Minimum Wage Follies

George Cruikshank, wikipedia commons

One might think that the intended raising of the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2019 is a Wynne win for the little guy, struggling away to make ends meet, flipping burgers, waiting tables, mopping floors, and for some it might be just such a small but pyrrhic victory.

I am all for doing something to prohibit the exploitation of workers, and John Paul II taught that the business economy can only flourish within a ‘strong juridical framework’.  But why not start with Apple, employing legions of indentured Chinese to manufacture their i-toys in work situations so unpleasant that workers resort to jumping off the roof?

Things are not that bad here, yet.

Whatever good motives are behind this minimum wage debate, amongst its numerous problems is that the question is being attacked from the wrong end:  The Church’s social teaching does not speak of a minimum wage, but rather of a just wage.  And a just wage is determined not by what it takes for an individual to eke out an existence in some dystopic metropolis, but rather for a family to flourish.  Societal policies and laws should be based upon, and ordered to, the family, that fundamental ‘cell’ of society which, to be clear (and one must be clear nowadays) means a husband (a man), wife (a woman), and their children (male or female, and raised as such).

To quote John Paul II in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens:

Just remuneration for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family means remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a family and for providing security for its future.

Previous Pontiffs, who did have to tread so lightly in this hypersensitive age of androgyny, made it clear that the ‘adult’ in question should, unless necessity intervenes, be the father.  This is implied by the Pope, for right afterward, he has this to say about the woman in the household.

Experience confirms that there must be a social re-evaluation of the mother’s role, of the toil connected with it, and of the need that children have for care, love and affection in order that they may develop into responsible, morally and religiously mature and psychologically stable persons. It will redound to the credit of society to make it possible for a mother-without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination, and without penalizing her as compared with other women-to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age. Having to abandon these tasks in order to take up paid work outside the home is wrong from the point of view of the good of society and of the family when it contradicts or hinders these primary goals of the mission of a mother

This is not to say that women cannot work outside the home, but if we say that the only way to fulfill oneself is to somehow get a job out there in the world, a principle deeply embedded within our socialist mindset, then we have a fundamental metaphysical problem. Remunerative labour for the State or some company or other is not the only kind of work, and usually not the most fulfilling. Wage-slavery is not a pleasant thing.

Rather, most of what we call ‘life’ should be lived at home, the happy atmosphere of which Dad should leave with a heavy heart, and, like the exiled Israelites in the psalm, return with a joyful one.

If most people still lived within a family, with the mother doing the dignified work of keeping house, raising and educating children; if the whole fictional notion of a ‘teenager’ working for slave-wages was done away with, and young people were either at home, in school or out there setting up their own households; and if jobs were relegated in the main to working men who support and provide for families; well, the labour market would overnight get a lot more competitive from the point of view of the employer, and companies would be forced to pay more, even, dare I say it, a just and living wage.

As it is, the ranks of workers are now flooded with legions of teenagers (a category now extending into their twenties and thirties), single mothers, the displaced and unsettled, and on it goes.  Such families as exist are almost all double-income. How could they afford to live otherwise? Or so they think.  Suburbs are filled with endless empty houses, every member of which leaves early, and returns late, usually after a frazzled and frustrating commute in the clogged arteries of the 401. We are all out ‘working’, and the market accommodates with low wages, which have been stagnant for most workers since the 1970’s.

Hence, the government now has to legislate a minimum wage by legislative diktat, businesses cry foul, and both do not do much to ameliorate the fundamental problem, the breakdown of the family and the atomization and individualization of society.

Even as it stands, $15 per hour, which will be worth even less than it is now by 2019,  is nowhere near a just wage in this hyper-inflated economy, so we will still have  two parents working, and what children there are being raised in a daycare by someone else, usually a government-subsidized-and-monitored apparatchik.  We are devolving into a dog-eat-dog world, a Darwinian economic race to the bottom, red in tooth and claw, with no end in sight.

Then again, quibbles over the minimum wage may soon be the least of our worries.  Artificial intelligence and automation will soon likely make obsolete many of the jobs humans now do, and not just repetitive ones, but complex tasks, like drive vehicles (but I have my own doubts about this), check out groceries, deliver packages, even diagnose patients and argue cases in court, with a knowledge of disease and precedent law far surpassing any human brain…

With such a near-universal loss of jobs, they are already talking of a universal guaranteed income, free to all, but which will do anything but make us free, rather making us even more wards of the state than we already are, servants of our not-so-benign overlords.  For this ‘mincome’, to use one term for it, will not be without some strings attached.

The obvious question asked in a recent interview of someone with a Ph.D. from somewhere was, why would anyone then be motivated to work?  The utopian response was that people, men in particular, would do what they have always wanted to do,  like tend community gardens.  So we can just hang out in cafes, surfing on our China-made Macs, then wander over after lunch to pick weeds in the local tomato patch; we might even bring the kids along.

A man wants to see the hard-earned fruit of his labour, the sweat of his brow, figurative or otherwise, to receive a just remuneration for a job well done.  To paraphrase Dire Straits, money for nothin’ may seem like a ticket to happiness, but it is anything but.

The only solution is a return to the family, with fathers working for a just wage, not some fictional socialist ‘minimum’ one, so they can provide as they should, and mothers focused primarily on raising children and keeping the home a home, where life is really lived.

For as the family goes, so goes society.