Friday, September 23, 2005

Let's Talk Living Wage

Once again, the free marketeers are at work in the ABH.

Today's LTE writer is a lot of fun. Apparently, the reason that wages are so low is because of...get ready now...illegal immigration!

Ok, so to date, we've blamed poor people and foreign people. We're hoping someone can write in soon and blame the IRS (or Tom Daschle). That way we can get the full Republican scapegoat trifecta.

Now, in some ways, this guy makes a decent point. Too bad it's all clouded up with a complete misunderstanding of politics and policy. To be sure, there are a lot of illegal workers here in America, and quite a few in Georgia. There's probably more than a handful right here in Athens. And, there's some truth to the point that (disgusting racial stereotyping aside), illegal immigrants will work for less. Of course, it isn't their choice to do so, any more than it would be your choice to work for less than minimum wage.

But to assume there's some magical way to suddenly seal up the borders is just fatuous.

We can't. If we could have, then the xenophobes in the Republican Party would have done it by now, and Tom Tancredo could be home stroking his Wookie instead of trying to run for President like a real politician.

So, since there's no magic bullet to keep all of the scary brown people out of the country, what have we been left with? Things like this. All of them have the end result of making it harder for immigrants (legal or otherwise) to become citizens.

Break that down a little more, though. They're already here, and more to the point, they're not going to stop coming. So, shouldn't we be making it easier for people to become citizens, not harder?

There's another reason too. America is, or was, the land of opportunity. We'll spare you the usual, "We're all immigrants" rhetoric. But think about it, at least.

In any event, we're not going to rant about how restrictive immigration politics hurt the nation. Instead, we'd like to point out a major fallacy that seems to pop up in just about every anti-living wage argument we've seen. For illustrative purposes, we'll use a quote from today's letter to the editor.

Sez the writer, "Price controls do not work well in a free economy."

Here's the fallacy. The United States is not, repeat not, a free economy, if you mean, as we presume the writer does, a free-market economy.

"But we're in America, not Soviet Russia!!! We've got a free market economy!!!"

Oh yeah? Tell it to the SEC, the FDA, the EPA, etc.

We're not going to descend to that which we made fun of Jason Winders for doing by playing armchair economist. But to assume that the US is a bastion of free-market economics is silly, and it underscores a certain tendency to listen only to the talking points that you want to hear.

Sure, we are a freer market economy than Soviet Russia, or present-day Cuba, or China. But we aren't a pure free-market economy, and to pretend otherwise is fatuous.

Athens certainly isn't a free market economy. If it were, we wouldn't have a smoking ban, a mass grading ordinance, the protections against over development that we do, and our police and fire protection would be either non-existent or privatized.

What the pro-business, anti-living wage tyes won't tell you is that a fair wage will lower certain aspects of the cost of business. Health care premiums, even taxes (because less people will need government assistance) will go down if we raise wages. Again, we're not going to play armchair economist and try to figure out how it balances out. We don't know. The anti-living wage crowd loves to make dire predictions (c.f. Dave Cappi, Jason Winders, et al), but they don't know either. Doesn't matter to them, they're going to raise prices and blame it on wage hikes regardless of whether it ends up costing them more or not. (c.f. gas gouging in Athens, Rolling Stones tickets, Papa Johns' new delivery fee)

One final thought. We don't know how much money any of these letter writers makes (judging by the time it took us to get a table at Dave Cappi's joint when we used to eat there, we can make a guess about the size of his wallet), but were guessing that none of them make minimum wage. Neither do we. Perhaps we just haven't forgotten that the world doesn't revolve around the well-to-do.

Got the skinny? Hand it over.

1 comment:

andyrusk said...

I'm a carpenter. I work alongside illegals all the time. (In the trades they're called "Import Labor").

The going rate for an immigrant day-laborer anywhere in the state of GA?

$10 an hour. Nearly twice the minimum wage.