As usual, it took only a few minutes for NPR to offer more worth listening to than I heard on commercial talk radio all day long. Our papers have been consistently arriving late from Bozeman, for some reason, so I haven’t been able to listen much to Aaron Flint. I need to apologize to Aaron for not attacking him here lately. But I did hear a few minutes on Thursday, and I’m pretty sure I heard him say that we have to trap otters in order to keep them from attacking dogs. Maybe he was kidding, or maybe I was dreaming.
Rush Limbaugh devoted three hours to pointing out how great he is, since it was his 25th anniversary show. This, I thought, might be interesting because it would at least be a break from the usual liberal bashing. But it wasn’t. No doubt he has gained insights into the nature of radio talk over the years that would be worth hearing. But if he shared any of those with his audience on Thursday, I missed them.
“To the Point,” however, had an extremely interesting program on the fast-food workers’ walkout in various big cities. It was so interesting that it actually reduced my own productivity, because I kept lingering in the car to listen instead of delivering my papers like a good boy.
Warren Olney had on one woman who has been at Burger King for five years and makes $8.25 an hour. She got that raise, from $7.25 an hour, when she was promoted to manager. It’s the only raise she has ever received.
Olney being Olney, he also had on an apologist for the fast-food corporations (McDonald’s declined to comment or participate; Burger King released a written statement). The apologist made the usual point, which also was made later by the president of the American Enterprise Institute on the Jerry Doyle show: Raising the minimum wage to even $10 or $12 would force bottom-level employees out of the workforce and drive up prices for everyone else.
As they made this point, it occurred to me that this was not an issue about which we could merely speculate. I had heard that the minimum wage, in real terms, was once much higher than it is now. And it’s true: In constant dollars, the minimum wage peaked at $10.51 in 1968. And what was the unemployment rate that year? It was a terrifying 3.6 percent. And a year later, after the pernicious effects of the high minimum wage had time to kick in? It was 3.5 percent.
True, the rate rose to 4.9 percent in 1970 — still below the theoretical full-employment rate of 5 percent. Then there was the oil embargo and stagflation, and unemployment soared, not falling to 4.9 percent again until 1997. But I suspect the minimum wage had little to do with all of that.
Granted, this is complicated stuff. The economy moves in lots of mysterious ways. I won’t argue that I can prove raising the minimum wage is a good idea. I just wish others wouldn’t insist on arguing that they can prove the opposite.