What’s wrong with a living wage
Ottawa is discussing the implementation of what is called a “living wage” for city employees and contractors. Advocates claim the policy is just and fair and that poverty is a human rights matter. In fact, the phrase is an anti-concept, an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate the legitimate concept of wages.
The use of anti-concepts provides a sense of approximate understanding. According to Merriam-Webster the word “wage” means a payment for services. The meaning is precise and clear. On the other hand, “living wage” is defined as a wage sufficient to provide the necessities and comforts essential to an acceptable standard of living. The definition of “necessities”, “comfort” and “acceptable” make this definition susceptible to subjective interpretation and even abuse.
According to its advocates, the Living Wage Policy would state that an individual working full time earns enough to meet the basic needs and be able to build savings for the future. For example, Rob Rainer, executive director of Canada Without Poverty said,“If you work full time, you should be able to make a living wage.” Unanswered is the question of whether working full time qualifies you for what someone arbitrarily determines is sufficient income? Who says your work is of a particular value? Only an agreement between an employer and employee acting without coercion can decide that. If an employer is willing to pay and you are willing to work then you have a deal. If either one of you does not agree then you have no deal. If one party agrees only under coercion then the agreement is a fraud. Living wage advocates want to use the force of government to decide employment contracts. Is there such a thing as a right to ask government to force either of you to act against your free will?
Consider the contorted logical implications of the living wage policy: because an individual has a low value to offer employers (as measured by freely acting people’s willingness to pay him), the government should force employers to pay him more than his fellow citizens say his work is worth? Why doesn’t he get a second job and work 60 hours or more a week if he does not have enough income? Why doesn’t he improve himself so he has more to offer potential employers? What stops him from learning or studying on his own to become better? Why should citizens whose abilities are more valuable be penalized (taxed) to pay for his inability, thus penalizing people for doing what they need to do to survive – create value and exchange it with others who do likewise?
Some may counter by asking what to do about disabled employees. While I have great sympathy for someone who is disabled, it is not moral to use this as a claim against the mind, work and life of another person. There can be no such thing as a right to force another individual to do anything, no matter what needs you may have in life. Income, housing and a given lifestyle are not rights since this would force others to provide them. I think charity is wonderful so long as it is voluntary and not achieved by coercion.
Who will decide the meaning of necessities, comfort and acceptable and who will be made to pay for providing them? There is no objective standard one can use, so poverty advocates invent definitions that suit their purposes and sound desirable. What entitles anyone to work 35 hours a week at $13.25 per hour? By what moral code does one man’s supposed need validate the use of government force against another man? Is it a code validating the right of man to his life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? Or is it a code authorizing pressure-group warfare to divide the spoils of wealth taxed from those who produce it?
If we were talking about taking the 90 per cent in science earned by Jimmy and giving it to Bobby who earned a 60 per cent, we would rightly see it as soul-destroying for Jimmy. “From each according to his ability to each according to his need” is a philosophy repeatedly proven to be soul-destroying for individuals and nations. Ottawa should not implement any more of this ideology and should instead work to reverse its legion of in-force policies.
David McGruer is a long-time east-end resident and amateur philosopher. Comments to the editor are most welcome.