond my ability to analyze as I’m not a lawyer.

                    • Matt Talbot

                      No, you don’t.

                      Yes, I actually do. I think the state, as a matter of justice, ought to mandate that businesses pay a living wage. To the extent that businesses like Walmart are not mandated to do that, that is actually *CAUSING* people to rely on government help to make up the difference with foodstamps and other support.

                      Your tax dollars are allowing Walmart to under-pay its workers.

                      Plus, as others have mentioned, empirical experience has shown that you can have a minimum wage and an expanding economy, so it does not “cost jobs” as you claim.

                    • Patrick

                      There are some jobs that simply cannot pay a “living wage” but can pay something. For example, if I start a business where I bake cupcakes, and I could make more cupcakes if I had an extra 2 hours in my day that I have to use delivering cupcakes, I could hire somebody (say, the neighbor kid) for $10/hr to delivery my cupcakes, freeing me up to bake more inventory. But if the extra cupcakes I bake don’t translate into more sales than $10/hr, then I won’t hire the delivery kid for $15/hr if that’s the minimum. This is not rocket science. And there is no moral argument that says “Cupcake baker, if you hire somebody, it MUST be a LIVING WAGE!” That particular job simply doesn’t have the capacity for that, but it DOES have the capacity to pay SOMEBODY SOMETHING, until the law makes it illegal. So cupcake guy pays NOBODY ANYTHING.

                    • MT

                      You used a part time job as an example for why living wage for a full time job is bad…

                    • Guest

                      Turns out that our minimum wages don’t seem to discriminate between breadwinners and teenagers looking for pocket money. I guess there’s nothing stopping them in theory, but we don’t seem to have done it.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      Your example shows that you don’t seem to ever have had a business… If you need 2 hours a day to deliver the quantity of cup cakes that you can make yourself during that day, you are not very well organized. And if you happen to find that you are not making or selling, in those 2 extra hours you might free-up by hiring someone at $15/hr to do your deliveries, it means that you are not able to make $20 or $30 an hour making cup cakes… your business is not sustainable in the first place, since the delivery is not your primary cost of doing business, and you must be able to first pay for such things as ingredients, equipment and power, and maybe rent and more, before you can have any cup cake delivered. In the hypothetical case you are describing, neither you nor any supposed employee are earning anything.

                    • Joseph

                      First, you’re not going to do very well with a *cupcake* bakery. You’d have to have a more diverse product line if you wanted to actually make money. You don’t see a huge demand for cupcakes.
                      Second, if you were baking all of the cupcakes yourself (having to debate hiring an additional hand for deliveries – because cupcakes are in such demand that people actually order cupcake deliveries – tells me that you must be using your conventional oven and don’t have the money to invest in an industrial cupcake baking machine) by hand, you probably aren’t even making enough cupcakes to justify hiring a delivery boy in the first place… even at $5/hour.
                      Basically… what a stupid analogy.

                    • LFM

                      You need to inform yourself about food fads before you write. There has been a major cupcake craze hitting North America and Britain for perhaps the last 10 years or longer. It may be dying out now, but I assure you that a good many bakeries made nothing but “artisanal” (i.e. handmade, not industrial) cupcakes for a time, and profited nicely by it.

                    • The state is pushing wage rates down by a variety of laws in order to achieve various policy goals. Your side wants to add a minimum wage law to distort the market further. The opposition says stop pushing the wage rate down be limiting legitimate business activity. For this, we are called heartless.

                • Tweck

                  The minimum wage makes jobs illegal? Wow, talk about a total non-sequitur.

                  • Allen

                    If the value of a job is less than the minimum wage, it’s illegal to pay what the job is worth. Would not that job be illegal, without some other incentive?

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      But who decides what the value of a job is?

                  • Marthe Lépine

                    II guess he meant “wage-slave” jobs, which should be illegal anyway… Since those workers have to be, at the very same time, submit to the enslavement of perpetual welfare recipients (for example Walmart employees…)

                  • Patrick

                    The minimum wage makes it illegal to hire someone for less than the legal floor. That is not a non-sequitur, it is a factual description of minimum wage laws. If you can’t understand that, you should probably not be commenting here.

