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Civility needed in minimum wage debate

By Devin Keehner
On March 25, 2014

Do you believe someone who flips burgers deserves to make ten dollars an hour?
That question is possibly the most insensitive and ineffective piece of political posturing ever uttered. What's truly infuriating is that one can hardly have a discussion about the minimum wage without running into this line of argument. It's unhelpful, unproductive, and insulting. It doesn't advance the conservative agenda philosophically or electorally, and should be done away with.
First off, who cares? The small government, conservative position is that the public should have no opinion on what people get paid. People's compensation in a free market economy should not be a topic of public debate - that should be true for CEOs and minimum wage workers alike. It's almost indecent to even discuss such things. Let alone openly state that one group of people should be paid more or another less.
It's true, that the minimum wage has nothing to do with a free market. However, the suggestion is that a worker, doing a certain job, is not worth a certain amount of money. That is still unhelpful. It's a statement that has implications beyond the minimum wage.
The carless way in which this argument is often presented is at least half the problem. In a more guarded form this argument would at least focus on the economics of the situation. It's true that fast food workers have low rates of productivity (a fact that has less to do with the worker and more to do with the nature of the work.)
Instead the argument comes off as an accusation. An assertion that somehow those working in the low wage positions have done something to be worth less.
Worse still, would conservatives support government interventions in the wage market if they thought workers were worth ten or fifteen dollar an hour? Certainly the small government philosophy is not swayed so easily.
Nor would republicans be opposed to a fast food workers getting paid ten or even fifteen dollars per hour if that's what supply and demand deemed necessary.
So why make the point at all?
That's not to say that people should support raising in the minimum wage. There exists a plethora of moral, philosophical, and economic reasons that the minimum wage shouldn't be raised, or, perhaps, even exist in the first place.
The truth is that people can be against a specific piece of policy without attacking the intended beneficiaries of such a proposal. Conservative should be making it their prime goal to break the link between opposition and hate. After all, it's the conservative ideology that suffers most when this meme arises.
The media loves to assert-- often through nothing more than innuendo-- that conservatives must hate poor people, immigrants, women, and racial and religious minorities. The only proof offered being opposition to some sort of government handout or regulation. However, on the issue of the minimum wage republicans seem perfectly happy to make the case themselves.
What benefit can possibly exist by demeaning people engaged in medial labor-some of whom vote. Conservatives should be employing exactly the opposite tactic. They should be courting the working poor. They should explain in detail how an increase in the minimum wage, or other liberal policies for that matter, hurt the very people they are trying to protect.
Now, conservatives (in general) don't hate the poor, or anyone else for the matter. However, conservatives feel that the minimum wage is an issue that they can't afford to lose. It represents the very epitome of government intervention in the economy. Above all else free market conservatives must oppose any attempt, by the government, to set prices. That goes of rent, gas and wages alike.
What the GOP does hate is an effective communication strategy, or anyone who points out that their current strategy is flawed (see the government shutdown.)
Conservative need to stop feeling superior, and ask themselves why they haven't been winning elections. Maybe, then, they can start excepting the very real possibility that it's because they can be a little to harsh.
 


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