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Quality of work matters

Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 11, 2006

In a recent article, CLAP takes the position that just compensation is based on how far one’s wages go, not what one’s work is actually worth. While their motives are respectable, minimum wage laws, far from promoting “social justice,” are an insult to human dignity.

One of the most basic human activities is work. It is one of the things God created man to do. There is an intimate connection between the value one produces and the wage one is paid. This, truly, is a worker being worthy of his wages. The fact of the matter is that while it may be possible to earn $12.10 an hour and still be on food stamps, the majority of Americans are not worth $12.10 an hour.

Why? Because the majority of Americans are not capable of producing $12.10 an hour. Most low-level service jobs do not produce much of cognizable value. Why should they be paid as if they were?

Insisting that everyone be paid an arbitrarily determined “living wage” breaks the connection between the value of one’s work and the wages one receives for it. Instead of freely negotiating for the best wages one can find, one is told that people who know better have already decided that. Huxley would be proud.

What could be more condescending than being told that a bunch of “experts” and college kids know better than you what your labor is worth? What could be more alienating than realizing that there is no real connection between one’s labor and one’s pay? That your wages are a result of social policy, not honestly negotiated compensation for the work of one’s hands?

On more factual terms, concluding from evidence that the minimum wage increase of 1996 had little effect on unemployment that raising the minimum wage to something like a “living wage” would have a similarly small effect is disingenuous. The wage increase in 1996 was a mere 40 cents, representing an approximate eight percent increase in wages. This is not that much. Going from $5.15 an hour to $12.10 an hour represents a 134 percent increase. The demand for labor may be relatively inelastic, but not that inelastic.

Ryan Davidson

graduate student


Sept. 8