                  • All jobs that are not worth doing above a wage rate below the legal minimum don’t get done. The jobs themselves might formally be legal but in practice they’re gone.

                    • m

                      Really? Some of them might turn out to be necessary. Do you know of any manufacturing business that would try to “not have done” the job of the factory floor sweeper? However, it seems generally considered that the floor sweeper’s job has a much lower value than most of the other…

                    • In that particular case, they pick up the phone and call Cyberdyne, paying $90k for a robot that will last 5 years and cost less in TCO vs human labor. The job’s still gone.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Source, please

        • Tweck

          Unemployment in Seattle has gone DOWN since they passed the new minimum wage.

  • Pete the Greek

    “So some people (many of us motivated precisely by Church teaching)
    advocate, as a small measure to improve the lot of the working poor and
    alleviate pressure to abort, a raise in the minimum wage. It’s not a
    panacaea, but it’s a step in the right direction. If you care about
    preventing abortion, you should care about this.”
    – Small question:

    If, say, a working person making $10 per hour loses his/her job when a government enforced $15 minimum wage comes into effect and is now unemployed and dependent on the public weal, is that still a step in the right direction?

    • Tweck

      That’s never been proven to happen. In Seattle, all it’s done is create more jobs. And if enormously wealthy executives don’t want to take a cut out of their enormous yearly bonuses to support their workers, then I’d say that’s on them, not the minimum wage. Look at the chart up top again – we used to have far less income inequality, and basic necessities for families were far more affordable. Plus the unemployment rate was lower than it is today.

      • Pete the Greek


      • LFM

        Never been proven to happen? What in heaven’s name are you talking about? If you were arguing that the net benefit of raising minimum wages was sometimes or usually greater than the net losses of jobs or businesses, or that it sometimes offset any rise in prices, I might believe you. But do you seriously think that places like restaurants, independent bookstore owners, grocers, drycleaners, any business that is not a chain, in fact – can afford to employ people at a high minimum wage, unless they are exempted from having to pay it? I said this in another comment, and so have others, on this post already, but here it is again: this is one of the ways that the Walmarts of the world continue to gobble up other businesses. Yes, if you force Walmart’s to pay more for its workers and can circumvent the various ways that they can cheat on it by hiring them for fewer hours, etc., it will work. But what about all the other businesses that die, or never get started, because the would-be entrepreneurs can’t afford to pay the minimum wage?

        • Pete the Greek

          I think you obviously worship mammon and hate the poor.

          • LFM

            Indeed. I never understood that about myself before.

        • MT

          Actually, there’s much more behind the growth of the chain business and shrinkage than wage rates.

          The reason why Wal-Mart and their like have taken over the US is because of our land-use suburban development. When we destroyed the walk-ability of our cities from the 50s onward, it killed off the small business’ access to their biggest base, people that walk by slowly (compared to driving past at 60 on a freeway) and live in the neighborhood. It’s become much harder now to run a business because you can’t get the viability needed because no one lives and walks nearby anymore. It also near impossible to compete with Wal-Mart’s mass advertising to make up for this. Small business are also at a disadvantage because they often can’t afford the parking needed because we have to drive everywhere and everything is so far apart.

          Right now I’m in San Jose Costa Rica and you can see how different it is from the US. Yes, the major giants have a presence here, but if you walk around the city, there are mom and pop shops and restaurants everywhere because the city is more compact and walkable.

          • LFM

            I am sure that the events you describe had some impact on the rise of Walmart and other big chains, and I certainly never meant to imply that wages were the only or even the main force behind their growth.

