Moral Argument for Raising the Minimum Wage

Moral Argument for Raising the Minimum Wage May 3, 2014


Catholic News Service presents part of the moral argument for raising the minimum wage.

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37 responses to “Moral Argument for Raising the Minimum Wage”

  1. Oyg. First the death penalty. Now the minimum wage?
    Rebecca, can we quite possibly be on the same page?

    • Don’t get your hopes up, Doc. I’m sometimes “liberal,” sometimes “conservative,” which means, I guess that I think for myself. It also means that both “liberals” and “conservatives” (at least of the knee-jerk variety) are mad at me a lot of the time. They’re just mad for different reasons. 🙂

  2. Yes, I, as a Catholic business owner, am obligated to pay my workers a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
    This, however, doesn’t translate into having the government force every business owner to pay a minimum wage. The U.S. Constitution certainly doesn’t authorize Congress such a power to legislate minimum wages. States are certainly free to enact such laws, if their constitutions allow it. But, wages and salaries should remain a private contract between employer and employee.
    Over 15 years ago the minimum wage was somewhere between $4 and $5 an hour, yet McDonald’s and Burger King were offering $7 an hour, because they couldn’t get new hires at minimum wage.
    The market set the wage. Imagine that?

      • When was employment ever between equals, Mr. Seeber?
        People who start businesses, and hire other people, have capital with which they can invest in their employees, and, therefore, take a risk on whether it will work out, or not.
        People who hire themselves out, to exchange their time and labor for money, obviously don’t have this kind of capital. So, they were never equal to begin with.
        Society, though its government, has no right to tell a person, who is risking his own time and money on an enterprise, the minimum amount of money he MUST pay his employees. If I can find someone who will sweep the floors for a buck an hour, that is between us.
        That was what my dad paid me, when I was 13, in 1980, when I worked for him during the summer. Have you ever owned your own business, Mr. Seeber?

        • “When was employment ever between equals, Mr. Seeber?”

          In the United States, before 1830 and public corporations, when every business was a cottage industry and every worker was either an indentured servant working off the cost of his passage, room, and board, or a small businessman himself selling his time to other home based businesses.

          The Organic Small Farms market still largely works this way. As does a certain segment of the software industry.

          I’ve worked in this way, paid 1099 corp-to-corp, with no job stability, doing my own taxes and benefits.

          The risk is equal in a 1099 corp-to-corp situation, and there’s never any need for minimum wage in that situation because you are paid by the JOB, not by the hour.

          Now having said that, I still prefer the idea of an individual corporation, percentage of CEO salary based minimum wage, that does not affect non-public corporations. There is a tendency in public corporations to lose the dignity of humanity. I don’t particularly suggest a very high minimum wage under those rules either- 1% would do very nicely.

          • Mr. Seeber,
            I don’t know from where you get your history. Limited liability corporations date back to the 17th Century. The East India Company and the Massachusetts Bay Company were LLCs. Corporations were part of this country since its founding.

            The landed gentry, like George Washington, certainly weren’t equal to those whom they employed (not including their slaves, they also had hired hands). And what they paid those employees was a private contract, between themselves. Government had no say, and should never have any. This is what it means to be a freeman.

            Now, if you want to start a company, and peg the minimum wage that your company pays to your own pay, as CEO, be my guest. Just don’t delude yourself that the federal government has the right to do so. It doesn’t.
            By the way, if the minimum wage paid at McDonald’s was $42 an hour, they would have to charge $20 for a Big Mac. Which means they would go out of business.
            The attitude that assumes that CEOs make too much money, or, that there is such a thing as obscene profits, is an attitude that is engaging in covetousness, which violates the Decalogue. God Bless!

            • No, it’s not about engaging in covetousness. It’s about obeying CCC 2434:

              2434 A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice.221 In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. “Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.”222 Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.

              • Mr. Seeber,
                My argument wasn’t about the morality, or lack of it. I already admitted that as a Catholic I’m obliged to pay a day’s wage for a day’s work, remember?
                I stated a fact, namely that Congress has no power under the Constitution to establish a minimum wage for the nation. This is not within the competence of government. I believe that you are attempting to move the goal posts.
                And believing that the government should set a top salary for CEOs is a form of covetousness. The CCC doesn’t say that it is a sin to be rich. Neither did Christ.
                p.s. Check out para. 1883 & 2431, and Centesimus annus 48, too. You will not find establishing a minimum wage under the responsibilities of the state, I’m afraid.

