Catholics & The Minimum Wage

by Jonah Goldberg

I’m posting these mostly to slow the deluge of emails from “good Catholics” who oppose the minimum wage. From various reader:

Jonah:       I am a “good” Catholic (“bona fides” available upon request) and I disagree with a minimum wage increase. If forcing employers to pay their employees a minimum wage is always good – why stop at $7 or $8. Why not $10 or $15 or $25 an hour? Because the government should not be meddling in the labor market to that extent. A person should be paid the wages his employer is willing to part with to get the job done and the employee is willing to accept for his time/efforts. PERIOD. And why do liberals not realize that the employer will simply raise the price of his products/services to recoup the lost profits from the imposed wages? How does giving upper middle class teenage burger flippers an extra $50 a week justify increasing the price of bread, milk and baby formula for the rest of us?  
How could a good catholic oppose a minimum wage increase? Easy-the Church
has no teachings whatsoever on the minimum wage calling only for a “just”

On the Other hand I would like to ask this Liberal “How could a good
Catholic support abortion or a candidate who supports abortion”. The Church
has clear teachings on this-the answer to both is they can’t. 

By recognizing that social justice doctrine is descriptive and not prescriptive, which leaves it up to us as individual believers to find the best way to meet the objectives of the doctrine.  That said, there is an unspoken corollary that any measure taken with regard to social justice must, at the least, “do no harm”, and hopefully do some good.
With regard to the minimum wage, there is a general consensus among economists that arbitrarily setting a minimum wage actually decreases opportunities for new entrants to the job market, as well as for workers with minimal skills.  Any increase in the minimum wage actually results in layoffs of minimum wage workers (whose value added is minimal, and who therefore are carried “on margin”), and a reduction in the number of slots available to this class of worker.  Thus, increasing the minimum wage hurts low-skilled and entry-level workers by denying them the opportunity to work (and hopefully advance beyond entry-level wages).  From a social justice standpoint, the minimum wage does not pass muster.  On the other hand, bishops are theologians, not economists, and they live in a cloud cuckoo land where there is some objective “just” level of compensation for each job.  Unfortunately, nobody seems to know where it is, so, as Thomas Sowell points out, they pay based on value rather than merit.
From a social justice standpoint, growing the economy is the only viable approach, since it creates jobs for all who want them, and then some, which means that employers must compete for workers, who then can demand higher compensation, until some equilibrium level is reached.  The irony of the minimum wage increase is that so few workers are actually being paid minimum wage–and those who are generally are students, part-timers, or second-jobbers.  In Northern Virginia, for example, high school kids shoveling fries at Mickey-D are pushing something like $9/hr, so the $7.25 proposal is academic.  On the other hand, in places where the economy is more precarious, increasing the rate to $7.25 will undoubtedly see a reduction in the number of minimum wage jobs, and a decrease in the rate at which such jobs are created.
But it makes the economically illiterate feel good to think that they have “helped” the poor. 

This Catholic justifies opposing the minimum wage by referencing the virtue of humility. I’m not smart enough to know that everyone contributes at least $6.50 to the economy for every hour of labor they perform.


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