            Walmart has also taken over a huge portion of the market for many goods here in Canada, yet our cities remain walkable. The main reason for its success is its cheapness, but it achieves that mostly through forcing its suppliers to cut prices, not via paying low wages to its workers. These are apparently rather higher than many in the retail sector: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/11/24/has-wal-mart-been-good-or-bad/

    • MT

      Pete, check out the study between Pennsylvanian and NJ where NJ’s raise of the minimum wage actually increased employment.

      • Pete the Greek

        You didn’t answer the question.

        Additionally, if simply forcing the bottom wage amount higher by some amount has zero negative effects and always increases employment, why stop? Why not continue to force employers to raise minimum wages by a couple of dollars per hour every month or so until we have zero unemployment?

        Serious question. If raising minimum wages artificially, by edict, always results in higher employment with no downside, why would you not demand that?

    • Petee

      this illustrates exactly the point that Shea made and that I highlighted below. implicit in here is the idea that the worker’s livelihood is rightly at the mercy of the employer.

      • Guest

        If the worker’s livelihood depends on his employment, then the worker’s livelihood is inevitably at the mercy of the employer whether he is paid $1 per hour or $1,000. (Think more money is all it takes to solve the problem? Tell it to the legion of bankrupt lottery winners and professional athletes.)

        • Petee

          “If the worker’s livelihood depends on his employment, then the worker’s livelihood is inevitably at the mercy of the employer whether he is paid $1 per hour or $1,000.”

          exactly!!!!!!!!!!! you get it !!!!!!!!!!!

          • Guest

            Don’t misunderstand me. That’s a morally neutral condition – in a civilized economy we are all interdependent to some degree to start with. In a feudal economy the serf is dependent on his lord, and so on up the chain. In a modern command economy the people are dependent on the good will of the state, and the state is dependent on maintaining the balance between the people’s love and fear. In a capital economy you are either dependent on your ability to trade your labor for capital or on the ability of your capital to reproduce (perhaps a combination of the two, as in the case of owner-operators and such). The great part about capital economies – especially here in the US – is the unprecedented access given to the masses to this latter means of subsistence. If I can scrape together $3,000 I can take it to Vanguard and own a (small) piece of every publicly-traded American company, and from there I can keep adding to a pile that has historically averaged an 8% return per year.
            The man who lives paycheck to paycheck at $200K per year is just as much a slave as the one who lives paycheck to paycheck on $15K per year. The only difference is that one is a gilded slave. Is it mathematically easier for one end of the spectrum to break his chains than for the other? Unquestionably – but don’t underestimate the grip of those golden chains on the ones who wear them. (I’m not asking for your pity on them here, just your understanding.) There is, however, a lot of space between the extremes, and the transition from worker to capitalist – or at least optional worker – is well within the reach of many.
            I think this is what Chesterton was getting at when he opined that the problem with capitalism is not too many capitalists, but too few.

          • LFM

            So how do you propose to solve that problem by increasing the minimum wage?

      • Pete the Greek

        Your comment illustrates that you can’t read and understand a simple question.

        • Petee


  • Elmwood

    let’s not forget how horribly wrong many in the GOP are on global warming too.

    • MT

      Indeed, especially the stupid argument that we shouldn’t take the actions needed to cut greenhouse emissions because of economic growth. What good will economic growth do if the earth is going to be much harder to live in?

      • LFM

        Without economic growth, people stop buying goods and services and workers suffer. Most businesses cannot afford to keep people employed when they cannot sell their merchandise at a reasonable profit. Attempting to cut greenhouse gases on anything like the scale suggested by ardent climate change believers would certainly tank the world economy. Not to mention that those of us who live in cold climates might freeze to death, unless our climate got warmer in a big hurry.

        • MT

          It’s highly suspect that the drastic action needed would tank the world economy, but rather would end up killing the mass consumer culture as we know it. We can still live pretty well, but not the decedent way we do in the west.

