President Biden’s proposal to raise the nation’s minimum wage to $15 per hour has been upstaged by his stimulus and infrastructure spending proposals, but the administration hasn't given up, and some well-meaning but historically and economically naïve Christians are on board.
All the missiles from economics launched against a minimum wage because it harms poor minorities bounce off the minds of statists (socialists, progressives, fascist, liberals, etc.) like Hamas rockets hitting Israel’s Iron Dome. Facts don’t move them. Consequences don’t faze them. Socialists reject the most developed of the social sciences, economics. Self-righteousness demands a minimum wage because they have declared it to be the moral thing to do regardless of the damage it will inflict.
Honestly, is it as moral as socialists claim? After all, minimum wages became popular in the early 20th century as the less violent way to promote eugenics. American progressives taught eugenics to Germans before Hitler and he merely took the ideology to its logical, violent conclusion. Progressives in the US wanted a non-violent way to suppress undesirable races and a minimum wage offered its services.
In his review of Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era, by Thomas C. Leonard, Art Carden wrote,
“Leonard recounts the ways in which Progressive Era economists argued that minimum wages were good policy precisely because they reduced employment opportunities for those workers. Social scientists in the thrall of the eugenics movement enthusiastically endorsed policies that excluded ‘unfit workers’ from the labor market lest those workers’ earnings enable them to continue polluting the gene pool.
“Foreigners and other non‐Caucasians could ‘under‐live’ American workers because they were accustomed to lower standards of living. Nonwhite workers would thus win the race to the bottom, ultimately culminating in ‘race suicide.’ In this view, Darwinian and competitive forces were dysgenic, meaning that unchecked reproduction among the fecund and ‘swarthy’ would overwhelm the genetically superior, leading ultimately to the degradation of the human race."
In his review of the standard textbook on economics of the US Progressive Era, Principles of Economics, by Frank W. Taussig (1917), Jeffrey Tucker wrote that the purpose of a minimum wage would be to regulate the labor market to exclude workers whose productivity was too low:
“Some people are simply unemployable, he [Taussig] says, for example ‘those who are helpless from cases irremediable’ due to ‘old age, infirmity, disabling accident’ and also those suffering from ‘congenital feebleness of body and charters, alcoholism, dissolute living […] irretrievable criminals and tramps.’
“This class, he opines, ‘must be stamped out’ and should not ‘be allowed to breed.’ Ideally, he says, we should ‘proceed to chloroform them once for all’ but that might have a bad look. Instead, ‘at least they can be segregated, shut up in refuges and asylums, and prevented from propagating their kind.’"
Tucker added that Princeton University’s Royal Meeker, Woodrow Wilson’s commissioner of labor, held the same ideology. “It is much better to enact a minimum-wage law even if it deprives these unfortunates of work,” Meeker argued in 1910.
“Better that the state should support the inefficient wholly and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and unthrift, enabling them to bring forth more of their kind.”
“If we are to maintain a race that is to be made up of capable, efficient and independent individuals and family groups,’ Seager continued, ‘we must courageously cut off lines of heredity that have been proved to be undesirable by isolation or sterilization.’”
One of the most famous socialists of the early 20th century, Sidney Webb, summed up the consensus of the time in his 1912 article The Economic Theory of the Minimum Wage:
“Legal Minimum Wage positively increases the productivity of the nation’s industry, by ensuring that the surplus of unemployed workmen shall be exclusively the least efficient workmen; or, to put it in another way, by ensuring that all the situations shall be filled by the most efficient operatives who are available.”
Who were the unemployable workers that progressives wanted to freeze out of the job market? They targeted blacks, Chinese, Hispanics, Eastern Europeans, and Jews. Progressive/socialist eugenicists were white supremacists who feared that inferior humans would destroy all that whites had built. Eugenicists were also responsible for Jim Crow laws.
What changed? Hitler followed Taussig’s advice but used a deadlier gas than chloroform. When Americans witnessed the concentration camps and gas chambers in Germany, any thought of oppressing minorities became repulsive. So socialists flipped the narrative and insisted that a minimum wage would benefit the same groups they had assaulted with it before the war. And they’re still pedaling that lie. Christians are required to care for the poor, not just to put on a political mask which pretends they do care, but actually advocates policies which were designed to harm them.
Roger D. McKinney lives in Broken Arrow, OK with his wife, Jeanie. He has three children and six grandchildren. He earned an M.A. in economics from the University of Oklahoma and B.A.s from the University of Tulsa and Baptist Bible College. He has written two books, Financial Bull Riding and God is a Capitalist: Markets from Moses to Marx, and articles for the Affluent Christian Investor, the Foundation for Economic Education, The Mises Institute, the American Institute for Economic Research and Townhall Finance. Previous articles can be found at facebook.com/thechristiancapitalist. He is a conservative Baptist and promoter of the Austrian school of economics.