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

The Conservative Argument for a Higher Minimum Wage

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Those conservatives who make it a policy never to watch MS-NBC missed an opportunity to witness one of their own making a compelling case to raise the minimum wage. Ron Unz, Silicon Valley multi-millionaire, former editor of The American Conservative magazine and active in California Republican politics, was interviewed by Chris Hayes on February 12. He is campaigning for a ballot measure in California that would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour and insists that there is a persuasive conservative case for the wisdom of doing so.

Unz’s argument is a straightforward one: The American public will not allow the poor to starve. There will always be a “safety net” of some sort, no matter what political label the government happens to wear, and that net will be paid for by the taxpayers. At present, according to Unz, the country spends $250 billion a year to enable the working poor to survive. In effect, this is a government subsidy to low-wage businesses. We’ve all seen the reports about companies like WalMart instructing new employees on how they can obtain government assistance through food stamps, etc. What this amounts to is the government supplementing those workers’ wages.

Isn’t it the case, Unz asks, that conservatives deplore handouts to the poor? Don’t they believe that such handouts are a disincentive to work, and create an unhealthy (and un-American) dependency upon the government? What if there was a way to stop those charity payments, and, at the same time, encourage the poor to get jobs and support themselves? There is such a way: raise the minimum wage to a level that enables workers to rise above the poverty level, support themselves, pay taxes and funnel money back into the economy.

• Category: Campaign, National • Tags: Leonard Hitchcock