My position on the minimum wage.

The minimum wage debate is framed by the media as a battle of ideas between conservatives, who believe that poor people are responsible for their condition and basically deserve to die, and liberals, who believe that the minimum wage should be raised so income inequality can be somewhat stemmed. These two positions set the margins of discourse in our societies.

Both sides of the debate share some major assumptions:

1. They both believe in the “virtuousness of work”; that working is inherently good and not having a job is a situation to be remedied or a personal dysfunction. From an Anarchist standpoint, the desirability of work is highly suspect; in a capitalist society, work is inherently demeaning, alienating, and serves to enrich the elite of society at the expense of the workers and unemployed.

2. Wages are rewards for having a job, not a right. Apart from general grumblings about unemployment, we don’t hear much about the right to a job, let alone the right to a wage. Wages remain controlled by the economic elite and the minimum wage is really the only restriction on that control.

3. They think minimum wage is about teenagers, but three-quarters of minimum wage earners are not teenagers (admittedly, it’s mostly conservatives who posit this).

These assumptions have profound consequences on how people relate to work:

* Unemployed people, whether by choice, by handicap (physical or mental), or by “the market,” feel guilty. The only possible consequence of this unearned guilt is a lowering of one’s confidence and a lesser enjoyment of life. Guilt cannot give someone a job, therefore it is uselessly destructive.

Not only that, but there’s no reason why anyone should feel guilty from not working. Of course they may feel anxiety due to financial stress and that’s normal, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with not having a job. Why should one feel guilty at not being made into a “human resource”?

* Wages are set according to “offer and demand,” which really means set according to the power wielded by each party. Owners offering a job for which a lot of people compete have the leeway to offer low wages, because they hold the power.

* Owners of the means of production steal a profit (because it is theft, not production, I would not say “make a profit”) by lowering costs and/or raising prices. The most important category of costs is wages. If forced to offer higher wages, owners can generally get away with offering fewer jobs or raising prices.

Conservatives claim that the minimum wage lowers employment, while liberals claim that the minimum age has little to no effect on employment for various reasons. Either way, the unbiased, objective evidence for a link between minimum wage and employment is spotty at best and is usually based on bad science. Various reasons have been proposed to explain the lack of correlation.

Small increases may have no effect or such a small effect that it’s swallowed up by normal fluctuations. But a small increase in the minimum wage, while beneficial, would not solve the problem of inequality.

The 15$ living wage proposal would be a substantial income equalizing policy, even though it wouldn’t be accompanied by a strict reduction of income for the rich. The problem I see is that such a large increase would have a substantial impact on employment, putting workers between a rock and a hard place.

The minimum wage debate, like the other debates I’ve discussed previously (abortion, gun control, immigration), is a distraction from the real issue; in this case, the real issue is control over jobs. The capitalist elite always seeks greater profits, and these new profits can only be achieved by raising prices, which hurts the working class the most, or cutting costs, which means lowering wages/benefits or hiring fewer people.

There is no permanent solution to poverty and inequality possible until we reject the doctrine of private property of the means of production. The push for a higher minimum wage benefits us, but any debate about minimum wage laws which does not set this as the ultimate goal of any legislative measure wastes revolutionary energies. That’s why we need to put this fact at the front and center of the debate.

14 thoughts on “My position on the minimum wage.

  1. Heretic March 17, 2015 at 14:43

    So basically, if we raised the minimum wage so workers could live off it, corporations would find some other way to screw us over money-wise?

    • Francois Tremblay March 17, 2015 at 14:50

      Well yes. Although of course I support living wage, I don’t think it’s the final solution… it’s only a bandaid on the real problem, which is the fact that we’re not in control of our own lives.

  2. ellahawthorne100 March 18, 2015 at 11:43

    You talk about work being demeaning and alienating. I agree that work as we know it is this way. But in a hypothetical world where we are all in control over our own lives, do you see work as being necessary and even fulfilling? In my hypothetical world, I would do lots of work, like gardening, building, cooking, teaching, etc but it would be work I choose to benefit the community. I wish I could do this work instead of the work I have to do.

