Demand Specifics in the Minimum Wage Debate

minimum wage

Those that advocate a change to the minimum wage must not only make the moral case, but also a practical case proving that what they advocate will work in the way they promise.

The practical case for eliminating the minimum wage (as well as opposition to raising it) has been made time and time again. The Seattle minimum wage policy looks thus far to be a disaster, but the campaign to raise the minimum wage as high as $15/hr is still active.

In their minds, the moral case is set in stone: nobody deserves to make less than a “living wage.”

As for the practical case, it is typically abstract and incredibly simplistic, occasionally using things like CEO pay as an argument just because the numbers look big, without actually doing the math.

When debating advocates for a minimum wage increase, demand specifics!

Specifics of “The Living Wage”

If the goal is to provide someone with a living wage, then what exactly is that living wage? What are the components that determine a living wage?

A living wage also varies depending on geography. What is the living wage of Harrisburg, PA? What is the living wage of nearby Hershey, PA? Would a minimum wage increase to a living wage in one of these cities impact the living wage of the other city?

Lucky for us, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offers a living wage calculator that’s as specific as individual counties (and in some instances a bit more specific) throughout the United States.

With these numbers available, would the #FightFor15 crowd be satisfied with a minimum wage increase in accordance with the numbers, or would that not be enough?

If these activists decide on the latter, demand the reasoning behind the $15/hr number. If they cannot provide it, it then becomes self-evident that the chosen number is entirely arbitrary and based on nothing.

Specifics of Business Expense

The biggest assumption by #FightFor15 activists is that businesses are able to afford such a large increase in the minimum wage.

Memes will go around referencing the huge salaries of certain CEOs, but the math shows that eliminating these salaries entirely brings them nowhere near the minimum wage increase they expect.

The case has already been made that businesses like McDonald’s that largely consist of franchises cannot afford such a high increase in employee pay, but what of other businesses, both large and small?

Each company operates differently, and each industry has a different assortment of expenses and revenues. Where’s the math that suggests that each of these would be able to afford a minimum wage increase?

Chances are, the response will be something along the lines of “If a business cannot afford to pay its employees a living wage, then maybe it shouldn’t exist.”

A response like this completely ignores the ramifications this could have on the structure of the economy.

According to the Employment Policies Institute, a minimum wage increase disproportionately hurts small businesses compared to large corporations. If this is the case, wouldn’t a minimum wage increase encourage monopolies and growth of large corporations (giving them even more power to lobby for special favors)?

Higher minimum wage advocates sometimes argue that a living wage can actually be a smart move for businesses. If this is the case, would it not be better these large activist organizations like #FightFor15 to start their own business, with a living wage, and out-compete other businesses?

With the movement’s publicity and size, it would be easy to raise money and advertise their new startup.

Not only that, the movement’s supporter base consists almost entirely of workers seeking a better job with a living wage. And, if a living wage really is beneficial for companies, excess profits from the business could be used to expand and hire more workers, or to start a business in a different industry with the same goal.

On top of that, wouldn’t this provide a clear example to other businesses that raising wages is the way to go?

Specifics of Future Impact

As we’ve seen with Social Security, government programs can sometimes be economically viable in the short term, but disastrous and unsustainable in the long run.

Advocating a law or policy that starts off well in the short term but crashes and burns in the long run is incredibly heartless.

As advocates for an increase in the minimum wage (especially those that desire a very large increase), it is their responsibility to determine the long-term effects of an increase in the minimum wage.

By demanding specifics from minimum wage advocates, we will likely accomplish one of two things: Either we can convince them that they don’t have sufficient knowledge of what they’re advocating for and make them reconsider their position, or we can reveal them as ideologues dedicated to a conclusion without regard for the realistic implications of what they support.

Of course, there’s always the possible third option, where they actually have all the answers and have proven their policies to be viable.

If this is the case, we will walk away smarter. The minimum wage activists have nothing to worry about when we come prepared with these questions.

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, He can be contacted by email via [email protected]