During the second half of the Progressive Era, beginning roughly in 1908, progressive economists and their reform allies achieved many statutory victories, including state laws that regulated working conditions, banned child labor, insti- tuted “mothers’ pensions,” capped working hours and, the sine qua non, fixed minimum wages. In using eugenics to justify exclusionary immigration legislation, the race-suicide theorists offered a model to economists advocating labor reforms, notably those affiliated with the American Association for Labor Legislation, the organization of academic economists that Orloff and Skocpol (1984, p. 726) call the “leading association of U.S. social reform advocates in the Progressive Era.”
Progressive economists, like their neoclassical critics, believed that binding minimum wages would cause job losses. However, the progressive economists also believed that the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit, as it
performed the eugenic service ridding the labor force of the “unemployable.” Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1897 , p. 785) put it plainly: “With regard to certain sections of the population [the “unemployable”], this unemployment is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health.” “[O]f all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Sidney Webb (1912, p. 992) opined in the Journal of Political Economy, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them to unre- strainedly compete as wage earners.” A minimum wage was seen to operate eugen- ically through two channels: by deterring prospective immigrants (Henderson,
1900) and also by removing from employment the “unemployable,” who, thus identified, could be, for example, segregated in rural communities or sterilized.
The notion that minimum-wage induced disemployment is a social benefit distinguishes its progressive proponents from their neoclassical critics, such as Alfred Marshall (1897), Philip Wicksteed (1913), A. C. Pigou (1913) and John Bates Clark (1913), who regarded job loss as a social cost of minimum wages, not as a putative social benefit (Leonard, 2000)...
For these progressives, race determined the standard of living, and the stan- dard of living determined the wage. Thus were immigration restriction and labor legislation, especially minimum wages, justified for their eugenic effects. Invidious distinction, whether founded on the putatively greater fertility of the unfit, or upon their putatively greater predisposition to low wages, lay at the heart of the reforms we today see as the hallmark of the Progressive Era.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
The Horrific Origin of Progressive Minimum Wage Advocacy
Thomas C. Leonard writes: