Minimum Wage and Living Wage … Around the Shoehorn Again

“You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit” – Exodus 23:2-3.

My favorite economic blog (globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com) recently linked to an article about a “prevailing wage” (or “living wage”) bill making its way through the Pittsburgh City Council. The article is here: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10019/1029245-53.stm. What interested me in the article is not that there are folks pushing for a living wage (i.e., the wage on which one could reasonably “survive” in a particular region); this is nothing new. No, what interested me was the religious fervor following the bill. The second paragraph is here:

“Standing in cold, trampled, muddy grass between Pittsburgh Schenley High School and the Bakery Square development, representatives of Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations used words from their holy books and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday to bolster the bill ahead of a possible council vote tomorrow.”

The logic goes that the poor, or those who make less money in their jobs, are the oppressed. Consequently, Christians (and, I guess other religious adherents) should support the cause of raising their pay. To this point, we would like to counter with a couple of arguments, the first regarding the general philosophy of the religious left and the second regarding freedom in economic transactions.

The opening scripture, from Exodus, would tend to refute the general liberal orthodoxy on the subject. Being the underdog or poor is not equivalent to being righteous. Justice is about truth and fairness. To the left this is defined as equity of possession, but I really don’t find full justification for that in the Bible. In that “God is no respecter of persons” we see that we all have fair standing with Him. But to argue that having less money is equal to being oppressed is silly. Could I gamble all my money away in Las Vegas and then claim to be oppressed and due some recompense from those who have not wasted their money? That’s just silly.

Second, I’d like to consider this notion of the living wage – or even the minimum wage for that matter. In Matthew 20:1-16 we see the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The landlord hires workers at various stages throughout the day and then pays them the same thing at the end. When those who have worked longer and harder protest, he response “I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?”. They had agreed to a wage – a wage which he paid them. Their protest was that he had paid others the same as them for less work. But he had not violated his agreement with those first workers. He follows in verse 15 with “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

To that point, a simple question. If a business owner and a potential worker agree to a price for labor, why should the government have anything to say about it? Minimum wages hurt workers and businesses. The economics of it are pretty straight forward – so I don’t really want to rehash it all. But free exercise of property rights does have some biblical support here (from Matthew 20).

But, as is often the case with the religious left, we see another marxist view shoehorned into a religious context.

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