The recent news items about abolishing billionaires and condemning Amazon and other companies for paying poor wages has brought back discussions of living wages in my social media feed.
Here are a couple of old posts that I really liked from Jason Brennan on the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site:
And, here’s a comment that I made on a thread that explains the fundamental reasons why I think that Living/Minimum Wage arguments and policies are bad:
I understand the desire for people to be able to work to support themselves and the inclination to just make it a mandate that people who work should make enough to support themselves.
But, it doesn’t actually make sense to use that particular method to help people.
People making economic transactions is one thing, and people being able to pay their expenses is a separate, related, thing.
If somebody is willing to work for less than a living wage, and somebody else wants to hire him under mutually agreeable terms (and the work isn’t harming others unreasonably, etc.), then they should be free to do that. It’s not helping poor people to forbid those transactions. It just makes people worse off by reducing work opportunities and putting potential beneficiaries of the project in a worse position to accomplish their goals (which will often include helping others who need it).
Not every job that is good for all parties has to provide a living wage. Some people are still learning to become more productive or are unable to become that productive, some have others to help share expenses, some are doing the work because they find it interesting or educational or fun (not, because they need the money to live on), etc.
People aren’t pawns on a chessboard. They are independent agents with their own plans and priorities and it’s wrong to interfere with their preferences in the name of helping them.
We don’t know enough to declare which voluntary arrangements should be forbidden. We should leave people free to pursue the best opportunities that they can find (and we can help them to find them), and expect that as they become more productive and the economy grows those opportunities will tend to improve.
If some people still need help, then people (not necessarily just their employers) can (and often should) help them. But, forbidding job opportunities that don’t fully provide for all of their expenses is a counterproductive, and I think immoral, way to try to help others.