Brandon Bartlett is an English senior and Mustang News conservative columnist. These views do not reflect the editorial coverage of Mustang News.
As Los Angeles announces its new $15 minimum wage for its unincorporated areas, a shout of victory and pride rings out among the proletariat; unfortunately, in the fight to uphold human dignity, we have not only overlooked many unintentional consequences, but also, as will be explored in this article, forgotten a foundational principle on which our country has been built: the right to private property.
Private property is a basic assumption in all forms of economics outside of extreme Marxism; this is demonstrated in the fact that economics, at its core, is simply the exchanging of goods/services between parties which have ownership of them.
It is for this reason that John Locke, the political philosopher whose intellectual spirit is immortalized within the American constitution, believed the basic human rights to be “life, liberty and private property.” This was later rephrased within our own constitution as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” having the same meaning within the minds of the founders.
So within a business context, how does this right operate?
This is quite simple: Things produced by the business, are owned by that business and its owners. And since the wage of a job would not exist without the company, it is a product of said company. So by artificially setting the price of any service at $15 an hour, the L.A. government is encroaching upon the rights of the business owner: the right to control his/her own property.
However, it should also be noted that sometimes rights need to be encroached upon. It is for such reason that a legal system, though inherently infringing upon the rights of the punished (for jailing is certainly a violation of liberty), is permitted to exist.
How then should we interact within this system of rights?
Well, rights are derivative of what people need in order for society to flourish; which is to say, they are social constructs which have allowed certain civilizations/cultures to advance until, by means of Darwinian progression, they have become the basic assumptions at the core of our moral and legal frameworks. Therefore, the importance of a right, and by extension, its placement in a moral hierarchy, can be determined by understanding its use to the human psyche.
This can be extrapolated in a variety of ways, but let us, for the sake of simplicity, take one of the more elementary and well-known models of human values: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Basically, the theory works as follows: In order for a person to self-actualize (which is a fancy way of saying “to reach one’s highest potential”) they require certain conditions to be met. These conditions are sought after in a specific order: physiological (basic food, water, and shelter); safety (both from attack and from the loss of physiological commodities); love/belonging; esteem; and finally self-actualization.
Obviously this understanding of human motivation is limited and lacks substantial nuance; however, that being said, it can still be a useful tool for us. Such that a right derived from lower on the hierarchy would have a higher precedent above that which is higher on the list.
Now, there are two reasons that the Left often asserts the need for the minimum wage: human dignity and right to life; and we deal with each of these in turn.
The issue of human dignity can be easily dismissed without much issue; as human dignity is a subset of either esteem or self-actualization, both of which are higher than safety (which is where we derive private property), it falls as a lesser right.
However, a person’s ability to achieve basic necessities does seem, at first, to be a valid justification for a violation of private property, as life is at the foundation of the hierarchy. But there is a twofold issue with this view.
First, from a purely practical level, this is why we already have government programs (such as food stamps) and charity organizations which should already fulfill this need. But, from a principled standpoint, there is a second issue.
In everyday use, a right is nothing more than what one seems entitled to; however, this is a misunderstanding. Rights, in their true sense, are not what is owed to people, but what people already have and what ought not to be taken from them.
For instance, there is a very large difference between stripping a person of life (murder) and not stopping someone from dying. This can be easily proven by the following thought experiment:
Certainly all of us reading this article have more than the bare minimum of essentials, and to get these items we spent money. Now, this money could have been spent saving other people (to be cliché, let us say those starving in Africa), but we decided to spend it on ourselves. Thus, we have not given to others what was required for them to survive; but does this make us murderers?
Of course not!
Would it have been better to give away this money? Yes, absolutely. But it would be incorrect to say that those in need have a right to this money, for in which case, we would all be murderers of nearly genocidal proportions.
From this we can understand that one’s right to life does not also extend to everything which would allow one to continue said life.
Again I want to emphasize, I fully support the giving of resources to those in need; I believe this to be one of the highest goods possible. My point is merely that such is not obligatory.
Therefore, since a person does not naturally have a job, but this is being provided by those who own the job, the wages from said job are not included within one’s rights even when they facilitate life.
Simply put, the minimum wage is a violation of rights; and a right which is at the base of our social system and society. It is for this reason that I advocate to, once again, allow workers and their employers to have full control of their property, thus fulfilling the imaginings of those who crafted our country.