                • Correct, not in the Church, but in the Constitution. Article I Section 8 violates the principle of subsidiarity in this way.

                  I had typed a longer answer but it got lost.

                  Edit copied below

                  • I’m not sure exactly what I was correct about, Mr. Seeber. Would you please clarify?
                    And how does Article I, Section 8 violate subsidiarity?

                    • Article I Section 8 gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce. The need for a federal minimum wage comes entirely from interstate businesses- being larger than the local jurisdiction, and thus unable to fully comply with local regulations.

                      If Article I Section 8 hadn’t have been in there, we’d have true subsidiarity in this country. We’d also have tariff wars on every state border; checkpoints to prevent smuggling, and the like.

                      I for one would rather have checkpoints and local state economies than one big market, but since we have one big market, we need big government to regulate it.

                      The church’s point of view is true subsidiarity- that government *and* markets should be kept as small as possible, and that larger entities should not be assuming the duties of smaller entities.

                      Like I said before- the true answer to minimum wage is to make it moot, don’t pay minimum wage. Pay a living wage instead, and treat your employees to the same compensation you believe you deserve yourself.


                    • Mr. Seeber,
                      I’m not sure of the order of replies, so, I’ll just post here, at the end. If I missed one of your objections, please let me know.

                      Now, the idea that a business is a government is foreign to me. Government is the means that societies use to do their will with the threat of force. They are a necessary evil, as the Declaration of Independence implies.
                      Subsidiarity is the idea that society should not concentrate this force, but, rather, spread it out so that most decisions are made at the family and local level.
                      Our Constitution followed this principle, for the most part, when it was created. Unfortunately, during the past century the progressives have done their best to concentrate power at the federal level, thus doing great damage to our country.

                      I am familiar with most of the papal documents on your list, having read large sections of Rerum Novarum, but, I have not made it through all of them. From what I have read, they all condemn concentrated State power in economics, and reject socialism outright. Socialism is incompatible with being a Catholic.

                      If people want to run co-op businesses, that’s their problem. I would caution them, though. The Pilgrims, when they established themselves in Massachusetts, tried collective farming and co-operative ownership and almost starved to death.
                      Private property rights and the desire for profit, so that you may expand your business, is a much better, efficient, and benevolent way for society to treat economic decisions.
                      God Bless!

                    • “Now, the idea that a business is a government is foreign to me. Government is the means that societies use to do their will with the threat of force.”

                      Starvation is a form of threat of force. If you don’t think those who are forced into minimum wage jobs are under threat of force….well, I’m not sure about the rest.

                      Our constitution was designed to replace the government *and economics* of subsidiarity under the Articles of Confederation with centralized control. It just took 200 years of boiling the frog to accomplish it, but with the Banker’s Coup of 2007, Washington DC finally capitulated to New York City and the centralization was complete.

                      Yes, they condemned communism and socialism in ALL their forms- including the centralized wealth of the stock market, which is nothing more than the same story in a different method.

                      Expanding your business is fine- as long as you don’t harm your neighbors to do so. Making a profit is also good and a sign your business is well run- as long as you are paying a just wage and charging your customers a fair price.

                      Publicly owned corporations can never be Christian because of the centralization of wealth and power in the stock market.

                    • Mr. Seeber,
                      My apologies for not responding sooner. Just couldn’t find the time.

                      “If you don’t think those who are forced into minimum wage jobs are under threat of force […].”

                      Nobody is forced into minimum wage jobs in this country. It is a private choice. Most minimum wage jobs are held by teenagers, which is just, since they have no experience in most cases.
                      There is no excuse to remain at the minimum wage level. When I worked at McDonald’s, at 17, I got a raise in less than a month. Same goes for my first job (not at my father’s business) as a busboy. I was hired at $3.60/hr. and was up to $3.90 in two months! I was 16.

                      Creating a free-trade zone between the 13 original states did not violate the principles of subsidiarity. Local and state governments were, and still are, allowed to regulate commerce how they see fit.

                      “[…] [A]s long as you are paying a just wage and charging your customers a fair price.”