          But even if for some reason it does take the economy like some say, it avoiding the real problem of how hostile a warmer world will be. Sea levels are rising, island nations will be gone, areas like New York City, Miami ect will be underwater. Then there are the increased heatwaves and spreading desertification killing much of the farmland around the equator and tropics. These areas are some of the poorest areas in the world and will not be able to cope from the massive food shortages, there will probably be major wars stemming from the lack of food.
          Now of course one may say “won’t the melting permaforst in Siberia, Alaska and Canada be open for farming? Well probably, but there’s another major problem. Under the permafrost are large amounts of Methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 is. Many scientists are very worried that we will trigger the doomsday scenario where all the methane is released, causing runaway warming.
          There’s also the changing weather patterns, the world’s fishing industry being destroyed from acidification of the oceans from CO2, the massive migrations of refuges that will come from the poor countries that don’t have the ability to counteract the challenges.

          This is a serious matter for the sake of mankind, we can’t just keep abusing the earth and pretend that there aren’t consequences. Of course the earth is only our temporary home, while heaven is our goal, but we are failing our duty to helping the poor by making life harder. We should grandchildren and future generations a chance.

          • LFM

            In the first place, I don’t believe a word of it. I was willing enough at first to accept that global warming/”climate change” might be mainly driven by human activity. I was and remain willing to accept that carbon emissions, etc. should be reduced, for the sake of human health, the environment, and pure aesthetics. But I no longer believe that it’s mainly human-generated, insofar as it is happening at all, nor that it poses as much of an imminent threat as alarmists suggest, nor that the alarmists themselves really believe it, at least not the ones at the top of the global warming boondoggle.

            As for not tanking the world economy, are you colossally ignorant or simply mad? To meet the quotas suggested by scientists it might well be necessary to allow half or more of the world’s population to starve or freeze to death. Here’s a few lines on the subject of the necessary level of cuts from Scientific American in 2009: “Global greenhouse gas emissions will need to be at least 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050—that means cuts by industrialized countries such as the U.S. of more than 90 percent—and on a path to zero emissions.” Do you seriously think that can be achieved without major suffering? I’ve read of “deep ecologists” who think that the optimal world population would be about 10 million people, all, ideally, hunter-gatherers – so much less disruptive than agriculturalists, you know.

            • LFM

              One more thing: I recycle, my husband and I live with my father, we have no car, we have no children, and I have a passion for buying “vintage” clothing. I am not, in short, a capitalist plutocrat.

            • MT

              I’m assuming you know basic things like the greenhouse effect, or we can’t have any discussion.

              The earth is warming, 2014 was the hottest year for the global average. The Sun is actually less active within the past couple decades, there has not been any major volcanic explosions to account for the warming. The only left to account for the warming is the CO2 from man, as all of the natural CO2 is neutral, meaning what is generated is also removed from the environment, where as man’s industrial CO2 isn’t. We know from Ice cores that in the past, when temperatures went up at the end of ice ages, the CO2 was up as well.

              We know that temperatures are rising, that sea levels are rising, that less heat is escaping out to space, that CO2 is going way up, all of this is totally irrefutable.

              Now, what scientific training have you undergone to be able write a paper proving that CO2 does not warm the planet? Do you have enough expertise to say that 97% of scientists that know their stuff are plain wrong?

              There is no scientific body outside of the Fossil fuel industry’s fundng that will deny human induced climate change. I dare you find one.

              Also, we totally do not need population control to fix the problem.

              The entire US can be powered from solar panels covering like 2 counties in the Texas panhandle, it’s very doable to get away from coal and oil.

              • falstaff77

                “The earth is warming, 2014 was the hottest year for the global average.”

                1998 was the hottest year according to both satellite records. link

                • MT

                  And? Is that counting the whole picture? It’s missing surface temps, ocean temps, how active El Niño is ect. That’s cherry picking one graph.

                  I’m pretty sure NOAA and NASA what they are talking about when they say 2014 was the hottest.

                  • falstaff77

                    Two satellite records, since satellite records have been kept, is not cherry picking. Your reference to “2014” refers only to instrumented surface temperatures which do run hotter, but they don’t make any comment on El Nino or the deeper ocean.

