The definition and dollar amount of a “living wage” as you may imagine varies…According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the definition of “living wage” is an amount of money you are paid for a job that is large enough to provide you with the basic things (such as food and shelter) needed to live an acceptable life.
Many in the current competition for the Democratic Presidential Nominee favor a “living wage”. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, as he calls himself, seems the most vocal on the issue. Bernie talks of a “living wage” as if it’s a NEW idea. Well, as politicians often try to take stuff that does not belong to them…Bernie has been puffing life back into an idea both Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt touted long ago.
Theodore Roosevelt campaigned for a “living wage” using it as part of his platform when he ran a third time for President as a progressive in the newly formed “Bull Moose” Party in 1912. He lost that race, but here’s a passage from one of his campaign speeches:
“We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living–a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit a reasonable saving for old age.”
FDR signed the National Industrial Recovery ActJune 16, 1933 which
incorporated a “living wage” and the following passage is part of what FDR said about it:
“In my Inaugural I laid down the simple proposition that nobody is going to starve in this country. It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.
Throughout industry, the change from starvation wages and starvation employment to living wages and sustained employment can, in large part, be made by an industrial covenant to which all employers shall subscribe.”
In 1935, the Supreme Court found the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional.
So, the “living wage” is NOT a new idea. It does have a Do-Good feeling to it. But in practice it has not yet been shown to work. If we look back at the colony of Plymouth, their first experiment was that all should work a communal farm, and the crop yield was to be distributed equally among them.
That didn’t work. Everyone was not working as hard as they should. Crop yield was low. Governor Bradford changed that by putting in place the rule that, “If one didn’t work, they wouldn’t eat.” Sounds harsh, but it worked. Property was assigned to families and they could keep what they grew. Crops were plentiful and their entire community benefitted.
As with all progressive ideas…they must progress. So, the “living wage” will soon progress to a universal basic income (UBI). A UBI guarantees minimum income, regardless of whether someone works, and without eligibility tests. As history is said to repeat itself…or at least rhyme, the likely outcome of receiving an income without working, will sound a lot like Plymouth in its communal days. People will starve.
Let’s learn our history, so we don’t believe every “NEW” rollout of campaign ideas are new. Let’s spread the lessons of our history, so we repeat what was good and defeat what was bad.
Diana Erbio is a freelance writer and author of “Coming to America: A Girl Struggles to Find her Way in a New World”, along with her Blog Series, “Statues: The People They Salute”.