California Conservative Proposes $12 Per Hour Minimum Wage

Stephen Herzenberg |

Last week, The New York Times reported that Ron Unz, a conservative Silicon Valley millionaire and past editor of The American Conservative, favors increasing California’s minimum wage to $12 per hour.

The arguments he is making explain why a much higher minimum wage strengthens the economy and benefits taxpayers, and progressives should capitalize on his support to amplify these arguments in their own advocacy.

Mr. Unz rightly dismisses concerns about overall job loss from a higher minimum wage. Mr. Unz elaborated in The American Conservative last year that manufacturing “sweatshops” would be among the few industries hurt by a higher minimum wage. “There’s a legitimate argument to be made that those kinds of businesses have no place in our economy,” he wrote.

His sweatshop example brings to mind the progressive mantra that policy should “pave the high road and block the low road”—in other words, policy should make it easier for innovative, high-productivity businesses to thrive and harder for low-wage, low-productivity, no-innovation businesses to compete.

A much higher minimum wage is a powerful tool for “blocking the high road,” leading to a mix of businesses and an economy that are more productive and innovative in the long run.

Mr. Unz also argues that a higher minimum wage would reduce spending on social welfare programs—a point well documented by studies showing, for example, how many fast food and Walmart workers rely on public assistance programs to make ends meet.

Given a choice between alleviating poverty and inequality through redistribution (taxes and spending) or through a more equal before-tax distribution of wages and income, many Americans—and many conservatives—would favor fixing the latter. Higher wages, after all, “make work pay” and increase the incomes of those who “work hard and play by the rules.” In other words, fixing the before-tax distribution of wages and income resonates strongly with American values—one reason a higher minimum wage is so popular.

Want an economy in which the economic pie grows faster and more families can make ends meet without assistance from government programs? Enact a much higher minimum wage.