The minimum wage sparks a great deal of controversy because it is an emotion-laden topic. Such emotion is quite understandable as any talk on minimum wage naturally involves a discussion about poor people. And curiously, the prosperous and the well-positioned in our society, among them most college students, seem to never tire of amusing and exasperating themselves at dinner table debates over what to do or what not to do with the poor.
Given the humanitarian bent of most people, such conversations naturally tend towards proffering solutions to relieve the poor. One solution that frequently emerges is to simply require employers to pay higher wages to their low-skilled employees through the strong arm of the state.
There are mountains of literature which have already been marshaled against the minimum wage requirement and have thoroughly denounced it as an endeavor woefully deprived of logical, economical and moral legitimacy. These arguments have been more ably posited and summarized than I could attempt here, so I leave you to engage such literature on your own. An excellent, readable and brief beginning may be found in Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson.”
I find the arguments for minimum wage restrictions very silly, but, as I already promised, I won’t be getting into that. Instead, I’ll restrict myself to commenting on something which I find much sillier and amusingly ironic, that is, the spectacle of college students adamantly defending the minimum wage.
What business is it of yours what an employee willingly agrees to work for, whether it is a dollar an hour or one hundred a day? Indignant bleeding hearts everywhere insist that it is their business and passionately decry the cruel capitalist system that would permit employers to reward employees as they see fit, since (as everyone knows) cruel capitalists tend towards paying nothing at all when they can get away with it.
While I applaud the dizzying scope and depth of such worldly wisdom, I must ask you to consider a neglected scenario involving an individual who has the smarts and the ability but lacks the knowledge and the skills requisite to perform in his desired capacity. Suppose such an individual is willing to work for little, even no earnings, in order to learn a job skill more fully and professionally and thereby earn the reward of a higher salary. Imagine further that such an individual is willing to pay his employer for this training period. Minimum wage legislation prohibits this individual from pursuing such a course of action, whether he is a nascent carpenter or a future automotive tech attempting to learn the trade.
The supporter of the minimum wage may be impressively armed with a number of responses demonstrating how this conjectured individual benefits more from the minimum wage than he would if he were allowed to pursue the temporary training program broadly outlined in the above paragraph. Such a person may argue that the minimum wage is just and fair always and everywhere, no exceptions permitted.
Are you such a person? And do you enjoy the distinction of being a university student? Allow me to address you personally. In your support for the minimum wage, you conveniently (and most hypocritically, I might add) ignore a glaring and gross exception, namely yourself and your fellow university students. You brazenly flaunt the very restrictions that you seek to have imposed on others as you sacrifice four (or more) arduous years of your youth diligently toiling away without pay to gain the skills and credentials which will allow you to enter your chosen profession at a higher salary. You spend your summers working for paltry sums, sometimes even for free, at valuable internships gaining rich experience that readily translates into dollar figures once you graduate and begin your career. You do much worse then spend four years working for no salary by attending college. You (or your parents) actually pay for this extensive training period of your employment, and (in the case of public universities) the government foots the rest of the bill. Why has not the full and righteous force of the minimum wage law checked these unlawful, unpaid working habits of yours?
Naturally, you perceive the tremendous value in the route you’ve taken and excuse your inconsistencies readily. Is it so difficult to grasp that a similar manner of entering a career might help those in other occupations besides those reserved for white collars like yourself? You insist upon this grand, universal principle of the minimum wage as a check upon the greedy system of capitalism, but you wisely allow one exemption, namely yourself. You work for free to get a nice big foot in the door. But you support the minimum wage which restricts lower-income earners from advancing themselves similarly.
There exists in this world a thoroughly rotten sort of capitalist and that is the type who insists upon all manner of rules and restrictions for everyone but himself. Are you not precisely this sort of craven capitalist? Are you not the least bit offended by your self-contradictory and self-serving ways? If you will not renounce the absurdity which is necessary to defend a minimum wage requirement, will you not at least preserve what meager supply of shame you have remaining and leave the debate to others who do not exhibit such a flagrant contradiction as you that which you embody?