I recently published the results of some detailed reading I had done in early 20th century intellectual history as it pertained to the minimum wage. In order to grasp the full horror of the thing, you need to read the original articles and books in question.
Here you have a large gaggle of intellectuals — all write as if there is no debate — arguing for the minimum wage as an exclusionary measure, a method of social isolation. And why? They had this idea that if you deny people jobs, they will be demotivated to reproduce. If they don’t reproduce, they don’t poison the racial stock. Civilization can be preserved from demographic suicide this way.
There are multiple ironies of course, but, in some ways, this malevolence behind the idea reflects a strange rationality. These people came to believe in the planning state. But a planned society needs more than planned resources use. You have to plan births and demographics too. It makes no sense to reject the “anarchy of the market” in physical resources while leaving reproductive decisions to individuals. In some ways, it is even more important for a social planning agenda to regulate reproduction.
These monstrous ideas were also completely correct about the implications of the minimum wage. It sets a high bar for entry into the workforce. The lowliest among the population can’t make it in. This is what they wanted. They were choosing exactly the right tool to accomplish the goal of exclusion and isolation. If you want to reserve jobs only for those that society deems to be worthy, this is a way to do it.
But here’s the thing. In the day or two after the article appeared, I dealt with a series of wild attacks from the political left. They somehow thought I was smearing their wonderful policy. They accused me of using ad hominum: the people who invented the minimum wage had an exterminationist agenda and so, therefore, the minimum wage is invalid. Actually I didn’t say that. I said that this old generation of thinkers was onto something — this policy is deadly — and we should learn from them even while rejecting their social values.
What kept striking me in the course of these debates was the very strange blindness of certain members of the left-wing clan. They refuse to see the state for what it is: a method by which the privileged elite control people’s property and lives in order to shore up the power of the few against the many. No matter how much you show evidence to this effect, they just can’t see it. It is not that anyone disputes a word of the history in question. Instead, they look and look away as fast as possible and keep repeating the mantra: the state is good, the state is good, the state is good.
The period in question is called the Progressive Era, but it was anything but progressive. It was a time in which the ruling class cracked down on rampant economic growth, longer lives, and mass distribution of wealth. In a few short years, we saw not only the first minimum wages but a whole series of policies structured to cartelize the economy and take us away from the relative laissez faire of the Gilded Age.
For example, food and drug regulations were designed to please the largest industrial players in the market and impose high barriers to entry to competition. This was the point. It wasn’t to somehow protect consumers; it was to reserve market share to incumbent firms, which is why all the largest industry giants worked hand-in-hand with government to bring about this regulation. This was true for the first regulations in food (meat packing) and medicine (regulations on medical schooling and licensing).
Repeat: this regulation was not done at the behest of teaming masses of people clamoring for protection against capitalists. It was with the cooperation of capitalists who were seeking to put an end to what they regarded as the chaos of the market economy.
It was true in banking too. The Federal Reserve was founded to reserve the banking function to privileged firms and put a final end to the “wild cat” era in which anyone could enter banking and large banks had to compete on soundness. After the Fed was founded, competition came to an end and so did market accountability. It was just a matter of the passage of time before the money came to be destroyed completely at the hands of the banking cartel and its government sponsors.
Antitrust was the same. This was a tool used by some capitalists to punish other capitalists who were invading their territory. It was not a policy designed to protect the public but a policy designed to protect industry from rivalrous competition. From the point of view of the dominant players, history was moving too fast too randomly. Antitrust was designed to put an end to this.
It was the same with the income tax, structured not as a wealth redistribution tool but as a new gatekeeper to income earners who would threaten the elite. It set up a wicked intermediary: you can only earn money on our terms. It was not about fairness; it was about control.
And so long as we are talking about this period, what about World War I? The years after were spent with unrelenting public revelations about the corporate and business elite who made their fortunes building and deploying the killing machine. This was not a war for democracy. It was a war to bolster the fortunes of the merchants of death.
Why is this so difficult to understand? This is the real history, available to anyone who spends time with historians such as Gabriel Kolko, Murray Rothbard, Robert Higgs, and innumerable others.
And the lineup of racketeering hardly ends there. What about the New Deal? It was not a policy to embolden the masses against wealthy elites. If you read John T. Flynn and innumerable other contemporary reporters, it was very clearly a corporate/government/union racket to shore up profits and power at the expense of the people. And the Great Society? It was the same: a coverup for a power grab. Same with Obamacare: it is the medical establishment that won in that reform.
We can look at this century of “leftist” policies and, after a time, we want to just scream: what is with the naive, street-level political left out there? What is it that prevents you from seeing reality? You really think that the leviathan state is helping the poor and downtrodden, the marginalized and outcasts, the minorities and the oppressed? The exact opposite is the case.
Do you really think that you are helping black people, for example, with your regulations, wage controls, and bureaucratically administered welfare state that has actually ended up building barriers to entry and building prison camps for the unemployed? This is what the state does: it ruins lives, not just of one class but all nonelite classes, but especially the most marginalized.
Dear naive leftists: A century of evidence is in. Your policies help the ruling class at the expense of everyone else. It’s never been otherwise. Wake up, open your eyes, and see the truth for what it is. The state helps itself and not the people you claim to favor. Every policy that expands the power of government actually intensifies the means of oppressing the people you claim to champion.