Yesterday I wondered whether State Treasurer Richard Moore was brave or crazy to suggest an increase in NC's minimum wage before a meeting of business leaders. Carter Wrenn at Talking About Politics (citing an article in the W-S Journal) suggests another word for Moore's speech: pandering. I think it's kind of a cheap shot. Here's part of what Wrenn had to say:
There are a lot of good arguments that can be made for increasing the minimum wage. Here’s what Mr. Moore told the NCCBI according to the Journal: “ ‘Businesses actually start to do better when consumers have more money in their pockets,’ he said, adding that Lee Scott, the chief executive of Wal-Mart, supports an increase.”
That’s called ‘pandering.’ This towering populist spokesman for the little man appealed to those NCCBI businessmen by telling them to support increasing the minimum wage because it would make them rich. Follow the logic: if your business pays minimum wage workers more, then they’ll turn right around and spend it and you’ll get it back – or maybe, as Mr. Scott of Wal-Mart must figure, he’ll get it back.
You've gotta package your message for your listeners. We all do it all the time. You know people who don't and you probably don't like them very much. If Moore is serious about raising the minimum wage, he'll have an easier time of it if he can convince businesses that it's going to be good for them. What he's selling is a possible consequence of a minimum wage hike. If an extra dollar an hour is good for the poor, then pointing out that it might also help businesses isn't pandering. It's simply politics in the broadest sense of the word.
Wrenn also goes after another of Moore's arguments:
Now he’s telling businessmen to support the minimum wage increase to shaft their competitors. I wonder where Richard Moore stands on the millions in ‘incentives’ the state has given corporations like RJ Reynolds and Merck Pharmaceuticals and Dell Computers? The last time I heard he was okay with that. But isn’t that taking tax money from one business to subsidize another?
First, the merit of the wage increase idea is distinct from the merit of corporate incentives. It may well be that Moore is right on one and wrong on the other; I don't feel that I can say because I don't know as much about NC's incentives as I should. But incentives and the minimum wage are two different (if not entirely distinct) sets of policy issues.
Second, that's not even a fair reading of Moore's comments, at least, not as quoted in the W-S Journal.
Moore said that although many businesses pay starting workers more than $5.15 an hour, they might be at a competitive disadvantage if they compete with companies that pay the minimum wage. "If your competition pays only the bare minimum, their employees are almost forced to use public programs paid for by your tax dollars to get by," he said. "You are subsidizing your competitors' business."
Who's getting screwed and who's doing the screwing are usually questions about perspective. The status quo sees businesses that underpay leaving a gap to be made up by taxpayers—corporate taxpayers, to be sure, but you and I as well. From a taxpayer's perspective, it's these cheap businesses who are screwing everyone else, and Moore's proposal—to force them to pay a higher minimum wage—mitigates or ends the problem. The only people who would feel that they'd been harmed by a higher minimum wage are businesses who pay less than $6.15 an hour. (Who are these businesses anyway?)
Moore may not have been brave to go before industry and propose that they pay some workers more. But but as long as a plan that can help the poor can also end up helping business, there's nothing wrong with Moore trying to develop support in the business community.