Raising the Minimum Wage for Working Men and Women in California and the Rest of America

Banquo’s Ghost as a Minimum Wage Initiative

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In all respects except one, the last week couldn’t have been better for my California initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour, the highest in the America.

NPR broadcast a remarkably long 14 minute interview segment on my effort. Although the airing of the show had been delayed a couple of weeks, I couldn’t have been happier with the discussion, which provided me an ideal platform to explain in detail the numerous reasons why both liberals and conservatives should naturally endorse a much higher minimum wage. During the previous week widely syndicated columns by Debra Saunders and Thomas Elias had covered similar ground. And just this morning legendary public advocate Ralph Nader published a major column in USA Today recapitulating those same obvious reasons why America should “give workers a raise.”

Unfortunately these positive developments recalled the Banquo’s Ghost scene in MacBeth, when Scottish noblemen drink toasts to honor a delayed guest without realizing that he was longer among the living. On Friday I was still quite hopeful that my minimum wage initiative would win a landslide victory in November and change American history. But by yesterday I was finally forced to send out an announcement that my ballot measure was unlikely to even reach the ballot.

Although people may say that money is the root of all evil, my simple problem was the opposite, namely lack of the funding necessary to qualify the measure. Although exaggerated media accounts had sometimes paired me with Warren Buffett or even explicitly described me as a billionaire, my true financial resources were minuscule by comparison. Therefore, over the last couple of months, I had been urgently seeking the necessary financial backing for the campaign from a wide range of different possible sources. Such financial backing has not materialized, so my effort to raise the California minimum wage to $12 per hour appears dead.

Given the widespread public attention attracted by the effort and the powerful political tide on the issue, this unfortunate outcome is surely shocking to many people, including myself. Last night I spoke to a national journalist who said that he found it difficult to believe that no wealthy and public-spirited citizen would step forward to ensure a November vote on the subject. California alone certainly contains many, many thousands of individuals able to fund the petition drive with a single check and never even notice the cost, and anyone who did that would certainly gain huge national recognition as a consequence. But no such person has yet appeared on the horizon.

A couple of weeks ago I had taken the dramatic step of repeatedly running a full-page ad appealing for financial support in my local Palo Alto newspaper, whose distribution also includes several neighboring communities, together containing dozens of billionaires and large numbers of others just below that level.

Somewhat to my surprise, a person in exactly that category—moreover someone with decidedly conservative views on economics—quickly came forward and proposed making a donation large enough to qualify the measure for the ballot. But although the dollars were totally insignificant to him, the enormous public attention likely to result from such an unusual ideological pairing soon led to doubts and second thoughts, and by the end of last week, the prospect of such had faded away. Hence on Monday I released my announcement that there was unlikely to be a minimum wage vote on the California ballot in November.

Given the campaign’s previous high profile, word of its apparent demise has now quickly appeared in several media outlets, including The SF Chronicle, Slate, The Nation, and The Associated Press. So I suppose there still does exist some possibility that a wealthy donor will learn of this unfortunate situation and quickly step forward to provide the couple of million dollars necessary to raise the incomes of California workers by an estimated $10 to $15 billion..

I’d hardly consider such an outcome very likely, but stranger things have probably happened in American political history.

(Reprinted from The Unz Review by permission of author or representative)

• Category: Campaign, Notable • Tags: Full, Ron Unz