                    I’m also inclined to believe the IPCC when it uses the term “hiatus” a couple dozen times in AR5 in reference to a dramatic lack of forecast warming in the last 15 years.

                    • MT

                      Yes, it is cherry picking. I was saying that NOAA has made a comprehensive statement saying 2014 has been the hottest year, where as you pointed out a graph without making comprehensive analysis.

                    • falstaff77

                      “NOAA has made a comprehensive statement”

                      Then you don’t know what NOAA said, which was a straightforward statement about surface instruments.

                    • MT

                      And? From NOAA’s report: ”
                      During 2014, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.24°F (0.69°C) above the 20th century average.
                      This was the highest among all 135 years in the 1880–2014 record,
                      surpassing the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.07°F (0.04°C).

                      The 2014 temperature for the lower troposphere (roughly the lowest
                      five miles of the atmosphere) was third highest in the 1979-2014 record,
                      at 0.50°F (0.28°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by the
                      University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), and sixth highest on record, at
                      0.29°F (0.16°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by Remote
                      Sensing Systems (RSS).

                      The temperature for the lower stratosphere (roughly 10 miles to 13 miles above the surface) was 13th lowest in the 1979–2014 record, at 0.56°F (0.31°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by UAH, and also 13th
                      lowest on record, at 0.41°F (0.23°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as
                      analyzed by RSS. The stratospheric temperature is decreasing on average
                      while the lower and middle troposphere temperatures are increasing on
                      average, consistent with expectations in a greenhouse-warmed world.”

                      Surface and Ocean temperatures are clearly going up. How many other ways are there to say it’s getting warmer?

                    • falstaff77

                      UAH and RSS say the troposphere *was* warming in the 20th century. Now, not so much. All of the records indicate surface temperature warming has slowed significantly in the 21st century, by a factor of ten over what’s forecast my models. Hence the term, “hiatus”.

                    • MT

                      I guess if we just ignore this report, we can say there’s no warming!

              • LFM

                • Last year the temperature rose .02 degrees Celsius, well within the margin of error.
                • The previous warmest year on record, 2010, was also up by a miniscule amount.
                • Volcanic eruptions tend to cool the earth, not warm it. Have you heard of the “year without a summer” after Mt
                Tambora? Are you old enough to remember Mt St Helens in 1980 and El Chichon in 1981, which led to several years of chilly summers? (No, I’m guessing.)
                • The Sun’s activity being low is precisely understood to be responsible for the now almost 18 year pause in the escalation of global warming; with the extremely rapid expansion of China’s industrial sector, we ought to have seen far more warming if the theory is correct.
                • As for your question about what scientific training I’ve undergone to ask questions or express doubts…well, who are you to say? Do you have enough knowledge to evaluate scientific papers and consider whether they might be fudging data?
                • Your outburst about no scientific body outside the fossil fuel industry denies human-induced climate change, and your risible “dare you to find one”, are based on misplaced trust of scientists as a professional group. You assume that there is no possibility of corruption within the university-based scientific community, which is alas not true, while not understanding that that very community has shut out the possibility of disagreement by ostracism of dissenters even when the opposition had potentially convincing data, on the grounds that the world could not afford to allow doubts about global warming. (That’s what the email scandal was really about.)
                • Your claim about solar panels covering two counties in Texas being enough to power the US? A number please! My kingdom for a number! (I assume you mean the
                equivalent of the land area, because otherwise I have no idea why you think solar panels confined to two counties in Texas could power the US).

                Ad hominems. Non sequiturs. No numbers. No quantification. No way. [edited for clarity 2:08 p.m. June 5]

                • MT

                  I don’t have he knowledge that climate scientists have, so I’m going to trust what they say in their area of expertise.

                  For the 0.2, you are cherry picking and ignoring the trend. 0.2 on top of the previous warming is a heck of a lot.

