Cumberland Times-News

October 21, 2013

Where does value end and selfish greed begin?

Cumberland Times-News

— In the Sept. 29 Times-News, David M. Kiriazis gave me both a history and economics lesson in his letter titled “This is how it really works.”

Mr. Kiriazis patiently tried to teach me how, in opposition to my stated view, an increase in the minimum wage would generally have a negative impact on the economy.

Hopefully he won’t charge me too much for his services, because I’m just a poor struggling student who knows little about history and even less about economics.

Still, I like to think of myself as a good student and, as such, I always try to have some quality questions for my teachers. Here are a few queries for Mr. Kiriazis’ cogitation:

(1) President Obama relies upon a team of economists to advise him on economic policy. Why have these economists concluded that an increase in the minimum wage would be beneficial for the economy?

(2) Labor unions are the organizations whose central mission is the welfare of working men and women. Why have they usually fought strongly for increases in the minimum wage? Why would they take such action if it resulted in higher unemployment rates?

(3) If there is a gold standard within modern economics it is called John Kenneth Galbraith. Why was the legendary Galbraith such an advocate for increases in the minimum wage?

(4) The former labor secretary and economist Robert Reich only a couple months ago presented strong support for a minimum wage increase by saying in part that, “... raising the minimum wage is a no-brainer” Why did he say this? Does it mean that I, a supporter of a minimum wage increase, have no brain?

(5) In a recent appearance regarding the proposed minimum wage increase before the U.S. Banking Committee economist Arindrajit Dube shockingly testified that, because worker productivity has increased by a factor of 22 since 1960, the minimum wage in 2013 should be $22. per hour! If minimum wage increases are destructive to the economy, why would a trained economist make such an outlandish pronouncement?

(6) Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has often stated over the past several months that, “Raising the minimum wage is clearly the right thing to do.” What could possibly be the rationale for such a prestigious person to take such an unqualified position on this controversial topic?

(7) According to the Economic Policy Institute, CEOs were “worth” 50 times a minimum wage earner in the 1960s, but today it’s approaching 1,000 times! Discounting the unfathomable “fringe” benefits, severance pay, etc., the average CEO’s hourly wage is approximately $7,150! Is this moral?

Where does value end and selfish greed begin? What would the iconic economist Karl Marx think about this egregious development? (8) Prostitution is usually defined as selling one’s body for money, and this activity is most often viewed as immoral. Isn’t it just as immoral to equate the cost of gasoline with that of human labor? Isn’t it really dehumanizing for a company to treat its workers as the moral equivalent of any other cost it has? From the company’s perspective, are Big Macs no different than the people who make them?

(9) After repeated readings of, “This is how it really works”, why did I become increasingly aware of just how much the author sounded like Scrooge prior to his three ghostly visits?

Undoubtedly I’m probably all wrong again, yet it seems to me that there are two types of economists — heartfelt humanists and vulture capitalists. I fear Mr. Kiriazis belongs in the latter category.

However, as is commonly said, “Hope springs eternal.” Thus it is my wish that he will soon be visited by the spirits of poverty past, present and future.

R. Steele Selby