Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has a post about Erick Erickson saying what conservatives in general believe about low-income workers. Here is Erickson, version one:
“What’s going on here — by the way, more than 90% of Americans make more than minimum wage. The minimum wage is mostly people who have failed at life, and high school kids. I don’t mean to be ugly with you people, but…If you’re a thirty-something-year-old person, and you’re making minimum wage, you’ve probably failed at life. It is not that life has dealt you a bad hand. Life does not deal you cards. It is that you’ve failed at life.”
In respectable circles, conservatives can usually keep their discipline together and ensure that they only heap disdain on the lazy, non-working poor. But sometimes they slip up and tell you what they really think. It’s not idleness that they think makes you a garbage failure of a person. Working a hard job preparing food for people to eat, a rather important social function, does not save you from their scorn. All low-income people, whether they are working or not, are regarded as inferior trash people.
It turns out that saying food service workers who are trying to pull down some of that sacred market income are categorical failures at life is generally regarded as quite heinous. So Erickson, version two, was forced to pretend that this is not what he meant:
“If you are working your tail off and doing the best you can and, perhaps you have to rely on family, friends, charity, or government to get by, as I said on Rush’s show, that’s not failing. That’s working. And work is rewarding. But if you are in your thirties, making minimum wage in a career, and standing on the street demanding the government do something about it, yes, yes you have failed at life…In fact, the people most upset with me missed the part about me specifically saying more than once that I was referring to 30 year old minimum wage workers who are blocking traffic demanding the government force their employers to pay them more. Those people have failed at life.”
For starters, surely nobody believes Erickson had any such distinction in his mind initially. The first quote is unmistakably clear. By the time people are 30, they should have gotten into a better job than food service. If they haven’t, that means they are failures. They are not failures because they are protesting. They are failures because they are not doing as well economically as they should be.
But have no fear, bullshit arguments about “force” are here. As is evident with the libertarians (who are the most intoxicated by such stupidity), this is always the great fallback of anyone who has nothing smart to say.
However, in the case of fast food worker protests, nobody is “demanding the government force their employers to pay them more,” not in any meaningful sense of the word.
If you (correctly) interpret the protesters’ actions as a way of bargaining with their employer for a raise, then there is no demand for government force. Whether it’s through a union contract or individual employment contracts, the employers will ultimately have to decide whether to agree to the workers’ demands or not. There is no law that would ever force them to do so.
Even if you (incorrectly) interpret the protesters’ actions as a way of trying to get the government to increase the minimum wage, there is still no demand that the government force their employers to pay more. As the right-wing is usually pretty eager to point out, payment of the minimum wage is voluntary insofar as employers don’t have to employ anyone if they don’t want to. There are no laws requiring businesses to hire people. They choose to do so.
In this sense, the minimum wage has always struck me as something that conservatives, in theory, should be pretty receptive to. It doesn’t violate just deserts. It pushes money through the holiest of income distribution channels, the paycheck. It’s totally voluntary: if employers don’t want to pay it, they sure as hell don’t have to. But those are considerations that only really matter to conservatives in theory. In reality, anti-poor animus of the sort typified in Erickson version one motivates the right-wing angst towards fast food workers, with “force” and other considerations just a rhetorical sheen placed on otherwise unconscionable views.