    • Francois Tremblay March 18, 2015 at 15:30

      Implied in the use of work is the capitalist contract, yea. I don’t think anyone objects to the process of transforming resources itself. What you describe is more like Slack from the Subgenius perspective (which is what Bob Black, who was a Subgenius, supported when he was talking about “The Abolition of Work” and what most people really want.

      Basically the concept “work” itself is usually one of the compartments isolated from the rest of a person’s life, isolated from “values and decision-making,” “politics,” “play,” “esthetics,” etc. The objective, hopefully, is to break down the barrier between “work” and all those other compartments (especially the first one, from a socialist perspective) and therefore obliterate it as a concept separate from life, making it integrated into one’s life.

    • Heretic March 18, 2015 at 18:26

      I have heard of a similar idea before and I like it a lot. Community-wise it would also include caretaking. There are some small communities that do the very things you described.

  3. ellahawthorne100 March 18, 2015 at 11:47

    I’m also interested in rejecting “the doctrine of private property” as you say. The whole idea of corporations as private property is screwing us over. “Private property” should only refer to one’s own possessions, like my own clothes. It should not be possible for people to own entire institutions. This directly leads to dominance and oppression.

    • Francois Tremblay March 18, 2015 at 15:53

      Agreed. And the concept of property is just contradictory on its face. It’s just conceptual nonsense in so many ways.

      • Heretic March 18, 2015 at 18:25

        We don’t actually “own” most things, anyway – cars, houses, land all have payments or taxes. Which reminds me, I really need to read up on the concept of property. The funny thing is that I keep seeing corporations treated as if they were people, yet they have more property rights (including IP) than, well…people. Not to mention how bogus employment contracts are.

        • Francois Tremblay March 18, 2015 at 18:34

          The book that really got me to abandon the whole concept of property was What Is Property? by Proudhon. If you search for Proudhon on this blog, I’ve posted many quotes from his book. There is an English translation online as well.

          What first got me to question property was the whole corporate aspect. A transaction is supposed to take place between two people, but when you go to the grocery store and buy products, who’s the other party? Who owns the product before you buy it? I wrote an entry suggesting that shoplifting wasn’t theft because there’s no one being stolen from, but I got a frosty reception. :)

          • Heretic March 24, 2015 at 06:13

            Thanks! Now I have the one book to sum up everything :) Btw, I always enjoy how you write. You debunk things in a no-nonsense way and can explain complex thoughts pretty easily.

        • Francois Tremblay March 24, 2015 at 15:14

          Thank you! That means I am successful at what I want to do.

  4. L June 29, 2015 at 02:08

    The mini-radical in me loooves seeing workers fighting for better wages, benefits and or work conditions!

    Most of the economic articles echo your sentiments that raising the minimum wage doesn’t do much because companies will find some other way to short-change workers. One article by this super pro-capitalist writer said that raising the minimum wage is pointless and that the only way to improve the material conditions of low-wage workers is to put money and goods into their hands.

    What bugs me is the way the rhetoric around worker’s protest is being twisted around so that the worker is to blame; ie. The reason this lotion is more expensive is because of our greedy, evil workers who actually want to be paid enough to have food and live inside…blame it on them!!

    My short term solutions would be: let employees be shareholders and receive money from that. Mcdonald’s (MCD) paid out 18 billion dollars to shareholders over the past two years! Imagine if employees were given even a fraction of that. I’d like ceo’s and etc. who are always talking about how much they appreciate their employees to make the wealth “trickle down” by giving their lowest paid employees some of their paycheck or giving employees some of their bonuses.

    • Francois Tremblay June 29, 2015 at 15:31

      I agree that we should be pro living wage and pro profit sharing as well. I’m just saying it’s not a solution that addresses the causes of unemployment and low wages. We need to be doing that AND more.

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