Although William F. Buckley Jr. can hardly be described as a libertarian or classical liberal, he does remind one of the day when conservatives and libertarians were far more united on issues than they are today. Perhaps that’s why he sometimes seems out of place in a world where conservatives identify more with the Rick Santorum’s of the world than with those who kept the right alive intellectually. In his latest column, Buckley reminds us why the minimum wage is such a bad idea:
We learn that one individual American last year received compensation of $1.5 billion. This leads us indignantly to our blackboard, where we learn that the average chief executive officer earns 1,100 times what a minimum-wage worker earns. What some Americans are being paid every year is describable only as: disgusting. But that disgust is irrelevant in informing us what the minimum wage ought to be. The one has no bearing on the other.
We are bent on violating free-market allocations. Doing this is not theologically sinful, but it is wise to know what it is that we are doing, and to know that the consequence of taking such liberties is to undermine the price mechanism by which free societies prosper.
Milton Friedman taught that “the substitution of contract arrangements for status arrangements was the first step toward the freeing of the serfs in the Middle Ages.” He cautioned against set prices. “The high rate of unemployment among teenagers, and especially black teenagers, is both a scandal and a serious source of social unrest. Yet it is largely a result of minimum-wage laws.” Those laws are “one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books.”
Professor Friedman is no longer here to testify, but his work is available — even in San Francisco.