Minimum Wage Hits $9.50 in Santa Fe

This month, in the liberal bastion of Santa Fe, New Mexico, they are raising the minimum wage in the city to $9.50 per hour. The measure applies to all businesses with 25 or more employees.

The driving force behind this decision was Acorn, the 'national community organization,' as Jon Gertner describes it in The New York Times Magazine for January 15, 2006.

Acorn has discovered that the way to win on the minimum wage issue is to cast it not as an economic issue but as a moral issue. When Santa Fe's City Council got a round table of nine residents to 'settle the specifics of the proposed living—wage law' they found that 

'What really got the other side was when we said, 'It's just immoral to pay people $5.15, they can't live on that.' 

On February 26, 2003, the council voted to 'set a wage floor at $8.50 an hour,' increasing to $9.50 in January 2006 and $10.50 in 2008 for businesses employing 25 or more people.

So liberals believe in legislating morality after all.  They just draw the line at other people legislating morality.

Jen Kern isn't just any old activist for Acorn.  In a 2002 Christian Science Monitor article she's identified as 'executive director of the Living Wage Resource Center for the  Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).'

'ACORN is a grassroots political organization that grew out of George Wiley's National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO),' according to Discover the Networks.

'Today it claims 175,000 dues—paying member families, and more than 850 chapters in 70 U.S. cities.' 

It runs schools to teach children its philosophy of class warfare.  Its finances are rather murky, but it is believed to get a lot of money from labor unions to fund Jan Kern's living wage program.  In return, it usually manages to exempt union members from the minimum wage laws that it sponsors, and in 1995 sued in California to have its own employees exempted from California's minimum wage laws. And, of course, in the 2004 election cycle ACORN's

'get—out—the—vote activists turned up at the center of numerous reports of voter fraud, especially in the swing states of Ohio, Colorado, Missouri Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Minnesota.'

The problem with minimum—wage laws, as ACORN lawyers argued in their brief in California state courts, is that

'the more that ACORN must pay each individual outreach worker, . . . the fewer outreach workers it will be able to hire.' 

Economists have done a pretty thorough job analyzing the phenomenon too, and they agree with ACORN.  Writes Thomas Sowell, economist:

[M]inimum wage laws in countries around the world protect higher—paid workers from the competition of lower paid workers... the net economic effect of minimum wage laws is to make less skilled, less experienced, or otherwise less desired workers more expensive —— thereby pricing many of them out of jobs.

When Jen Kern gets Santa Fe to raise the minimum wage up to $9.50 and soon to $10.80 she is getting the city to saw off the bottom rungs of the employment ladder.  Marginal, entry—level workers that aren't worth $9.50 an hour for an employer to train—well they just won't be able to find a job, not in liberal Santa Fe.  Maybe they can take the bus to the red state of Texas and get a job there.

Let us relate this issue to Lee Harris and his analysis of the world—historical conflict between the productive western team and the 'eternal gang of ruthless men' in his book Civilization and Its Enemies. For two hundred years the United States has offered a means for people, usually peasants, to escape from under the knout of their local gang of landowners to the world of trust and teamwork in the city, the promised land where a man need not shelter in dependency and clientage under a powerful lord but may prosper merely by offering his skills and talent on the labor market.

Along that road to the middle class the peasant encounters the roadside stalls of various hucksters hawking a variety of social and political institutions to help them on their way.  The offerings range from the predatory gang to the self—governing team.  There is the stall of the city street gang, the city political machine, the radical activist group, and the labor union.  Then there is the enthusiastic church, the fraternal lodge, the self—governing association.  Which one will the traveler choose?

Many immigrants to America have started out life in the new world by subordinating themselves to a criminal gang or city machine or to a radical political group like ACORN.  That is their right.  The glory of America is that, any time they are ready, they can climb out of the desert of the gang culture for the sunny green uplands of the productive team. 

Except in Santa Fe.

Christopher Chantrill ( blogs at The Road to the Middle Class His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.

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