‘Enlightenment’ Does Not Entitle Legislators to Minimum Wage Unemployment

As increasing numbers of Vermonters and their legislators learn of the harmful effects that the minimum wage will gave on Vermont’s economy, some legislators will still cast their vote in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Why?

We can begin to craft an answer to that question using the book that the economist Thomas Sowell published entitled: The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. Sowell describes the legislative mentality: “what the prevailing vision of our time emphatically does offer, is a special state of grace for those who believe in it. Those who accept this vision are deemed to be not merely factually correct but morally on a higher plane. For those who have this vision of the world, the anointed and the benighted do not argue on the same moral plane or play by the same cold rules of logic and evidence.”

The language Sowell uses may not directly call to mind the everyday language politicians tend to use in public. But every once in a while, when they let their guards down, we can catch a harrowing glimpse of this lofty plane of existence that politicians claim to inhabit. The January 17th minimum wage presentation by David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute (a Left leaning, Washington-based think tank founded by a coalition of eight labor unions) at the Senate’s Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs Senate Committee meeting gave Senator Allison Clarkson (D-Windsor) one such opportunity.

Time and time again, Cooper repeated his plea from September to raise the minimum wage until signs of economic damage appear. Clarkson eagerly embraced this ideal: “Encouraging us to be bold is always a good thing!” To Clarkson, it appears that the Vermont economy is the perfect testing ground for all kinds of “bold” legislative experiments, with greater unemployment in Vermont’s economy long after Clarkson has left office.

And what could be more bold than restricting the ability of thousands to employers to hire employees? When Clarkson and those like her, are warned time and time again of the unemployment that would result from drastically increasing the minimum wage, I begin to wonder if they are deliberately disengaging from civil debate. It seems that the “the anointed (legislators) and the benighted do not argue on the same moral plane” with ordinary Vermont citizens. Perhaps this explains why the Committee only chose to invite the experts who encouraged legislators to pass the $15 minimum wage. Clarkson’s dialogue with Cooper is revealing: she believes the minimum wage is one of many examples of “enlightened policy set by (the) enlightened…this is where government does good things for its people.”

Imagine the implications of an Vermont economy powered by the actions of thousands of individuals. Hundreds of interviews and thousands of professional relationships being formed and strengthened everyday, all within the 9,600 square miles of Vermont’s pastureland and cityscape. Within this context, the need for government involvement in labor relations is secondary to the primary responsibility of each individual to support themselves and their communities.

Such an organic vision of our society is deeply troubling to the enlightened legislator. The legislative role in the labor market achieves the same significance as the role of the fast food worker seeking to pay themselves through college, no more and no less. But when push comes to shove, the enlightened legislator would be more than willing to gain the prestige that comes from passing a new “helpful” bill while sacrificing the interests of the prospective education seeker. It is the duty of all Vermonters to remind our legislators that claiming to be “enlightened” does not give them the freedom to create unemployment by legislative fiat.

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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