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A Living Wage! … But Not For You

Liberal pundits and advocates are constantly talking about a “living wage”. The last few years have a been a constant drumbeat about how we need to raise the minimum wage, with some now advocating that Obama should just bypass Congress and do it by executive fiat. It’s even gotten to the point where America’s Dumbest Intellectual deceitfully disputes the basic economic consensus that increasing the minimum wage increases unemployment.

(That last part is not complicated. It’s called the Law of Supply and Demand. There’s room to argue about how much unemployment minimum wage hikes create. But to argue that that amount is zero requires some intellectual stretching to make the labor market behave differently than every other market in the world. This is particularly relevant given our current problem with long-term unemployment and the recent tendency of employers to increase productivity by getting more out of existing employees as opposed to hiring new ones.)

Today, many fast food workers are effectively striking to demand higher wages. And more power to them. If they want higher wages, they can demand them. They should be aware that there are many who will take those jobs at the current wages. And raising fast food worker wages will mainly transfer wealth from … um … the middle class who will pay more for their burgers or make less from franchises.

In the end, today’s strikes are less about benefiting workers than about increasing union membership. If fast food workers want higher wages, what they really need is job growth to create demand for workers and a middle class able to pay more for Big Macs. But, of course, to do that, they’d have to stop voting for people like Barack Obama (not withstanding November’s slightly less crappy job numbers).

I’m drifting from the point.

Vice has an amazing report this week on how liberal publications flog for a living wage on the backs of … unpaid or minimally paid interns. Keep in mind, this is coming from a liberal perspective, so you’ll excuse the Left Wing petito principii:

America’s leading liberal periodicals are aware of the obstacles to advancement the less privileged face in our decidedly not meritocratic society. Indeed, they often provide excellent coverage of the class war, from union-busting at Walmart to the fight for a living wage at fast-food chains. At the same time, though, many of them are exploiting workers in a way that would make corporate America proud: relabeling entry-level employees “interns” and “fellows” in order to dance around US labor laws.

Paying people little to nothing because you can—a practice aided by the awfulness of the job market and the desperation of people trying to make it in “glamour” industries like journalism—is both exploitive and discriminatory, but many good liberals do not appear to recognize it as such, even as they decry that behavior elsewhere.

What follows is so incredibly delicious I will not excerpt it for you. You have to go to Vice’s article and taste the sweet sweet hypocrisy for yourself. OK, just one bit, about America’s Smallest Communist:

Robert Reich served as labor secretary under Bill Clinton and is outspoken in his support for a living wage. But when I asked him about the trend of entry-level jobs being relabeled “internships” and being stripped of the pay, benefits, and legal rights they once offered recent college grads (by some estimates, half of the estimated 1.5 million interns in America are unpaid), he professed ignorance.

“This is not a topic I’ve given much thought,” said Reich.

Reich is a busy guy, but he should think about the issue more. His political advocacy group, Common Cause, is only one of the organizations he has a hand in that relies on free or near-free labor. In a recent listing, The American Prospect, a magazine founded by Reich and other veterans of the Clinton administration, announced it was looking for editorial interns to assist “with fact-checking and research.” The interns will be “encouraged to contribute editorially and participate in meetings in addition to pursuing their own projects.”

Sounds good, but, “This is a full-time internship and comes with a $100 weekly stipend,” according to the listing. That comes to about $2.50 an hour, or “not nothing” if you are a glass-half-full type. However, there is a catch: “Interns who receive full course credit are ineligible for the weekly stipend.”

Mother Jones even told their workers to apply for food stamps while working on articles decrying Walmart for … having workers who get food stamps.

This does not surprise me at all. I mean at all. Megan McArdle wrote many years ago about working for Ralph Nader’s organization and how they assigned her some of the worst and poorest areas of town to solicit donations from. They did this so that they could fire her for lack of collections and skip paying half her wages. A similar scam — hiring people at less than minimum wage on the promise of a balloon payment, then firing them before the balloon is due — was behind ACORN’s voter registration fraud. The conservative media missed the real scandal. ACORN was bound by law to turn in the bogus registration, which will promptly rejected. But they existed in the first place because ACORN volunteers were desperate to not get fired for a lack of registrations.

