The REAL story of the minimum wage: Progs and the white-only workplace

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The REAL story of the minimum wage: Progs and the white-only workplace

Wendy’s recent announce­ment that it’s installing 1,000 self-​service kiosks in its restau­rants is a huge counter-​salvo against the Fight for $15 and its effort to push through an unrea­son­able national min­i­mum wage.

Most main­stream econ­o­mists believe pay­ing America’s youngest and least-​skilled work­ers at least $15 an hour will kill count­less jobs, espe­cially for those least able to lose them. But the pro­gres­sives behind the push, seem­ingly igno­rant about how the econ­omy actu­ally works, claim the wage hike would have few ill effects.

But the Wendy’s plan, plus sim­i­lar automa­tion ideas being con­sid­ered by other fast-​food chains, puts the lie to that con­tention. When you force employ­ers to pay work­ers more than they’re worth, the result is fewer peo­ple have jobs.

The bat­tle over the min­i­mum began at the turn of the 20th Cen­tury, the dawn of the orig­i­nal Pro­gres­sive Era . There is, how­ever, a huge dif­fer­ence with how the left­ists of yes­ter­year approached the issue. The orig­i­nal Pro­gres­sives backed a min­i­mum wage pre­cisely because it would throw peo­ple out of work.

As eco­nomic his­to­rian Thomas C. Leonard explains in Illib­eral Reform­ers (Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 2016), the Progs were a new breed on the national land­scape at the end of the 19th Cen­tury. Devout believ­ers in sci­ence as a cure for every ill, Pro­gres­sives were con­vinced the only way Amer­ica could sur­vive and thrive was if all aspects of soci­ety were run by experts — namely themselves.

One of the Pro­gres­sives’ main con­cerns was racial purity. They feared that Amer­i­cans of Anglo-​Saxon stock were threat­ened by hordes of infe­rior crea­tures, pri­mar­ily racial minori­ties and immi­grants from East­ern and South­ern Europe. They con­cluded that an effi­cient way to pro­tect the native-​born was to drive the unde­sir­ables — whom they called “unem­ploy­ables” — out of the workforce.

The “experts” believed the gov­ern­ment had to inter­vene to pre­vent white work­ers’ pay from plum­met­ing to unsus­tain­able lev­els. They thought blacks and immi­grants would accept lower liv­ing stan­dards than white men, so they would accept lower wages. The ensu­ing “race to the bot­tom” would cut white men out of the job mar­ket and leave them unable to raise families.

To that end, the Pro­gres­sives sought a national min­i­mum wage — or, as they called it even back then, a “liv­ing wage” — to make labor so expen­sive that employ­ers would hire only highly com­pe­tent work­ers (i.e., white men).

(The Pro­gres­sives also wanted women out of the work­place. Not only did they hold jobs that men could do, but the Progs also wanted females at home, breed­ing and car­ing for their fam­i­lies for the bet­ter­ment of the race.)

So what would the “unem­ploy­ables” do if they were pre­vented from work­ing? Under the Progs’ plan, some — imbe­ciles, drunk­ards, crim­i­nals and the dis­abled — would be insti­tu­tion­al­ized, while oth­ers would be placed in “labor colonies,” a euphemism for work camps. It’s not a stretch to imag­ine that such places could even­tu­ally become con­cen­tra­tion camps.

By 1919, fif­teen states had min­i­mum wage laws, but the Pro­gres­sives never got the fed­eral law they wanted. Acts were passed, but the Supreme Court struck them down as uncon­sti­tu­tional because they inter­fered with employ­ers and work­ers’ right to enter into free and will­ing contracts.

Not until Franklin Roosevelt’s admin­is­tra­tion did Con­gress approve a law, the Fair Labor Stan­dards Act of 1938, that sur­vived judi­cial review.

When it comes to the Pro­gres­sive Era, his­to­ri­ans are unfail­ingly gen­er­ous in telling how it improved Amer­i­can life by cre­at­ing bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions, estab­lish­ing food and drug reg­u­la­tions, and reform­ing the polit­i­cal sys­tem. Many also credit the move­ment for women gain­ing the right to vote even though most Pro­gres­sives opposed the idea.

But the dark side of Pro­gres­sivism is buried and rarely comes to light in the his­tory books. Jonah Goldberg’s Lib­eral Fas­cism is an excel­lent anti­dote that is both enlight­en­ing and enter­tain­ing. Now we can add Thomas C. Leonard’s Illib­eral Reform­ers to the must-​read list for expos­ing the anti-​humanity ideals that formed the core of the Pro­gres­sive machine.

Wendy’s recent announcement that it’s installing 1,000 self-service kiosks in its restaurants is a huge counter-salvo against the Fight for $15 and its effort to push through an unreasonable national minimum wage.

Most mainstream economists believe paying America’s youngest and least-skilled workers at least $15 an hour will kill countless jobs, especially for those least able to lose them. But the progressives behind the push, seemingly ignorant about how the economy actually works, claim the wage hike would have few ill effects.

But the Wendy’s plan, plus similar automation ideas being considered by other fast-food chains, puts the lie to that contention. When you force employers to pay workers more than they’re worth, the result is fewer people have jobs.

The battle over the minimum began at the turn of the 20th Century, the dawn of the original Progressive Era . There is, however, a huge difference with how the leftists of yesteryear approached the issue. The original Progressives backed a minimum wage precisely because it would throw people out of work.

As economic historian Thomas C. Leonard explains in Illiberal Reformers (Princeton University Press, 2016), the Progs were a new breed on the national landscape at the end of the 19th Century. Devout believers in science as a cure for every ill, Progressives were convinced the only way America could survive and thrive was if all aspects of society were run by experts — namely themselves.

One of the Progressives’ main concerns was racial purity. They feared that Americans of Anglo-Saxon stock were threatened by hordes of inferior creatures, primarily racial minorities and immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. They concluded that an efficient way to protect the native-born was to drive the undesirables — whom they called “unemployables” — out of the workforce.

The “experts” believed the government had to intervene to prevent white workers’ pay from plummeting to unsustainable levels. They thought blacks and immigrants would accept lower living standards than white men, so they would accept lower wages. The ensuing “race to the bottom” would cut white men out of the job market and leave them unable to raise families.

To that end, the Progressives sought a national minimum wage — or, as they called it even back then, a “living wage” — to make labor so expensive that employers would hire only highly competent workers (i.e., white men).

(The Progressives also wanted women out of the workplace. Not only did they hold jobs that men could do, but the Progs also wanted females at home, breeding and caring for their families for the betterment of the race.)

So what would the “unemployables” do if they were prevented from working? Under the Progs’ plan, some — imbeciles, drunkards, criminals and the disabled — would be institutionalized, while others would be placed in “labor colonies,” a euphemism for work camps. It’s not a stretch to imagine that such places could eventually become concentration camps.

By 1919, fifteen states had minimum wage laws, but the Progressives never got the federal law they wanted. Acts were passed, but the Supreme Court struck them down as unconstitutional because they interfered with employers and workers’ right to enter into free and willing contracts.

Not until Franklin Roosevelt’s administration did Congress approve a law, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, that survived judicial review.

When it comes to the Progressive Era, historians are unfailingly generous in telling how it improved American life by creating better working conditions, establishing food and drug regulations, and reforming the political system. Many also credit the movement for women gaining the right to vote even though most Progressives opposed the idea.

But the dark side of Progressivism is buried and rarely comes to light in the history books. Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is an excellent antidote that is both enlightening and entertaining. Now we can add Thomas C. Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers to the must-read list for exposing the anti-humanity ideals that formed the core of the Progressive machine.