                  For the sun, you totally don’t get it. It’s precisely that we’ve had warming despite the lack of sun activity that we can with great confidence say that it is man’s CO2.
                  Also, you contradict yourself when you acknowledge 0.2 C of warming and then say there’s a 18 year pause.

                  I don’t need to give numbers, go look at websites like Skeptical Science that lay everything much better than I as the scientists have already done all that.
                  It’s the denier’s job to put in the work and make their case, which none actually do. All they do is go running about talking about some emails and saying “see, it’s all false!” Without any actual counter science.

                  As for the solar panels, you could count how many KW they generate per square meter and multiply how much space is needed, it’s tiny part of Texas. Google it.

                  Seriously though, do you really think a body of scientists that are
                  basically calling for the end of some massive profit industries that run the worlds mass consumer culture, are
                  more corrupt? Look at all the lies the tobacco industry threw out
                  there because the truth that smoking causes cancer kills their income.
                  Let’s look at the oil and coal companies. We are talking about multimillion dollar industries that already don’t give a dang about how they destroy their local environments with oil spills, groundwater contamination, unsafe working sites and so on. Do you really think that they would not try to confuse the public when it turns out that have a lot to lose?

                  We’re Catholics, we aren’t some dummies that think there is some rift between faith and science. A truly rational person understands that our actions have consequences. Like how our sins, no matter how supposedly “private” they are, affect the whole body of Christ, so do our physical actions affect the world. Knowing how just how fragile the earth is, a slight temperature variance creates uninhabitable areas like the Sahara desert or the Arctic, we should be very worried about it warming. The atmosphere as God created it was just right, the Earth is just the right distance from the Sun ect ect, there is a tiny tiny window for life to thrive. Now knowing how man’s power has grown with technology, we see that man can in fact destroy all humans on the earth though nuclear weapons or some horrible bio weapon. We have to swallow our pride, our hubris and accept that we can’t just infinitely exploit the earth without it killing us.

      • ManyMoreSpices

        the stupid argument that we shouldn’t take the actions needed to cut greenhouse emissions because of economic growth.

        The rich do better than the poor in natural disasters. When there’s an earthquake or flood in the developed world, the death toll is often in the dozens. When it’s in Bangladesh, it’s in the thousands. When rich old people get hot or cold, they put on the air conditioning or heat. When poor old people get hot or cold, they die. When rich people hear that there’s a hurricane coming, they drive away. When poor people hear that there’s a hurricane coming, they stay home and drown. When rich people get thirsty because it’s hot, they turn on the tap and drink. When poor people get thirsty because it’s hot, they drink filthy water and get an Oregon Trail disease.

        Pretty much any predicted calamity associated with climate change is easier to bear when you’re materially wealthy. So while economic growth might drive climate change, it also lessens its consequences.

        • MT

          The thing is through, if the developing world is going to continue to go down the path of living like the west, the earth’s environment will be unlivable for man.

          The way Europe and America live already is unsustainable for the whole earth, it’s just going to get worse if the rest of the world follows.

          • Marthe Lépine

            So it seems you mean: There is more than enough for us, but woe to the ones who want to do as well as we do, let them remain poor, or we all lose!

            • MT

              I’m totally not saying they need to stay poor. What I’m saying is that one does not need a suburban house in a neighborhood that requires you to drive like 100 miles a day for the daily routine; and a massive global supply chain to get daily exotic fruit, monthly cheep clothes, monthly new gadgets, large yards that need lots of water ect in order to live life well.
              Being efficient and carbon neutral does not equal being poor, that’s a total myth. It would be a far better help to the developing world to help not become dependent on stuff like coal and oil so they don’t have major adjustment problems later on. But that will kill Shell and the Koch bro’s profits so forget it.

        • MT

          The cost of climate changing is going to be far more than whatever short term economic growth we can squeeze out.

  • MT

    Everyone should look up Costco and WinCo foods and see how they are failing massively because they exploit their workers.

    • MT

      Whoops, meant to say that they aren’t exploiting their workers with too low pay.

