The governor of Illinois recently said on national television that the minimum wage law should be passed by the legislature of Illinois because there is a fundamental principle involved. It goes back to the Bible, he says. The principle is this: if you work 40 hours a week, you should not have to live in poverty.
Let’s talk poverty. I don’t mean South Side Chicago poverty, which can be called flash mob cell phone poverty. I mean real poverty. At last report, approximately 1.2 billion people in the world live on an income of under two dollars a day. These people are clearly in poverty. What is the governor of Illinois going to do about this? What should he do? What does the Bible say he should do?
The correct answer is . . . nothing.
But the governor thinks the minimum wage law is based on a biblical principle. Dare he do nothing? Dare he just sit there and let people starve? So, will he now recommend that the legislatures of all those nations in whose jurisdictions people earn $2 a day pass a minimum-wage law of $10.65 an hour, which Illinois is about to do? Those people will go from $2 a day, or $80 a week, to $426 a week. Presto: no more poverty!
If he says that poverty is relative, and therefore the government of Kleptocristan cannot achieve this goal, then I would say the same holds true for the government of Illinois.
I am reminded of an old joke.
Man: Would you go to bed with me for a million dollars?
Man: Would you go to bed with me for $10.65 an hour?
Woman: What do you think I am?
Man: We have already determined this. We are haggling over the price.
The people in those Third World nations work even longer than 40 hours a week. But they are still poor. Somehow, those societies have violated the fundamental biblical principle, according to the governor of Illinois.
“But, wait,” the governor of Illinois might say. “Those people are not productive. They are not like the residents of Illinois. In Illinois, if you work 40 hours a week, you should not be poor.”
The problem with poverty is this: it really is relative. If people in Kleptocristan are poor in relationship to the people of the state of Illinois, then it is apparently the moral obligation of politicians in the United States to make sure that all those people do not remain poor. Obviously, somebody has that obligation, because it is a biblical obligation, the governor tells us. What will he do about this?
But how does the government of Kleptocristan intend make the people of Kleptocristan more productive? The problem is this: they are not productive. They do not produce anything of value that is worth $10.65 an hour. There is nothing that any politician can do that would make them this productive. There is nothing the governor of Illinois can do to make them this productive.
The problem is not just all those inefficient, unproductive workers in Kleptocritan. The problem is the inefficient, unproductive workers in Illinois. There is nothing that the politicians in Illinois can do to make these people more productive. Well, maybe there is something: they could rescind 90% of the legislation that has ever been passed by the legislature and signed into law in the state of Illinois. That would certainly help make the citizens of Illinois more productive. But that is not what the legislature of Illinois is planning to do.
Will the governor of Illinois go on record as saying that the state of Illinois ought to send money abroad to people who live in nations in which somebody who works 40 hours a week is not making $10.65 an hour? If a biblical principle tells us that nobody who works 40 hours a week should be in poverty, then somebody has to be in charge of enforcing this principle by law. The obvious people who have this moral obligation, if this principle is true, are all those people who live in nations in which working people are so productive, compared to people outside the geographical boundaries, that they make $10.65 an hour. They have have a moral responsibility to make certain that nobody who lives outside their geographical boundaries is in poverty if he works 40 hours a week. I mean, this is a biblical principle! So, if the legislature of Illinois has a moral obligation to pass a minimum-wage law, because people are in poverty work 40 hours a week, then the legislature has a similar obligation to pass a law that make certain that nobody outside of Illinois is in poverty if he works 40 hours a week.
If the governor says this suggestion is ridiculous, then he needs to explain why it is ridiculous. Why is it that somebody who works 40 hours a week is not paid $10.65 an hour inside the boundaries of Illinois? The reason is exactly the same as the reason why somebody in a foreign nation that is called a Third World country is not paid $10.65 an hour. The reason is this: his output is not worth $10.65 an hour. If the customers who purchase his output do not believe that it is worth paying enough for this output to let hum be paid $10.65 an hour, then there is nothing that the legislature of Illinois can do to assure him, and others like him, that he will earn $10.65 an hour after the minimum-wage law is passed.
In a free market economy, poverty is as poverty does. Poverty earns what poverty is worth. People are paid what paying customers say they are worth. Legislators in the state capital of Illinois cannot guarantee that everybody whose output is not worth $10.65 an hour will receive $10.65 an hour. They can only guarantee that people who are worth $10.65 an hour are paid $10.65 an hour But the legislature of Illinois does not have to pass a law in order to achieve this outcome. The free market will achieve this all by itself.
What the legislature of Illinois can do, and apparently is about to do, is to make it illegal for businesses to employ poor people whose output is not worth $10.65 an hour. So, the employers will not employ these people. The employers will stop hiring such people, and they will fire those people already on the payroll who do not meet the output standards required to pay them $10.65 an hour.
There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that the civil government has an obligation to achieve the impossible. If it is impossible for a civil government to pass a law that will make every employee a member of the middle class, simply because the government is incapable of making people sufficiently productive to enter the middle class, then anything that the government does in an attempt to make everyone a member of the middle class will backfire. It will increase the number of people who are poor. This is because employers will not hire them.
A minimum-wage law is, above all, a law that says that somebody who is willing to work for less than the minimum wage will not be allowed to do so, because the legislature has made such a transaction illegal. It restricts employers from making offers to employ people at less than the minimum wage. So, those people whose output is not sufficient to warrant paying them the minimum wage will find that they must either move outside the jurisdiction of the legislature, or seek employment in the black market, or go on welfare.
Probably they will go on welfare. They will figure that it’s better to get something for nothing (welfare) than getting nothing for nothing (unemployment without pay). They are, in short, a lot smarter than those members of Illinois legislature who vote for a minimum-wage law. Those politicians really do believe that you can get something for nothing. You can get paid for output that you do not have the ability to produce.
The legislators in the state of Illinois who vote for such legislation ought to call their legislation the Texas Employers’ Act. It is surely a subsidy to Texas employers. Employers in Texas say: “Y’all come!”