Politics: Minimum Wage is a Living Wage

Last week thousands of fast food workers protested for a raise in minimum wage.  “Fight for 15” has now been going on for a few years, and I’ve been listening to the arguments.  Unfortunately. the people who most need to understand what I want to say are the ones least likely to listen to me. A phrase I hear some say is “minimum wage was never supposed to be a living wage.”  I see red. I have literally had to leave a room when someone said this.

Let’s start with excerpts from FDR’s speech in 1933 when he signed into law the National Industrial Recovery Act:

It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.

It is greatly to their [businesses’] interest to do this because decent living, widely spread among our 125, 000,000 people, eventually means the opening up to industry of the richest market which the world has known. It is the only way to utilize the so-called excess capacity of our industrial plants. (FDR Library Online Record)

Seems pretty clear to me… it’s good business to pay a living wage. He goes on to basically tell businesses not to be assholes – if we don’t immediately raise the price of things, we’ll actually see profit and benefit of a higher minimum wage. Does anyone need stronger language that the minimum wage was created to be a living wage?

Do you know why this if a problem? Let’s look at some scenarios throughout history:

  • At 100 BCE (considered a height of Roman Republic Power) 1.5% of the population controlled about 20% of the wealth (as best we can tell from their census records)
    • Julius Ceasar came to power about 50 BCE – ending the Republic and beginning Imperial Power/Rule (whether he was ruler or not – he started it!)
  • Is there really an doubt that in 1790 France Marie Antoinette was hated because of the disconnect of the nobility?
  • In 1935, 39% of land was owned by the top 5% in China
    • In 1911, the Xinhai Revolution ended Imperial rule – one of the commonly cited reasons was inequality of wealth
    • In 1950, (1 year after Mao came to power) records show the top 5% of landowners controlled about 35% of the agricultural land
  • In 1943,  in Argentina, the top .1% controlled 11% of the income just before a coup d’état (ever heard of Evita, yeah her husband was sorta part of that stuff)

It frightens me that people think history is an unnecessary subject – just memorization of dates, people and places. If we today don’t learn from history – ancient and modern – we will repeat it.  I don’t want to repeat the cost that comes from income inequality.

California is in severe drought and a lot of our national food (especially fruits, nuts, and vegetables) are grown in CA. If those crops begin to fail, food prices will rise. Hungry people are desperate people. Desperate people take desperate action.

I don’t want to see another bloody revolution. I don’t want to see the hungry, desperate masses dragging people out of their houses. Looting the rich to buy food for the poor. I don’t want to see our military called out to decide between which citizens they are supposed to protect.

I want the leaders of corporations to recognize the worth of their workforce – and anyone who is working full-time should be making enough to live. A living wage is the cost of doing business. If you can’t afford to make your product the price to support your employees – you shouldn’t be in business.

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