Emma’s Note: Today, we bring you a special Labor Day edition of Bill Bonner’s Diary. Below, our editor reveals the problem with a one-size-fits-all national wage. And he proposes a “fairer” way to solve income inequality in America.

YOUGHAL, IRELAND – Today is Labor Day.

Most of the world pays homage to its sweating, bussing, trucking classes, its poor, huddled masses… yearning for a cushier seat and a better deal… on May 1.

But in 1894, President Grover Cleveland chose the first Monday in September.

Of great interest to people in America on Labor Day – as indicated by the usual newspaper headlines – is how much the laborers earn.

No one – or almost no one – writing in the editorial pages works at McDonald’s or earns the minimum wage. But practically every one of the elite has an opinion about how much the low-wage, non-elites should earn.

A “living wage” is what they say they should have. Thirty thousand dollars a year is the amount we’ve seen discussed. They say it would help solve the inequality problem.

Of course, a national living wage is absurd. How much living you can do depends on where you do it. 

You could live well in the Ozarks on $30,000 a year. In Manhattan, you might starve to death. And it is far less expensive to live with Mom and Dad than to have a place of one’s own.

Bilge and Nonsense

But we are not so much concerned with the practical details as with the theory.

If well-educated, well-liquored, and well-paid nomenklatura can decide the wages of McDonald’s workers, surely the burger-flippers should have the right to fix the wages of the chattering, meddling, improving classes.

Were that to happen, our guess is that the well-paid know-it-alls would find themselves taking a pay cut.

We walk into McDonald’s, and a minimum-wage worker serves up our order. We get what we pay for and are content with the transaction. We do not begrudge the worker his recompense.

We read the paper, on the other hand, and we get bilge and nonsense. If they pay their writers anything at all, it is too much.

Self-Satisfied Price-Fixers

Logically, there are only two possibilities. Either wages are determined by a free give-and-take between those who offer their labor and those who want to buy it… or someone else sets wages according to his own standards.

The do-gooders want to use other people’s money to raise the wages of the least well-paid, but they make no mention of their own take-home. Nor do they offer to pay more for their hamburgers so that McDonald’s can raise its wages.

And if the minimum wage were raised, there would surely be more unemployed people – either because McDonald’s could not afford to hire so many people at higher salaries… or because it had replaced its minimum-wage employees with machines!

But the price-fixers are so self-satisfied on the high road – driving along comfortably in their Subarus and Priuses – that they can’t be bothered to look out the window.

If they did, they would see that price fixing always – always! – makes people poorer, not richer.

Nevertheless, we will give them the benefit of the doubt, if there were any, by trying to imagine how the world could be improved by setting wages for other people.

A Jolly Undertaking

So let us begin with a modest nod to fairness: If it makes sense to set the wages of the least among us, why not do likewise for the most, too?

If people not involved in a labor transaction can know better than the participants what the terms should be, why not set the salaries of editorialists… publishers… CEOs… sports celebrities… movie stars?

And if it makes sense to raise the wages on the low end… wouldn’t it make just as much sense to lower them on the other? Why not promote equality by taking the elite down a peg?

You can see what a jolly undertaking this would be for a bureaucrat with a sense of mischief.

Yes, we’ll rig the labor market – by assigning salaries where we think they should be. So, let’s have a go. We’ll take the lead, proposing annual salaries for the following trades according to the good we think they do for society…

  • Entrepreneurs (including your editor), poets, inventors, and whacked-out metaphysicians – $100,000 per year

  • Priests, teachers, mathematicians, scientists, pilots, nurses, and filmmakers – $85,000 per year

  • Corporate CEOs, prostitutes, writers, bartenders, and hedge fund managers – $75,000 per year

  • Drivers, laborers, clerks, salesmen, farmers, firemen, and policemen – $50,000 per year

  • Psychologists, bone-crackers, doctors (including witch doctors), and financial planners – $40,000 per year

  • Government employees (those not included in the groups above), politicians, drug dealers, world improvers, economists, counterfeiters, psychiatrists, sociologists, political scientists, pollsters, and flimflam artists – $30,000 per year

We do not mean this list to be comprehensive or final. It is just a suggestion – a point of departure toward a “fairer” distribution of national income.

Readers are invited to make their own contributions. Write to [email protected].




Like what you’re reading? Send your thoughts to [email protected].