George Will and the Minimum Wage

George F. Will, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, rejects the federal government mandating a raise in the minimum wage. Why? Because the market is better than Uncle Sam at setting the price of commodities such as human labor, he writes.

For Will, the plan of the new Democratic majority now in charge of Congress to increase the federal minimum wage is a measure of the party’s blind faith in FDR’s New Deal legislation. That created some worker-friendly laws. U.S. labor unions and the working class generally did better for a time.

For Will, the Democrats’ nostalgia for that period is out of step with the modern era. For starters, he is correct to write that wage earners are a commodity bought and sold in the marketplace. He also proves that a broken clock tells accurate time twice a day.

The federal minimum wage is a national piece of a global economy, which Will sidesteps. Let us go where he does not concerning government, the market and wages. Ready?

Misnamed free-trade pacts put millions of U.S. wage-earners in direct market competition with lower-paid workers in the developing world. The North American Free Trade Agreement is a case in point. It took effect under Democratic President William Jefferson Clinton.

The NAFTA is an example of Uncle Sam intervening in the global and national marketplace. And this intervention has adjusted wage levels of most U.S. workers downward, with a mandated increase in the federal minimum wage a response to such a trend. To wit, a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press “found that Americans expressed far more doubts about trade than saw it as advantageous. Main Street knows what time it is, unlike Will.

At the same time, trade pacts protect some highly-paid U.S. workers such as syndicated columnists like Will. Thus he does not need to fret about a journalist from a developing country happily applying for his job at a much lower wage. Will’s protected wages thanks to government intervention are nice work if you can get it.

Thus he writes: “the minimum wage should be the same everywhere: $0. Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities’ prices.”

Well, turnabout is fair play, right? Try this thought experiment. Reject a mandated increase in the federal minimum wage.

Meanwhile, make Will and other high-paid U.S. workers such as medical doctors compete with lower-paid journalists and physicians from developing nations for paid employment in the USA. Maybe then Will’s blind faith in the marketplace would change if/when his employer becomes the Wal-Mart Post or some such named low-price and low-wage paper.

Such an outcome is possible. Daily newspapers are losing ad revenue and readers. Meanwhile private equity firms flush with cash are potential buyers for these papers, and as such would have the power vested in them as owners to reduce an unclear number of American journalists to the status of workers laboring for hourly pay that hovers near the federal minimum wage, of which $7.25 an hour sure beats the current rate of $5.15.

SETH SANDRONSKY is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at:


Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email