      • LFM

        Walmart also pays good wages. One of the advantages of being a large corporation is that such entities can afford to pay more to their workers because they are so large. Instead, they economize on their merchandise, cutting costs by forcing their suppliers to cut theirs, by reducing wages, increasing hours, or increasing automation. For further information, read this from the Washington Post, a news organ not known for its “right wing” sympathies: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/11/24/has-wal-mart-been-good-or-bad/* In other words, Walmart IS a disaster for workers, but not in the way that you think.

        *I’m going to keep citing this article in replying to your comments until I see evidence that you’ve actually read it.

        • Andy

          I would have loved to have read what was on the link, but when I clicked on it I received the page your requested is not available – do you have working link?

          • LFM

            Hmm. That happens to many posted links, I’ve noticed. I wonder if we’re doing it wrong, or somehow cut off a necessary piece of the link? Anyway, here it is again; let me know if it works:

            • Andy

              Thank you for reposting, I read the article and will pursue some of its embedded links – the wonders of technology (referring to your first link) never fail to underwhelm me.

        • Andy

          I suspect the real damage does to America is not just wages – it is more in how it reinforces the hyper-consumeristic view we have adopted. It, Walmart, along with many other corps. advertises and presents the idea very persuasively that we can have it all. This “I can have it” attitude is found throughout our society (US) and I would guess contributes to disregard for the future.
          Our economy has become overly reliant on consumerism and much less reliant on creation/industry, thrift and use of savings.

        • Tweck

          Wal-Mart’s average hourly wage is 11.81 per hour. That is nowhere in the ballpark of a “good wage.”

          • LFM

            It’s more than 60% above your country’s federal minimum wage. For teenagers or those working as secondary earners in their families, it would probably be quite good. Those kinds of jobs were not intended to support families. Most Walmart jobs are the more basic kind of service positions, are they not? They don’t involve much in the way of knowledge or skill.

            I hold no affection for Walmart at all, but the things that seem most wrong to me about it don’t really concern what it pays its own workers. Rather, the problem is what it forces other companies to pay theirs, in order to be able to afford to sell to Walmart at the low prices it demands and then passes on to its own customers.

            To prevent low-skilled service jobs from taking over the world in a knowledge economy in which few people have the kind of brain necessary to design software or whatever, people have to be offered some choice between university and nothing at all. But how often do presidents, or Oprah, or movie stars tell the urban or rural poor of whatever colour to learn a trade? Mostly they just say “Go to college!” and leave it at that. At least until very recently.

  • Ed

    I think such an important discussion as this should begin with the assumption that all Catholics are agreed that something needs to be done to raise the incomes Of the poor. The only question is how we are going to get there. Moreover, we need to get beyond our pet economic theories and try to be open minded about what may or may not work. I have recently come across a new economic theory that seems promising to me. It is called modern monetary theory. Perhaps some of you who frequent this blog and have a better knowledge of economics than I do might have a thorough look at the following website and give us an appraisal.


    For a quick read of the logic behind the theory, see the following written by a Catholic MMT enthusiast:


    • MT

      I find MMT pretty fascinating.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Are we really discussing all this as Catholics? I still wonder why nobody has taken the time to reply to my earlier comment, the one that read:

    ” Oh you of little faith…
    Are you not able to believe that if you decide to strive towards more
    justice for workers, and for a living wage, among other measures, that
    God in His Providence is going to support your efforts? Remember His
    19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land;
    20 but if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be devoured by the sword;
    for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Is 1:19–20)”
    Why is it that, when discussing the things of the world, so many Catholics seem to be afraid to claim that their faith might enlighten their point of view? Why constantly cling to the arguments of the world? Even economic matters have a moral dimension. We should know better!

    • LFM

      I’m fairly certain I replied, although I don’t know if I ever saw my response posted, so perhaps it failed to post properly. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can manage it again!