Doubtless, many of these organizations will say they are on a shoestring. But everyone is on a shoestring these days. Small business owners aren’t exactly rolling naked in stacks of cash. This does not, however, exempt them from paying minimum wage and respecting worker rights. No, this is standard issue liberalism: claim that your cause is so just and righteous that the rules should not apply to you.

(In fact, I’m open to a debate about whether unpaid internships should be legal at all. It’s clear that the system is being abused.)

Mother Jones, in response to this, increased their payments to interns. Other liberal orgs are changing policy or maintaining a stony silence. But it’s telling that some of the biggest liberals in the world think a living wage should be guaranteed … for other people.

9 comments

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  1. Hal_10000 says:

    I would be remiss if I left out that my own industry — academia — is hardly a paragon of virtue in this regard. Many grad students — especially in the humanities — are paid minimally for doing professor-level work on the promise of future faculty jobs that never appear. College and universities are hiring adjuncts at cheap wages and no benefits by the truckfull.

    My own discipline is better. Astronomy graduate students are paid a reasonable wage and our undergraduates are paid above minimum wage. In fact, the sciences in general are better, although some departments work their students very hard.

    Still, if I’m not living in glass house on this, I’ve got one across the quad from me.

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  2. hist_ed says:

    “It’s even gotten to the point where America’s Dumbest Intellectual deceitfully disputes the basic economic consensus that increasing the minimum wage increases employment”

    Did you mean increases unemployment?

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  3. hist_ed says:

    “My own discipline is better. Astronomy graduate students are paid a reasonable wage and our undergraduates are paid above minimum wage. In fact, the sciences in general are better, although some departments work their students very hard.”

    Because people with science degrees can get jobs out in the real world, right? Bet the grad students in comparative lesbian lit don’t get such a good deal.

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  4. Hal_10000 says:

    id you mean increases unemployment?

    Oops.

    Because people with science degrees can get jobs out in the real world, right? Bet the grad students in comparative lesbian lit don’t get such a good deal.

    Yes. In fact, in some disciplines you know that most of the grad students will get jobs in industry.

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  5. Biggie G says:

    I heard about this today on the radio. This is what $15/hour fast food pay will get you,

    The Alpha machine from Momentum Machines makes up to 360 burgers per hour.

    http://tinyurl.com/bepfmnt

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  6. Seattle Outcast says:

    “intellectual” = Marxist

    They just won’t hire replacement workers for the striking masses of people unqualified to work anyplace else, they’ll replace them with automated machinery.

    No more listening to someone barely smart enough to not have tattoos that say “shitbag” in Japanese when they think it means “peace” ask for your order, you’ll order your food electronically, have a machine assemble it, and swipe your card before driving up to a window where the franchise owner hands you your bag of burgers and fries with an overpriced drink.

    Yeah, he’ll have two minimum wage monkeys clean up at night, but he used to have a crew of 40 working the place. Great progress there.

    Of course, the people maintaining the equipment will get paid a lot more, but they have job skills.

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  7. hist_ed says:

    If the unemployment rate was at 3 or 4 % then a fast food strike might make some kind of sense (ignoring those fancy doohickeys highlighted above). Given the current rate plus the wave of illegals that are a hair away from being legalized, now just bad timing.

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  8. Miguelito says:

    Fast food workers striking now is about as smart as the grocery workers that struck (twice) in the last 15 years (in SoCal at least). Both times they lost far more in wages than in any concessions they might’ve gotten. Most people were more pissed at them for the shitty treatment too, other then die hard supporters that’d go out of their way and pay more, like idiots.

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  9. Hal_10000 says:

    If the unemployment rate was at 3 or 4 % then a fast food strike might make some kind of sense (ignoring those fancy doohickeys highlighted above). Given the current rate plus the wave of illegals that are a hair away from being legalized, now just bad timing.

    Exactly. This is SEIU screwing over young people further to bump up their enrollment and dues.

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