                      And who decides how much a “just wage” and “fair price” should be? The U.S. Congress? That violates subsidiarity.
                      As I’ve previously stated, the several states may establish minimum wage laws, if they don’t violate their state constitutions. This power was retained under the U.S. Constitution.
                      That being said, I would still be against setting a minimum wage or price freezes and supports, because they interfere with the free market, which is much better at determining such things.

                    • Now the response to the reply below that is still in moderation, which I will copy to that reply when I get a chance.

                      I would beg you to consider, Nick, the concept that a business, if it is large enough to have employees, is a voluntary form of government. Some say the voluntary is enough to create enough equality between employer and employee that free negotiation on salary is enough, but you and I know differently- the employee almost always is negotiating from a weaker position, unless his skills are quite high and quite rare.

                      As for where this is in Church Teaching, every Papal encyclical on economics since Rerum Novarum has mentioned it as an ideal:


                      But in addition to those, and for a much more concrete form, I’d refer you to Papal Economics by Fr. Maciej Zieba. For a real world example, I refer you to (and yes, this is a large company, but it is organized as about 8000 small businesses, give or take a thousand) the Mondragon Corporation of Spain:


                      And the writings of the founder:


                      I think I’ve got the threading right now.

                  • Mr. Seeber,
                    When has the Church said that “big markets” are contrary to subsidiarity? My understanding, which amounts to limited research on the subject, I admit, is that subsidiarity is mostly concerned with governmental authority, not individuals engaging in commerce.
                    I would agree that the way Congress abuses the interstate commerce clause today does violate subsidiarity. I don’t, however, see how regulating interstate commerce, in and of itself, is a violation.
                    And, like I wrote before, you are free to pay YOUR employees any amount that you feel is a living wage, that you’d like. Only, don’t pretend that having the government force companies pay a minimum wage is somehow just. It is not.
                    Because you can’t quantify how high a living wage must be. It will a different amount for different people, will it not?

    • Since you closed the comments there, then I must bring up that we wouldn’t need minimum wage if we could just evangelize generosity better. One way to do that is to support businesses that pay more than minimum wage, or have some form of ownership sharing with employees.

      We’ve lost the culture war, probably permanently. It is time to start a culture insurgency- and swim against the currents of this culture of death. The Just Treatment of Labor is one way to oppose the culture of death.

      Oh, and BTW, Oregon, very strong in the culture of death, did a real world experiment on the minimum wage a while back- it’s now adjusted *every* year for inflation. The number of minimum wage jobs actually went up. Where it cost was the greater-than-minimum-wage jobs.

  3. Tried and trusty Democrat base means to enthuse the base. Who works on minimum wage? Not much more than 1% of the population, and of people under 29 years old, 0.8%. How long does a person remain on min wage? If you’re on for more than a year, there is something wrong. Does it hurt entry level jobs? Of course. Fewer people will be getting entry level jobs. Fewer people working, more votes for Democrats. It’s a win-win if you’re a Democrat. Moral argument? What about the person who was above the minimum wage? Now he’s either back to minimum or his experience and growth have been artificially reduced by the government. How about the people living on fixed incomes, you know the elderly, who now have to pay more for basic groceries? Screw them; they don’t vote Democrat. Moral argument? Ridiculous.

    • Manny, can you ever discuss any issue without talking Rs and Ds? We’re talking about our country with all these issues. We’re also talking about human beings.

      • But this is an extreme partisan issue. How can you not talk about this without R’s and D’s? This is an D get out the vote issue and that’s the only reason why it’s put out. It would be like a Conservative putting out a tax reduction post on April 15th.

        • I think the ONLY way to look at something like this is as a question of public policy and how it will benefit or hurt the people of this country. I know that the two parties are all lined up like ducks over it. But I’m pretty sick of them and their lining up routine. Let’s talk about it as a question of policy, even if they won’t.

          • OK, here’s what I think should be done. First, let me preface in my heart of hearts, I think the min wage is counter productive, but only just minimally, so if there is a sufficient number of people who feel it helps them, we could have it. But let’s then take the politics out. First off, the Federal gov should not be involved. A national min wage is idiotic given the disparity of cost of living across the country. They are involved only because of politics. Then let each state decide what a fair min wage should be that would not hurt their local economies and then tie it to annual inflation, just like social security. This way Democrats cannot bring it up every time they expect to be shallacked at the polls.

