The case for the “affirmative wage” experiment

By Tom Quiner

Michelle Bachman

A writer characterized Michelle Bachman as a “sideshow candidate” in this Sunday’s Des Moines Register.

He mocked many of her quotes, beginning with this one regarding the minimum wage:

“We could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we could offer jobs at whatever level.”

Yes, Ms. Bachman was less than elegant in expressing her reservations for the minimum wage. Even public figures known for their glibness from Barack Obama to Ronald Reagan have been caught expressing their views with a paucity of political panache. So, I won’t condemn the Congresswoman for lacking the rhetorical grace of a Cicero.

On the other hand, I commend her for staking out a gutsy position in opposition to the minimum wage, a position many Republicans shy away from.

Essentially, Ms. Bachman suggests we could dramatically reduce unemployment if we allowed employers to pay lower skilled workers what they’re worth. When President Obama came into office, Democrats quickly raised the minimum wage. The results are apparent. Unemployment has increased. It is particularly pernicious with black teen age males, whose unemployment rate has skyrocketed above fifty percent.

I would like to propose a modest social experiment to test the efficacy of the minimum wage. I call it the affirmative wage.

The premise is simple: legislators would pass a law that compels employers to pay African-Americans a different minimum wage than everyone else. Although conservatives find such reverse discrimination repugnant, liberals have embraced, promoted, and enacted various forms of reverse discrimination over the years under the guise of affirmative action. They view it as “leveling the playing field.”

The affirmative wage would most likely fail to withstand legal scrutiny, but play along with me for a few minutes. Suppose Congress DID pass the affirmative wage?

If Democrats were the ones passing the law, what do you think they would do? Why they would pass a higher affirmative wage for blacks to help level the playing field. After all, they are more compassionate than Republicans, right?

Let’s say they raised the affirmative wage to $15 per hour for blacks, and left it at $7.25 for everyone else. Would blacks benefit?

Of course not. Unskilled black workers would be priced out of the market. The jobs would go to lower-skilled workers of other races who had abilities somewhat commensurate with the minimum wage that applies to them. African-American workers with a skill level above the $15 per hour wage would be unaffected. The unemployment rate for black teenagers would sky rocket to close to one-hundred percent, because few teenagers have a skill-set worth $15 per hour in today’s marketplace.

Let’s say Republicans controlled the Congress and eliminated the minimum wage for African-American workers. Republicans, after all, lack compassion don’t they? So we’d expect nothing less from those dastardly market-driven legislators. Would blacks be hurt?

To the contrary, lower-skilled African-American workers would find new employment opportunities open up that didn’t exist before. Employers would be able to pay workers who have a $5 per hour skill-set what they’re worth without fear of going to jail. The black teenage unemployment rate would plummet and scores of white and brown kids would be left behind.

The premise of the minimum wage is that it is possible to cheat the laws of supply and demand. An experiment with an “affirmative wage” would quickly validate (or invalidate) the premise.

It’ll never happen of course. So here’s what we’re left with: legislation that makes it illegal to pay certain workers what they’re truly worth. The result? Higher unemployment and reduced access to the type of starter jobs that help the unskilled gain experience … and new skills.

Michelle Bachman is right on the mark on this issue.