Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Who Will Mow My Lawn?

Talifaitasi Satele

When I have a discussion with supporters of the minimum wage law, I start by asking whether they would pay $7 an hour for someone to cut their lawn. Most are caught off guard by my question. I guess that when it comes to their support of the minimum wage, they are thinking of someone else paying it and not themselves.

When they have figured out that I’ve put them on the spot to assume some responsibility for their beliefs, most are quick to defend themselves by saying, “Yes, I would pay $7 an hour for someone to mow my grass!”

I realize that their answer is most likely a knee jerk reaction made in self-defense, so I come back with another argument of minimum wage supporters and ask, “But how can someone live off of $7 an hour? Why not pay your worker $8, $9 or $15 an hour? Surely they can pay their bills if you pay him at least $10 or more.” Usually, by this time, I get the answer, “Well, if I have to pay that much, I might as well cut my own grass.”

Just for kicks and giggles, I ask supporters, “What if someone came to you and offered to cut your grass for less than the minimum wage? Would you pay him, because, you know, that would technically be against the law?”

We are seeing that the minimum wage reduces employment and raises costs for everyone, because the only way wages can go up without those side-effects is by increasing productivity. Any leader who is truly concerned about lifting the standards of living for our people would focus public policy on making that happen.

But blaming the disasters of the minimum wage on corporate greed and threatening the canneries’ federal incentives as Faleomavaega is doing won’t help us address a long term problem. Especially for those who we want to hire to mow our lawns.


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