Presidential Candidates Should Tell the Truth about the Minimum Wage

In this week’s Republican Presidential debate on CNN, a couple of the candidates took a brief time-out from slinging personal attacks and responding to trivia to address some actual issues affecting our economy. One of these issues is the oft-demagogued minimum wage.

Rick Santorum, in the second string debate argued for raising the minimum wage, Scott Walker wants to leave it unchanged, and Ben Carson proposed a convoluted scheme for a two-tiered wage floor that would admittedly improve the situation, but largely misses the point. Why are the candidates offering timid tweaks to a demonstrably terrible policy that should be completely and immediately abolished?

Republicans have a history of losing this debate, despite the weight of hundreds of years of sound economic theory, so rather than trying to educate the public and make a principled stand against a bad policy, they instead conceded the left’s flawed premise and tried to score points on arguing minutia.

Republicans surrender on minimum wage because they’re afraid of looking callous to the plight of the poor. “Compassionate conservatism” is a ridiculous catchphrase, but the Democrats have got them so scared of losing the war of perception that many have been willing to sacrifice the truth for the appearance of compassion.

This is sad because, in fact, the really compassionate thing to do is to oppose the minimum wage altogether. Government price fixing doesn’t help the poor at all, it traps them. How? I’m so glad you asked.

A business owner will never hire an employee for more than that person can produce. To pay $10 an hour to someone who only produces $9 an hour in productivity is to throw money away needlessly. An entrepreneur would do better to close his doors than to persist with such a policy; in fact, sooner or later, he’ll have to. What this means is that, in an area with a $10 an hour minimum wage, everyone incapable of producing at least that much will be unable to find work. It is simply not profitable for anyone to hire them at that price.

The question then becomes: who in society is likely to be the least productive? People with little to no education, people without relevant experience or skills, and immigrants who are less likely to speak the language. High minimum wages don’t hurt big corporations, they hurt the people who in society who most need a hand up. Instead, they are deprived of a chance to work, and to gain valuable experience that can then lead them to better paying jobs in the future.

By making the least well-off Americans legally unemployable, you consign them to a life of dependence on government welfare programs, with no way to dig themselves out of the hole they find themselves in. High minimum wages are not compassionate, they’re cruel, and it’s time Republicans had the courage to say so.