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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Minimum Wage and Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann thinks the minimum wage should be abolished.  

Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party Representative from Minnesota, has officially joined the Republican campaign for the Presidency, but not without controversy.

She announced her candidacy in Waterloo, Iowa, where she claimed to carry the spirit of John Wayne whom she apparently thought was born in Waterloo.  Perhaps she confused the long-time cowboy conservative with the killer clown John Wayne Gacy who was born in Waterloo.  
Additional reading:
          More about the Minimum Wage and Bachmann here
Keep Your Hands Off Of My (Son's) Medicare!
That pesky minimum wage question.

Anyway, the next day she was questioned by ABC commentator George Stephanopoulous about a comment she made about the minimum wage back in 2005.

She twisted and turned, and Stephanopoulous kept trying to pin her down::
 You said back in 2005 that taking away the minimum wage could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment.  Where is the evidence for that?
Bachmann: You know I think what we need to do is, again George, focus on job creation. I’m a former federal tax litigation attorney. I worked for years in the federal tax court system and watched how devastating high taxes are on business and individuals and farmers. And I’m also a job creator. My husband and I started from scratch a successful small business. That’s really the focus that I’m hearing today in New Hampshire. People are very upset that the president has us at 9.1 percent unemployment. That is not acceptable. He promised us that we wouldn’t see unemployment go above 8 percent. We’ve lost millions of jobs, people are suffering, they are hurting and I feel their pain and I want to make sure that what we do going forward is actually to address this and turn the economy around and get it on the right track because that’s really what people care about – that’s what they’re talking to me about all across the country.
She avoided the question about abolishing the minimum wage. 
(Notice that she didn't answer his question about her thoughts about the minimum wage.  Nor is she aware that, while unemployment is still a big problem, we've made up most of the jobs that were lost in the months after Obama's inauguration. More here. )
George tried again: 
Stephanopoulos: I think that’s what everyone wants to get this unemployment down but do you still believe that eliminating the minimum wage could virtually eliminate unemployment?
Bachmann: I think what we need to do is bring economists together, people who have been in this field to let us know what are the job killing regulations that could help us in turn put the economy on the right track. And so I think we need to across the board look at all of the regulations of various departments and do that. Unfortunately under President Obama we’ve seen a tremendous expansion of even more government regulations, that’s lead to even fewer jobs being created. So there’s several tactics we need to look at, one is the tax code, another is the regulatory burden that adds approximately 1.7 trillion of burden on job creators. If we could lift that then I think we’d see more people get higher wages, better benefits and more jobs because what we want is more job growth in America rather than to see jobs transferring overseas.
When Americans are "free" to work for a buck an hour, the jobs will come back?

(Aha!  I've been writing that one of the "job killing regulations" that the Repubs babble on about is minimum wage.  Finally one is stupid enough to cop to it.  Great.. Bachmann thinks we will have full employment when we can all work for a buck an hour.  No specifics on the "regulatory code" that adds 1.7 trillion of burden on "job creators"......And Stephanopulous  didn't drill her on the "job creators" stuff.  Nobody creates jobs unless they think they can make a profit from a product or service.   You only make a profit if you sell enough of that profit or service.  
But she still didn't directly mention the minimum wage, did she?  Perhaps by implication:  Let's get our wages low enough so that greedy companies in search of mega profits won't go overseas and pay Chinese workers $2/day!  Let's pay Americans $2/day!  Is that what she means by "job growth in America"?)  
Stephanopoulos: Let me try one more time, so you are saying that the minimum wage is one of those regulations you’d take a look at, you’d try to eliminate it?
Bachmann: Well what I’m saying is that I think we need to look at all regulations, whatever--whatever ones are inhibiting job growth that’s what we need to --
Stephanopoulos: And the minimum wage is one of them?
Bachmann: All regulations George. I think every department. We have just too much expansion of government and so what we need to do is tamp that down so that the American people can keep more of what they make.
(Interpretation:  Yes, George, you know I can't say this directly, but we shouldn't have government telling us that we have to pay people $7.50 an hour.  If someone wants to work for a a buck an hour because they are starving, an employer should be free to pay them a buck an hour.. Or even fifty cents an hour, for that matter.)  

