President George H. W. Bush was known both for “read my lips, no new taxes” and his call for a “kinder, gentler nation” in his 1988 acceptance speech. The former lead to his defeat to Clinton, and the latter was when he prevailed. We need to remember this lesson and let it guide us going forward.
An element in the party is fiscally conservative over all else, and anyone who deviates is a RINO. While fiscally conservative positions are important for the overall health of the party we also need to remember that the social wing of the big tent, myself included, are willing to embrace some fiscally moderate ideas to promote social values. Not only are we willing to embrace some moderate fiscal policies, but believe it is a necessary endeavor to maintain consistency with our social conservative values.
I’ve lost track of the number of times this has landed me a RINO, “not a true conservative”, or the like. The hard line stance causes fractures in the party. It also makes it easy for the media to portray us as uncaring and willing to sacrifice the individual for the sake of big business.
Minimum wage is one argument that we make especially easy to paint the GOP as uncaring. The traditional argument is let the free market prevail, minimum wage laws are unnecessary, etc. This is fundamentally inhumane, despite any argumentation to the contrary. An unchecked economic structure leads us back to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle type of working environment.
When we argue traditional business theory we lose because we are correct. The free market will adapt, and in doing so it will show that the business driven arguments against $15.00 an hour don’t stand up to the resilient free market reality. However, this doesn’t mean we should support the democrats push for a $15.00 minimum wage.
It’s tempting to argue that minimum wage increases don’t help the working class as a whole. The data backs up this argument. If you look at the minimum wage increases after the 1980s we don’t see any evidence that the working class has seen any significant improvement from the increase. The poverty line growth becomes negative year over year in the immediate aftermath of minimum wage increases. The poverty line itself increases, but the rate of growth is down.
The median hourly wage growth shows the same results. The growth year over year has become negative year over year every year after minimum wage hikes are completed. Just like with the poverty line there is growth, but it is at a slower rate. These two metrics are indications that the minimum wage growth doesn’t help the overall worker.
However making this softer business-centric argument isn’t likely to cut through the overwhelming media support, and it won’t win over the moderates we need to expand the party. We need to make arguments that reframe the debate rather than repeat the uncaring, inhumane business centered arguments. Arguing from a human first position, and making a counteroffer to $15.00 not only reframes the debate making $15.00 less likely to be accepted, but also exposes the sheer magnitude of how radical and uncompromising the democrats have become.
Arguing work should not lead to poverty and making a counter proposal to $15.00 an hour is an understandable human-centric argument. The poverty line in 2021 for a family of 2 is $17,240 and for a family of three is $21,720. Dividing these values by the 2,080 hours in a full time work year gives an hourly wage value of $8.29 and $10.56 respectively.
A smart counteroffer is to say either of those values is a reasonable minimum wage to prevent poverty. Then to make sure that the issue does not arise again tie minimum wage to the poverty line at the same formula. That way each year the minimum wage increases enough to prevent poverty, and the issue is off the table in the future.
Reframing the minimum wage argument into a poverty prevention measure rather than a “living wage” argument is likely to be well received by the moderate portion of the political spectrum. This not only drives a wedge into the democrat voting block, but it also is an offer they cannot accept as it takes the issue off the table for the future.
The progressive left will not accept the deal, and the moderate democrats cannot accept the deal as it removes the arrow from their quiver. If the Republicans in the Senate were smart they would push this as an amendment to whatever Biden proposes in his stimulus package. This forces the few moderate democrats to go on the record where they stand on a more modest increase to minimum wage and tying the future to the poverty line.
What happens if it passes? We see a minimum wage increase in line with the 2007-2009 increase on a percentage basis (for the $10.56 amount.) The minimum wage, at least after the 1980s has increased at least once a decade so the increase would be in line with recent history since the wage last increased in 2009.
Arguing from a human-centric poverty elimination position that is in line with historical wage increases is a prudent move on the part of Republicans. It appeals to moderate swing voters we need to pull into our big tent. It also makes us look reasonable and the democrats look radical while creating a wedge issue in the democrat party. The kinder, gentler approach is one we need to take.