Shlaes spells out a humanitarian case against the minimum wage

The economic case against a government-mandated minimum wage is clear. Amity Shlaes looks beyond the economic argument in her latest column at National Review Online.

… [T]here’s another, even stronger case against the rule. That is the humanitarian case. And until that case, too, receives consideration, the debate will always be a lopsided one.

Consider the current employment culture. Sit down with an employment officer at the company where you hope to work, and something feels strange. After a while, you realize what it is: The party on the other side of the desk is not a company executive, it is Jacqueline Berrien, the head of the EEOC. The process moves in similarly creepy fashion when you are the one offering the job: Sure, your future hire is there in the flesh, but you might as well be talking to Thomas Perez. That is, the rules the United States secretary of labor enforces determine the course of your conversation more than anything you, or the new hire, might feel like saying.

It was not always thus. In the 19th century and well into the 20th, many employers and employees believed that their relationship, the two-party one, was key. Outsiders — regulators, unions, lawmakers — were intruders. That privacy of employer and employee often yielded negative results. The employer might exploit the employee. But the two-party dynamic often succeeded. Because the employee-employer pair set their terms together, they trusted each other. From time to time, they also helped each other. …

… The relationship between employer and worker does matter. The employer who cannot set his business’s wages, or who must, whether or not he can afford it, increase wages, is an employer who is less likely to invest in his relationship with his employees. He is also less likely to hire and more likely to use a temp agency, to “nickel and dime” in the way that progressive cartoons mock. States and towns rarely supply institutions as wonderful as the Andrew Carnegie libraries. When rules intrude, the loss to personal ambition, workplace satisfaction, and civic culture is great. So great that perhaps someone will eventually figure out a way to quantify that.

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