Gov. Pat Quinn, running for re-election in 2014, reportedly will make his main campaign theme the need for more income equality in Illinois. Specifically, he will call for an increase in the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10.00 per hour.
Some skeptics have suggested that this is just a political gimmick — that the governor is only seeking to play on the basic, normal instincts of voters: greed and envy. They say his position is designed to appeal to the self-interest of those now earning less than $10 per hour, and to twang the strings of jealousy on the part of those who are not multi-millionaire or billionaire fund managers or bankers.
But I think we should give Gov. Quinn credit for being serious. The only problem I have with his position is — as the kids might say in the cute TV ad — isn’t “more” equality better than “less”?
Why stop at $10 per hour when fund managers and bankers make a lot more than that? If an individual were to earn the new minimum wage and work 40 hours for 50 weeks a year, that would come to only $20,000. That’s only an itsy-bitsy step in the direction of equality.
Also, why should the only workers who get the benefit of the new minimum wage be those now earning less than $10 per hour? What about the folks who make $10.50 or even $15, which is only $30,000 per year — hardly equal to the earnings of average Republican bankers. (Or even the Democrat banker.)
Does anyone really think that one tenth — or one twentieth — represents true equality? Would anyone be satisfied if Chicago school children received a public education that was only one tenth or one twentieth as good as that afforded children in richer suburban schools?
But back to the minimum wage. Republicans object to the increase, saying that if the wage were increased to $10, many employers wouldn’t be able to afford it: they would simply shut down — or let many of their workers go. They’re right that higher costs might tempt employers to fire some workers. But the answer is not to oppose the increase. Instead, Quinn should write into the minimum wage law that current employees cannot be fired just because the jobs have become unaffordable. And they shouldn’t be permitted to move the jobs out of state either. If they do, the directors should be held liable.
Republican economists point out that increasing wages will mean increasing costs of production, which will lead to higher prices for the goods and services people buy. So what? Consumers already bear (through the prices they pay) the burden of production costs. Why should higher wages be any different?
Republicans — big corporations, banks, beer distributors — they all use government laws and regulations to extract economic advantages for themselves. Those higher costs are borne by consumers. Until we root out all the costly legal and regulatory advantages they’ve created, why should poorer workers be the only ones prevented from passing on higher costs to consumers?
If Quinn’s correct that income equality is right and inequality wrong, then why not make it 50 bucks per hour?
While we’re at it, we should throw in free CTA rides for seniors.