  • Patrick

    Economists back in 1974 knew that unemployment rates for black teenage males began to exceed the unemployment rate for white teenage males when the system of minimum-wage legislation was first enacted by the federal government. The statistics on this go back as far as the legislation. But it has become more politically correct to advocate good-intention economic absurdity (ignoring the FIRST law of economics which tells us that when the price of something goes up [in this case, labor], less is demanded). You can see the figures in the link below.


  • Patrick

    Should I be able to go to my local gas station and demand that they hire me full time as a gas pumper? I have that skill, and I’m good at it. Everybody knows that gas companies make obscene profits. If they do hire me, will all of the Catholics pay an extra $.20/gallon at the Full Service pump in order to ensure that I get a living wage?

  • falstaff77

    “Nowhere in the United States can people making minimum wage possibly afford a 2 bedroom apartment. “

    Not exactly. Actually, “what is true is that a single-earner household in which the sole worker earns the minimum wage cannot pay the rent and utilities on the average “fair market value” apartment in any U.S. state or in almost any U.S. county — for 30 percent of his income or less, the benchmark for “affordable.” link

    I can attest from experience that sharing an efficiency or a couple-bedroom apartment among 2 or 3 minimum wage (and less) students is doable (even comfortable) when young, and I suspect that sharing is still the common way of landing feet on the ground until experience justifies a higher income.

    • MT

      Seems like that just encourages more cohabitation.

      • falstaff77

        House full of men in my day, which promoted fellowship. NYC is seeing a slow return of the old bording houses for young women. In any case I think the church would be more effective by means of clear statements against exploitative relationships than weighing in on what wage is required to have people live solo to avoid such.

        • Petee

          “I think the church would be more effective by means of clear statements
          against exploitative relationships than weighing in on what wage is
          required to have people live solo to avoid such.”

          exploitative relationships include those in which people don’t have enough to live in such a way as to avoid the type you have in mind. the church would be most effective issuing clear statements on both.

        • Tweck

          Why? People should be able to live solo on minimum wage.

          • falstaff77

            “…should be able to live solo on minimum wage…”

            Since it has never been that way, universally, for the inexperienced starting out, why now? I lived as indicated above. My father before me, who grew literally grew up in a log cabin, first lived in the YMCA when he came to town for his first job as a college educated engineer, and then boarded with family relatives.

            I argue what should be easier in the US is the ability to hang out the small business shingle, as this historically has been the best remedy for injustice in the wage market. The “political authorities” as the church calls them, in cooperation with large business, are making life increasingly difficult for the small business man.

    • Tweck

      “until experience justifies a higher income.” <– as if everyone with experience actually gets a higher income? Where I live, it's barely possible for a single person such as myself to live even modestly in an apartment and manage to pay all the bills on $40,000 per year, forget minimum wage.

      Of course, where do single adults even factor into a discussion wherein everyone talks only through the lens of "family," as in "married with children," or "college students," or "young people," as if there is no such thing as a single adult person.

      To make a long story short, I survive by living in a 3-bedroom apartment with two roommates. I couldn't do it on my own without falling flat on my face economically.

      And people argue about a small minimum wage hike, when what we really need is a much larger Living Wage, so that every person (not only families or young people, but every person) – every single working PERSON alive – has the ability to live a modest lifestyle and save for their future while working a job.

      This false narrative that there is some magical job ladder that automatically and magically appears just because you are older than a college student, educated and/or experienced, so you can climb right on up, is unfortunately hogwash.

      This isn't my grandfather's America anymore, when a house could be bought and an entire family could be supported on a single income that was LESS than what I am currently just barely able to survive making.

      • falstaff77

        I contend what you are arguing for will make it worse. What do you imagine would be the cost of that 3-bedroom if every new, no experience day laborer construction worker was paid $35/hr?

        “This isn’t my grandfather’s America anymore, when a house could be bought and an entire family could be supported ….”

        Yes, around 1960 and before? When there was no medicare/medicaid (1966), no OSHA (1970), no EPA required environmental impact statements, no food stamps (1964), and the minimum wage constant dollars was about the same as today.