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The other side of the coin

Mark Poyar | Wednesday, January 17, 2007

One of my favorite philosophers once said that man is a rational being. After taking an unfortunate interest in politics for over the last four years, I now believe a far more accurate statement: man is capable of thinking rationally, but rationality is chosen, not automatic. Perhaps the most common mental error people make when making some sort of political claim is the refusal to examine what their support for a certain public policy necessarily implies. Support of minimum wage laws are a perfect example of this error in thinking.

Minimum wage laws have been around for so long that most Americans instinctively accept, if not support, such laws. Many view them as an acceptable government policy in the “war on poverty.” Democrats are especially notorious for recommending the increase of the minimum wage, although many Republicans also support its increase as well. However, virtually none of these same people would disagree with the statement that a person owns himself; indeed, most of the supporters of the minimum wage also claim that a woman has a right to seek an abortion because she is the owner of her body. But the claim that a person owns himself and the claim that there should be a minimum wage are entirely incompatible, for one’s support of the minimum wage necessarily implies that the person cannot also believe in self-ownership. Like the front side of a coin, the claim that there should be a minimum wage law is readily apparent to all that witness it, but its unspoken rejection of self-ownership, like the back side of a coin, is not so obvious but implicit in the first claim.

In order to see why it is impossible to simultaneously support both minimum wage laws and the axiom that you own yourself, it is necessary to see why accepting the idea of self-ownership automatically rules out support of the minimum wage. If it is true that man owns himself and that ownership means the right of control over something, then he is free to do anything he wants with his own property (his person and possessions) except those actions that infringe on the right of others to do the same. This means that because man is the sole owner of his body, he is free to use it in any way he sees fit to support his life as long as those efforts do not infringe upon the rights of others. Murder, slavery, and rape are subsets of the same crime: taking control through the use of force of the body of another without the person’s consent. All actions that violate a man’s right of self-ownership are inherently wrong because they deprive the person of the right to control his own body.

Because a man owns his own body and is thus free to use it in any way he wishes, he has the right to agree to rent his body to a firm in exchange for money, goods, or services, or any sort of other compensation as long as both parties agree to it. Likewise, the owners of a firm have the right to rent the services of another in exchange for some mutually agreed upon form of compensation. Both parties to this contract have violated no one’s rights; it is the right of the worker to contract his labor out to others since he owns himself and it is the right of the owners of the firm to buy the labor of the worker using some form of compensation as long as the worker is not forced into the deal.

Minimum wage laws necessarily violate a man’s right of self-ownership because they deprive the person of the right to control his own body. Pretend that the government imposes a minimum wage of $10 per hour but I agree to work at In-N-Out Burger for $9 per hour, a rate at which the company agrees to pay me. I should be able to contract my labor out to any company at any compensation level that I wish as long as the company consents by virtue of the fact that I own myself and therefore have the right to do with it what I please. Similarly, the owners of a firm have the right to buy the services of others at any rate which is acceptable to both parties by virtue of the fact that they own the firm. The minimum wage denies both employer and employees these rights.

It comes down to this: if you support minimum wage laws, you can’t also believe that you own yourself because a belief in self-ownership necessarily leads to a rejection of minimum wage laws; it is impossible to support both. If one denies self-ownership, all morality goes out the window, for there cannot be any consistent opposition to rape, murder, or slavery without the belief that actions which violate another’s person are wrong.

When making any political claim, make sure to not just look at the claim itself, but also the implications of the claim. Look at both sides of the coin.

Mark Poyar is a junior Finance major and Vice President of the College Libertarians. Their website is http://ndlibertarians.blogspot.com. He is currently studying abroad in England and can be contacted at mpoyar@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.