Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Work Is a Means of Rising From Poverty, Not an Entitlement to Rise Above Poverty

New Jersey has an election coming up in November, and one of the initiatives that voters will decide is whether to amend the state constitution to raise the state's minimum wage and lock in future increases tied to the cost of living. A NJ Star-Ledger letter urged passage of this amendment. In No worker should be in povertyMichael Elchoness wrote:

Not everyone who works deserves to be a millionaire, but no one who works deserves to be stuck in poverty.Time to right a wrong and increase the minimum wage.

I left these comments:

Poverty is the natural state of man. Nothing man needs comes ready-made in nature. That individuals must work to live and thrive is natures ultimatum. But what any person produces is determined by his individual productiveness. The more productive a person is, the more he rises above poverty—the more he earns. The less productive, the less he rises. No one is entitled to more than he produces. Minimum wage laws force some people (employers) to pay others (his workers) more than they are worth to the employer, and so are fundamentally unjust. 

If a worker thinks he is worth more, he can seek other employment. If he wants to earn more, he can take steps to improve his productiveness. But no one has a right to escape poverty by the simple act of working. 

It is not true that "no one who works deserves to be stuck in poverty." People deserve to live in accordance with their productiveness, whether that means being a millionaire or living in poverty. Any means of lifting someone out of his natural state of poverty that involves physical coercion against more productive people is anti-life and thus immoral.

(Of course, minimum wage laws don't really raise the wages of less productive people. Nature—i.e., the laws of economics—won't allow it. Such laws simply throw the less productive out of work, preventing them from gaining the self-discipline, self-esteem, experience, knowledge, and skills that lead to better paying jobs.  Minimum wage laws in fact keep people "stuck in poverty," as attested to by the high rates of unemployment among the young, especially in the inner-cities.)

Related Reading:

Morality and the Minimum Wage

Minimum Wage Doesn't Belong in the Consitution

Excerpt from On Regulation and Power @ Prin-Spec References, in which I was addressing another correspondent:

"Every man faces a basic choice…to work or to starve. This is not the “coercion” of a “money economy”. This is a metaphysical fact of man’s nature as a being of self-made wealth. That today’s social systems, from our own semi-free mixed economy to outright socialism, allows some to live off of the work of others does not change the fundamental choice… to work or to starve.

"Food, shelter, health care, potable water…everything man needs to survive and thrive, from space ships to nails…where do you think they come from? Are they free in nature, to drop out of thin air on the whim of anyone’s need? (These question are rhetorical, so don't take offense.)

"They must be produced by the individual process of reason, thought, and logic… which is the precondition of productive labor. Who produces material wealth? It’s not the men who choose to starve, but the men who choose to live

"But wealth production is not automatic. Certain social conditions are required to make it possible. These conditions include individual rights, the rule of objective law, and a government that protects those rights. It is only under these conditions that the men who choose to live, at all levels of ability, are free to produce and trade their work product for the products they need but that are produced by others. In short, only a free market makes production and trade possible. The commodity that facilitates production and trade is money. Anyone who condemns the free, money economy can not claim the mantle of labor champion."

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