What’s wrong with a liv­ing wage

Orleans Star - - OPINION - David McGRUER On Sec­ond Thought

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.

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