Walmart, the Minimum Wage, and Morality

[by Ben Noble]

A friend of mine recently sent me an article that uses Walmart to argue in favor of a $12 minimum wage. He knows about my libertarian/anarchist views and was wondering what I thought about it. I hope he didn’t regret asking me this because my answer got a little long-winded. I decided to focus on the moral aspect of the issue because there seems to be endless amounts of studies and economists that you can use to support whatever your position might be. It is much easier to massage a study or set of numbers to reflect what you want, but it is much harder to do that with a consistent morality. I think it makes for a more powerful argument. Anyone agree? Here is what I sent him:

While Walmart is a huge employer and could possibly survive a $12 minimum wage, smaller companies and small family owned businesses might not. If I remember correctly, a huge number of people work in these smaller businesses and who knows how many of those jobs might not be worth 12 bucks an hour. In a weird way an increase might even benefit large companies because smaller companies could not handle the increase in the cost of labor. Imagine if you ran a gym or other small business and you all of a sudden had to increase everyone’s pay 30%. Might not work out well for you. I doubt everyone’s job survives. Not everyone can be employed at Walmart.

Funny how the Walmart CEO supported an increase in the minimum wage in front of congress, but refuses to do so voluntarily. He is only willing to act on his “conscience” if others are forced to follow suit. Doesn’t look like he believes it wouldn’t negatively affect the company.

It’s easy to trade data back and forth about whether something like this would work or not (I don’t think it would), so I think it is useful fall back on a principle: People should be allowed to do what they please with their bodies and their property and enter into contracts without intervention. A third party, the government, inserting itself into a voluntary agreement between an employer and employee over the cost of an individual’s labor is unethical and or immoral. It doesn’t matter if it is for someone’s “benefit”. And it doesn’t matter if some think it will have an overall positive impact on society. And it doesn’t matter if most people vote for or support it. It is unethical because it points a gun at the employer and says you can’t hire someone for less than X, even if both parties consent. I find it hard to believe that we can make society better by pointing guns at people and violating their ability to make and enter into contracts.

The gun metaphor might sound extreme, but it is an accurate description of the relationship between us and the government. Let’s say I hired someone for less than the minimum wage and the government became aware of it. They would probably send me a letter telling me to comply with the law. If I ignored the letter they might fine me or send me a summons to court. If I ignored the government long enough they will send law enforcement agents (men with guns) to my house to arrest me and put me in a cage. If I even slightly resist arrest there is a possibility I could be shot. All of this over the amount of money I pay someone who volunteered to work for me.

In keeping with that principle, I would suggest removing existing government aggression from the lives of low-wage earners. Everything they buy is heavily taxed. Literally everything. Sin taxes have an especially disproportionate impact on low-income earners. It also costs a lot of money to hire someone and to pay the taxes associated with employing them. Maybe if employing someone cost less the money would go to the worker and not Uncle Sam. There are a number of other ways government has disadvantaged the poor, I’ll save those for another time. I always favor removing aggression over adding more.

It’s safe to say that we all want people to be able to earn a living if they want to, but the way we do it is of vital importance. The ends do not justify that means. If we reject the principle that people own themselves, their property, and should be able to enter into agreements as they see fit, then it’s all just a debate over who the guns should be pointed at and what they are going to be forced to do. That can’t be good for society.

Live Free


Image via:>Flicker

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