How does getting rid of the minimum wage help the guy who is making a buck an hour "keep more of what he makes?" 

She obviously isn't talking about the worker when she talks about people keeping more of what they make.  She's talking about the bosses!  Who deserve all of those extra bucks.   The poor guy working for a buck an hour because there is no minimum wage... or the guy working 60 hours a week with no overtime because the overtime laws have been rolled back...  That guy doesn't get much of anything of what he makes.  No words about the dignity of any individual, even an individual who is the least among us in terms of employment.  

Now, I taught American history way, way back in time. The minimum wage was generally seen as a good thing, a great step forward for our country and for humanity in general. We don't really want people working for a few pennies an hour, the way they do in many foreign countries, do we?  I've just written about the problems with slave labor wages in China: People working on the Oakland Bay Bridge project are working 10-12 hours 7 days a week for something like $12/day. And they aren't happy about it.

It would be nice to think that all business owners wanted to pay their workers a decent wage, but history has shown us that it is not true. Many business owners will do whatever they can to cut pay and make working conditions worse so that the business can make a bigger profit. Then they complain if the workers don't work as hard as they think they should. The only thing that gives workers any real leverage in a pure "free market" society is either having skills that are needed and not in great supply or having fewer workers to pick from  altogether. Or kissing up to the boss. We all know people who have gotten ahead by brown-nosing.

The minimum-wage has been such an accepted part of American culture and American freedom that any discussion of abolishing the minimum wage has been relegated to a paragraph on one of the back pages for decades. No self-respecting legislator from either side of the political aisle would talk about abolishing the minimum wage in public.  They'd be considered a reactionary kook.  The only time the minimum wage is discussed is if Congress decides that it is time to raise it. Then the conversation is couched in "raise it" or "leave it" and both sides talk about how many jobs would be created or lost if it is raised or if it is lowered. 

Ultimately, the minimum wage comes from an understanding of human dignity:

 No matter what someone is doing for pay, there is a bottom limit as to what he should be paid.. even if he is an unskilled, uneducated worker shoveling shit on a pig farm. 

To call for abolishing the minimum wage, and to have an announced candidate from one of the major parties talking about abolishing the minimum wage is really extreme! It shows how far backwards we are moving and how extreme the Republicans have become!

Humanitarian concerns aside, does the minimum wage in fact increase unemployment?  Would unemployment be a problem of the past if we allowed people to work for whatever they could get, including a buck an hour

That's a topic for another article, as this one is already getting too long, but here are a few thoughts:  If people were starving, they would tend to work for whatever they can get.  They might then no longer be "unemployed", but how does someone who is making a buck an hour pay for anything?  There is no evidence that prices would come down enough so that someone making a buck an hour could actually survive.  

Would companies bring back jobs if Americans were willing to work for the same wages that the Chinese or the Vietnamese work for?

Perhaps.  But what kind of country do we want to be?

The anti-minimum wage people believe that a "government wage" takes away from the "freedom" of an employer and an employee to "negotiate" whatever wage is most appropriate for both of them. Hmm.. Does it seem as though two "equals" can negotiate if one of them is starving?

The next time you hear about "job killing regulations"--

Just remember: When Republicans talk about "job killing regulations", you can bet that many of them are talking about that pesky minimum wage.  They want someone without skills to be able to "negotiate" with their employer on the value of the employees' life.  And you can bet they don't like overtime regulations either, even though so many of our wonderful employers have gotten around that one by defining jobs as "exempt" so they can work "managers" and "professionals" for 60+ hours a week and not pay them overtime.

Great bunch of people we have running our businesses and corporations.

So Michele Bachmann wants to be President.
A few years back, any presidential candidate who wanted to get rid of the minimum wage would be laughed out of the party.. the Republican party at that. The Grand Old Party is just a shameful bunch of greedy hypocrites these days. Too bad.  For all of us.
This site, which favors raising the minimum wage, includes summaries of and links to many studies about various aspects of the minimum wage question. 

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