I have to admit something. I like a number of aspects of liberalism. (I know liberalism covers a very large swath of possible political positions, but work with me people. This is a blog, not a doctoral thesis or even a newspaper article.) I like the idea of things like raising the minimum wage, government assistance for the poor (admittedly not solely a liberal idea), at least slightly higher taxes for the wealthy for government support programs, and longer mandated maternal and paternal leaves among other things.
However, I really struggle with joining my voice wholeheartedly with my liberal friends. One of the reasons is not because of the final stance (e.g., raising the minimum wage), but because of why they conclude their final stance. The motivation behind an action is extremely important to me. In other words I am not a consequentialist. (Another reason is because of many liberals’ moral stances on issues, but that is another blog post.)
Let me give you an example of why I cannot wholeheartedly join my voice with my liberal friends.
Hijacked subway car
My wife and I spent a couple days in New York City a few years ago. While we were riding the subway, a young man and woman jumped on our subway car and started yelling for everybody’s attention. The young man then began to denounce a social injustice that he saw. To go along with a few more items, this is what he had to say:
“The average apartment in New York City is $2,700. The current minimum wage in New York does not allow an individual to afford this apartment.”
Unfortunately he jumped off the car at the next stop before I was able to reply to what he said. But do you see the problem with what he said? Look closely. It is one of the reasons why I could not join my voice with his. Here it is: notice how he compared the minimum to the average. That, my friends, is the problem.
I find a lot of my liberal friends do this. They compare the minimum to the average … or the average to the upper class … or the upper class to the 1%. My liberal friends are not content with the minimum or just less than somebody else. They insist the average or more than what they have. So what I see is a lack of contentment and a bend towards greed or covetousness, wanting what other people have. Instead of teaching people who make the minimum that they have a right to afford the average, we should tell them to live inside the minimum until they are able to afford more … just like those who make the average should live inside the average until they are able to afford more.
The mindset of liberals has to change before I can support them. Until they can recognize that a lot of their motivations really lie in greed, whether they know it or not, I cannot wholeheartedly join my voice with theirs. (I have written before on the ways we may be ignorantly full of greed. You can read about that here, here, and here.)
I acknowledge that not all liberals have their desires based in greed. However, what many liberals do not recognize is that many of their fellow liberals do have their desires based in greed. If they could acknowledge this, it would make coming together to work on a desired result much easier.
Having said that, am I in support of a higher federal minimum wage? Yes, to an extent, and definitely not $15/hr. There are a lot of factors to weigh in that debate, but a number of people just do not know what it takes to run a business, especially a small business, of which almost 90% of all American businesses are (employing fewer than 20). If you raise the minimum wage by $1, for a business of just 10 employees, that is an increase of about $21,000/yr in cost (not including higher payroll taxes). And of course we have not talked about the many extra expenses that skyrockets the actual cost of an employee.
My wife worked for a small business and if the owner were forced to raise his pay rate to over $13/hr, then he would have had to close his doors. He even did not pay himself a for a few months just so he could pay my wife. Re-read that last sentence. I will give you a second to do so. … I wrote that sentence so my liberal friends can know that not all business owners who are not in favor of a minimum wage increase to $15/hr are greedy pigs. Some just cannot afford to do it. My wife’s employer gave her a raise every year until he could not do it anymore. There is nothing villainous about that.
Parts of California or some other state may need a $15 minimum wage, but that is not true for the entire nation. The cost of living is not the same in San Francisco as it is in even another larger city like Dallas. We cannot expect all employers across the nation to pay what San Francisco needs to pay their citizens. There are many other very sound reasons why the minimum wage should not be raised to certain advertised heights. There are even alternatives to increasing the minimum pay rate of employees without having to increase the minimum wage to certain advertised heights.
So what are my motivations for raising the minimum wage? Some of them are outlined here by conservative Ron Unz. However, I will add that I think there ought to be a separate minimum wage for workers 18 years old and under in certain jobs. This wage ought to be lower than the $12/hr Unz proposes because most teens do not need a “livable wage” as some like to call it, and the turnover rate of teen employment is incredibly high and it costs the employer extra to train individuals.
I demand my right to Versace heels
The second reason I have a hard time wholeheartedly joining my voice with my liberal friends is that they think they have a right to demand that someone does right by them. Allow me to explain that further.
I think that it is right that an employer look at her books and increase her employee’s wage if the money is there. There is a great passage in Scripture penned by James the Just (James 5:1-4):
Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
So I think it is right for an employer to pay their employees more if they can, and especially those on the lower rungs of the ladder. However, it is another thing entirely to demand that the employer do right by me. When I say, “do right by me”, I mean that I get to choose what doing right is.
Let me give you an example of this. Back in May of 2015 there was a large demonstration outside McDonald’s headquarters demanding that the company raise their minimum wage to $15/hr. There was a woman who was interviewed who was part of the demonstration. She said, “It’s not fair that they [McDonald’s executives] are walking around there [the company’s headquarters] in Armani shoes, when I can’t afford any shoes. I want Versace heels.”
Wait. Did you catch that? She said she can’t afford any shoes, she wants Versace heels. Whoa. That is quite the jump. In case you do not know, Versace heels will run you well over $800/pair. Do you see how what she considered “right by her” was way more than what was actually right? If she would have stopped with, “It’s not fair that they are walking around in Armani shoes, when I can’t afford any shoes”, then I would not have had a problem with that. But notice that this individual did not just want enough to afford a normal life, she wanted what the executives have.
I find this mentality quite often among my liberal friends. I cannot support greed, no matter its source. Poor people can be just as greedy as rich people.
I cannot support the mentality that you have a right for other people to do right by you. This of course is classically called a sense of entitlement. This mentality goes well beyond rights and moves into the land of greed.
I agree with my liberal friends on a number of issues. However, I struggle to join my voice with them because of the mindset behind many liberal thoughts. Not for everybody, but for a number of liberals, their mindset is one of greed whether they know it or not.