Eugenicists wanted the minimum wage BECAUSE it would keep poor blacks from working and therefore reproducing

The sordid history of progressives and their eugenics advocacy extends beyond state-sanctioned forced sterilization of “undesirables,” “imbeciles,” “morons,” and “inferior races.”

They were engaged in a multipronged effort against said “undesirables.” For one, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s “Negro Project” was a more passive approach to the “problem”:

[We propose to] hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. And we do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.

An even more diabolical approach was progressives’ advocacy of the minimum wage. The minimum wage has well-known negative effects against the poorest and least skilled, but today’s progressives ignore that and persist in thinking raising the minimum wage would actually help.

Progressives of old, however, supported a minimum wage in full knowledge and expectation of its effects on the poor. That’s why they wanted it. It helped achieve their eugenicist goals.

Thomas C. Leonard exposed this sorry history in his Fall 2005 Journal of Economic Perspectives article on “Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era.” He wrote:

Progressive economists, like their neoclassical critics, believed that binding minimum wages would cause job losses. However, the progressive economists also believed that the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit, as it performed the eugenic service ridding the labor force of the “unemployable.” Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1897 [1920], p. 785) put it plainly: “With regard to certain sections of the population [the “unemployable”], this unemployment is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health.” “[O]f all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Sidney Webb (1912, p. 992) opined in the Journal of Political Economy, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them to unrestrainedly compete as wage earners.” A minimum wage was seen to operate eugenically through two channels: by deterring prospective immigrants (Henderson, 1900) and also by removing from employment the “unemployable,” who, thus identified, could be, for example, segregated in rural communities or sterilized.

Leonard goes on to show how progressives found a “race-suicide” theory to support pricing out “the colored races” from wage competition with white workers with higher living standards:

For these progressives, race determined the standard of living, and the standard of living determined the wage. Thus were immigration restriction and labor legislation, especially minimum wages, justified for their eugenic effects.

I’m sparing readers some of the more atrocious justifications compiled by Leonard. More discussion of this can be found in Jeffrey A. Tucker’s Feb. 10 feature in The Freeman, “The Eugenics Plot Behind the Minimum Wage” and in Carrie Sheffield’s April 2014 column in Forbes, “On the Historically Racist Motivations Behind the Minimum Wage.

Still, it is a sad commentary on progressives eugenicists’ success that a much higher minimum wage and abortion (the latter sometimes couched in deliberate euphemism) are both included among the demands of the self-styled “moral” movement. Granted, the movement typically pushes policies in the name of the poor that would cause greater harm against the poor, but still…

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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