            • I’ll go one step further. Minimum wage should be public corporations only, and should be individual to the corporation and based *directly* upon a percentage of previous year’s CEO salary + bonuses. Only the percentage should be in common between companies. The minimum wage at a company that is doing well, would be higher than the minimum wage at a company that is doing poorly. Any corporation that wants to raise their percentage above the minimum is free to do so, but nobody is free to lower their percentage.

              And with those rules,the minimum hourly wage should be ((CEOSalary+Bonus)/2080)*.01. That is, 1/100th of the hours in a standard work year.

              Companies that are profitable, will thus be allocated more workers by the market. Companies that are not profitable, will lose the workers they have to companies that are more profitable.

              And there’s a free market version of the minimum wage.

              BTW, given the year-old bloomberg piece that The Anchoress linked to below (double linked- her own article has a link to it), the minimum wage at McDonald’s under those rules should be $42/hr, based on a CEO Compensation package of $8.75 million. Either that or, cranking the whole thing backwards, the CEO compensation for McDonald’s should not exceed $1.716 million if they’re going to keep a minimum wage of $8.25/hr

    • I know an awful lot of people who have been on minimum wage their entire lives. A lot more people are on minimum wage than you realize.

      As for people on so-called “fixed incomes”, maybe they’d be able to afford groceries if the Republicans didn’t keep taking money out of social security to fund unjust wars.

      How’s that for partisanship?

      I don’t vote either Democrat or Republican because I no longer believe either party cares about anybody other than politicians.

      • “As for people on so-called “fixed incomes”, maybe they’d be able to afford groceries if the Republicans didn’t keep taking money out of social security to fund unjust wars.”
        That is such nonsense Ted. No one has been denide a single penny from theoir SS.

        • Depends on your idea of what “denied” means.

          You are correct that no *individual* has received less than *what the government can afford to give*.

          But it’s no secret at all that the SS trust fund has been raided repeatedly by Congress for non-SS related expenditures. And it is equally no secret that SS has been repeatedly re-budgeted to match projected program liabilities to available funds, both from current tax revenues and projected trust fund earnings. It is also no secret that the COLA formula used for those adjustments is rigged and has little to do with either inflation or actual cost of living.

          What I am saying is if we weren’t raiding the trust fund and trying to push SS into the private sector, more funds would be available to make the COLA formula more closely match the actual cost of living, which would be the *JUST* way to deal with increasing cost of living for those on a fixed income.

          • What do you mean it’s rigged? It’s based on the inflation rate. Everyone’s salary is in some fashion based on the inflation rate. No, no, no. The fact that the money is not in the locked box has no effect on what a person currently receives. It effects the date in the future that the money will run out, and if it’s not replaced it will be empty fifty years form now or whatever the date is. But it gets replaced. And who says it’s only the Republicans that do this? It’s all of Congress. Obama has signed off on the budgets. Democrats control the Senate. And the first two years of Obama’s presidency he had both houses of Congress.

            • “What do you mean it’s rigged? It’s based on the inflation rate.”

              Which is also rigged, and tied to indices that simply do not matter to normal people.

              “Everyone’s salary is in some fashion based on the inflation rate.”

              I don’t know why you think that is true at all.

              “The fact that the money is not in the locked box has no effect on what a person currently receives. It effects the date in the future that the money will run out, and if it’s not replaced it will be empty fifty years form now or whatever the date is. But it gets replaced.”

              Not necessarily. Right now, the federal government is headed towards bankruptcy territory.

              “And who says it’s only the Republicans that do this?”

              It isn’t. But arguably, when the Democrats do it, they spend it domestically, not on foreign adventures.

              “It’s all of Congress. Obama has signed off on the budgets. Democrats control the Senate. And the first two years of Obama’s presidency he had both houses of Congress.”

              And he’s spent it on Obamacare. Which is almost as unjust.

  4. The cost of living varies so much across the country that I don’t think it makes much sense to have a federal minimum wage. It’s just another thing that federal politicians waste a lot of time talking about that should be done at a local level.

  5. One interesting fact from my parents business start 36 years ago. For many years my parents received no money from the business and it only survived because of my Fathers Air Force retirement pay. We never missed payroll for our three to four employees. Many small businesses do not have the extra money to pay larger wages until they are established and then everyone benefits.

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