The Minimum Wage Shows Why (and How) We Should Vote Today

It is time for the states to lead.

Every once in awhile in the history of this great country of ours, the federal government just can’t get the job done. Partisan gridlock, constitutional uncertainty, public distrust all play a role. But one of the great strengths of the American system is that the states — those laboratories of democracy, as Louis Brandeis called them — can act when Washington will not. Abolitionism, women’s suffrage, health care reform, gay rights: All started at the state level.

This is one of those times. Our national system is inert. Our national leaders are mired in the muck of inaction.

And yet there is hope. For today is Election Day, and on this day, we will elect 36 governors. This is no time to stay home when the polling places are open. This is a time to choose leaders who will act where Washington has not.

I can think of no better example of the choice we face as a country today than the minimum wage.

After World War II, Congress set the minimum wage at approximately half the average wage in the country. In today’s dollars, it was over $10 an hour. Earning the minimum wage, one full-time worker could support a family of three above the poverty line.

Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25, less than 36 percent of the average wage. It’s so low that it can’t even keep a family of two out of poverty.

Unlike Social Security or Medicare payments, the minimum wage is not indexed to the cost of living. Only Congress can raise it. The last time they did so was 2009. Democrats proposed raising it again earlier this year, but the majority of senators opposed it.

The feds have failed to act. It’s time for the states to lead.

And we have ample evidence that they can. Twenty-three states already have minimum wages higher than $7.25. Five states — Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota — have an initiative on today’s ballot to increase theirs.

But not everyone is onboard.

“I don’t think it serves a purpose,” said Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott Walker last month.

“I don’t think as governor I want to be the cause of someone losing their job,” said Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor in Texas, in explaining his opposition to raising the minimum wage. Pennsylvania’s Republican governor Tom Corbett made a similar argument when stating his opposition last year.

At least they pretended to know what they were talking about. When Republican Governor Rick Scott was asked what Florida’s minimum wage should be, he said, “How would I know?”

These men are on today’s ballot in four of our nation’s largest and most influential states.

And they are tragically out-of-step with the lessons of economic history. In a recent study, the economists Hristos Doucouliagos and T.D. Stanley survey the vast research that economists have done measuring the impact of the minimum wage in recent decades — 64 papers in total — and they find “little or no evidence” that minimum wage increases caused job losses.

On the contrary, raising the minimum wage is a clear boost to the economy. In another recent paper, the economist Arindrajit Dube found that raising the minimum wage significantly reduces the poverty rate, a finding that is consistent with the other 12 studies economists have published in recent years measuring the same effect in different ways.

Only a politician severely out-of-touch with the modern economy could think otherwise. Today’s corporations don’t have to cut back jobs when wages rise. They have to cut back profits, which are at an all-time high. In the long run, they might not have to cut back anything. Higher wages lead to higher productivity, better health, fewer strikes, lower turnover, and higher consumption, which in turn leads to more demand for their products and therefore higher profits.

Individual companies may not want to raise wages if their competitors won’t, but when everyone does it, everyone benefits.

Trying to save money by keeping the minimum wage low is like trying to improve your health by starving yourself. It’s classic shortsighted behavior, hardly the visionary leadership that we’d like to see in the governor’s mansion.

That’s why today’s election matters. In this age of do-nothing politics, it’s easy to despair, but we must remember the intent behind the design. The same founding fathers who created a federal system that resists radical change also created a state system that encourages experimentation. Today we celebrate their creation, and we direct its attention to the challenges of our time.

If the feds do not act, the states will. We the voters will make sure of it.

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This op-ed was originally published in the Huffington Post.

The Charming Republicans: Issa, Ryan, and Cantor

by Norman Horowitz

In 1960, at Screen Gems International, I met a “tall, dark, and handsome” man named Larry Hilford.

Larry was very smart and very charming when he wanted to be. He was a Yale graduate, as well as a Harvard MBA, all of which I could tolerate. But I will never forgive him for his “movie star” good looks.

Larry and I both worked for Lloyd Burns, a South African/Canadian who was the personification of “two faced.” Lloyd had a farbissina punim, which, loosely translated from Yiddish, means that he was sourpuss. He saved his farbissina punim for people like me and other junior staff people. He was at his charming best when with our major customers and senior management.

