Chris Powell: Of minimum wages, gender shifting and hypocritcal trading with China

Woody Allen's movie Bananas has a scene depicting the power madness that afflicts a Latin American revolutionary leader upon his seizure of office. El Supremo gathers his people to proclaim that henceforth the country's official language will be Swedish, that underwear will be changed every half hour and worn on the outside "so we can check," and that all children under 16 years old now are 16 years old.

Modern political liberalism increasingly evokes that scene with its belief that there are no practicalities that power cannot overcome and that merely proclaiming something makes it so.

For the great liberal causes of the moment seem to be, first, raising the minimum wage and, second, giving men who want to be women and women who want to be men the right to use the washrooms of their choice.

California and New York already are increasing their minimum wages to $15 per hour. Connecticut soon may follow. And some states, including Connecticut, have construed the sexual identity clamor as a matter of civil rights.  Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy has gone so far as to prohibit official state government travel to states that maintain ordinary sexual-identity rules, as if those rules, followed for centuries -- followed until very recently even by Connecticut itself -- were actually outrages of oppression. (Who knew?)

Economists are divided on whether minimum wages are beneficial, whether their redistribution of income is positive on the whole or whether income gains for lower-paid workers are offset by automation and declines in employment. Indeed, signing California's minimum-wage bill the other day, Gov. Jerry Brown said the minimum wage makes no economic sense, just political sense.

If the rationale for a minimum wage is accepted, the wage should be increased from time to time to match inflation, and the minimum wage has eroded badly in that respect. But then no business can survive without linking wages to productivity, and proclaiming a minimum wage of $15 per hour or any amount does not suddenly guarantee that the work done by everyone employed at minimum wage will produce that much value to an employer, or that an employer paying minimum wage will be able to recover his higher wage costs by raising prices.

And while current minimum wages surely are not sufficient to support families, as advocates of raising the minimum wage complain, many jobs don't produce enough to match what families consume. So why should the minimum wage necessarily be high enough to support a family? And what size family?

As for whether men can be women and women can be men simply by their own assertion, even the worst reactionaries and most fervent religious fundamentalists these days probably would not advocate oppression of people with sexual identity issues. The lives of such people may be hard enough already.

But has modesty, the rationale for separate-sex washrooms, really been so oppressive all this time? Certainly it never intended to be oppressive, unlike racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination. Separate-sex washrooms did not impair anyone's full inclusion in society. Maybe men who identify as women and women who identify as men would be more comfortable with the right to use the washroom of their choice, without regard to traditional rules, but what of the right of everyone else to modesty?

Anyway, like the minimum wage, the washroom issue is arguable. So a governor who, like Connecticut's, has managed to do business with totalitarian China only makes himself ridiculous with his politically correct indignation about washrooms in North Carolina and Mississippi.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Posted in Chris Powell on Monday, April 11