Yes, he was smart, but to me smart is not enough for an executive (or politician) to function as effectively as possible.

Larry and Lloyd were a study in contrasts. Larry would cringe when anyone called him a salesman, but that’s what he was: a well educated man of vision who could sell what he believed.

I have noticed in my career that people like Larry, an actual operating executive and salesman, were not then, nor are they today, respected as they should be. America has bought into the notion that MBAs and lawyers are somehow qualified to run operating divisions or companies. Nowadays, it seems that senior management executives are mostly operationally inexperienced and sport their farbissina punims as a badge of honor.

The combination of intellect and charm and operating experience matters, and to me the political poster child for this would be Bill Clinton.

Antithetical to this would be Congressmen Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Darrell Issa.

While I never agreed with the policies of the Bush boys or Ronald Reagan, none of them could be referred to as having a farbissina punim. The same cannot be said of these three infantile Republican Congressmen who, not too long ago, were setting sail for a witch hunt against Eric Holder, while a good deal of the world is falling apart.

Much to the chagrin of many of my Republican friends, our President Barack Obama is bright, charming, and ingratiating, and I would ask those who might be open to it to compare the countenance of Barack Obama to our three resident farbissina punim champions, Darrell Issa, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor.

I’m reminded of my days at MGM, where I was accused of being a bad manager because I was “too nice.”

Welcome to America.

What to Read on Herman Cain

On the Ropes With Herman Cain — T. A. Frank

In October, Cain had to undo damage from the following: a suggestion to put up an electrified fence on the Mexican border, statements endorsing a woman’s right to choose, an apparent unfamiliarity with the terms “right of return” and “neoconservative,” a tentative thumbs-up to negotiating with Al Qaeda for prisoners and news stories of a completely mismanaged campaign.

Now allegations of sexual harassment have drowned out pretty much anything else related to Herman Cain. And if that’s in any way a blessing, it’s only because it diverted attention from what may have been some serious violations of campaign-finance laws.

Herman Cain gets away with stuff like this — stuff like being inconsiderate or egomaniacal, or just stuff like saying absolutely the wrong thing. An ordinary candidate wouldn’t recover from saying that he wouldn’t appoint Muslims to his cabinet…

Most of [Cain’s] former staff members…speak of a man so egotistical that careful self-policing would never really enter into the realm of consideration.

They also speak — bitterly — of a candidate with zero interest in policy… They speak of unrelenting self-absorption, even by the standards of a politician.

Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan: $210k Tax Cut for Richest 1%, $2k Tax Hike for Bottom Three-Fifths of Taxpayers — Citizens for Tax Justice

Cain’s proposed tax plan would replace all existing federal taxes with three new taxes: a flat nine percent individual income tax, a flat nine percent “business tax,” and a nine percent national sales tax.

Moreover, under the 9-9-9 plan, the United States government would collect about $340 billion less in revenue in 2011 alone.

Herman Cain: Nein, Nein, Nein! — Justin Raimondo

[Cain wrote] that the “war on terrorism” is a conflict that “will be fought forever.”

Cain promotes the views of Pastor Rod Parsley, an evangelical nut-job who not only teaches Islam is an “anti-Christ religion” based on “deception,” and that the prophet Mohammed was a “demon spirit,” but also claims “America was founded in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed.”

[Cain believes] that “World War III” has already started…: “In WW III, our enemy is the irreconcilable terrorist wing of a religion — Islam — and a handful of nations that harbor terrorists and fund their activities. Those nations include Iran, Syria, Venezuela and North Korea.”

I’m sure Hugo Chavez will be very surprised to learn he’s been lording it over a Muslim country rather than a staunchly Catholic one — and I can only imagine the look on Kim Jong Il’s face when he he hears the muezzin’s call to prayer ring out over the streets of Pyongyang.

The Flat-Tax Fraud — Robert Reich

[The] non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that Cain’s plan (the only one out there so far) would lower the after-tax incomes of poor households (incomes below $30,000) by 16 to 20 percent, while increasing the incomes of wealthier households (incomes above $200,000) by 5 to 22 percent, on average.

Under Cain’s plan, fully 95 percent of households with more than $1 million in income would get an average tax cut of $487,300. And capital gains (a major source of income for the very rich) would be tax free.