America’s minimum wage creates an “earnings pothole” where you cannot sell your own time. Even if someone’s willing to buy and you’re willing to sell!
Once upon a time, a single corporate juggernaut might’ve controlled every job position in a town, leaving workers no option but to accept pitiful wages. After all, quitting meant unemployment or exile. Not cool.
As a minimum wage earner, I once saw minimum wage as a protection against corporate abuse of the job market. I once looked down on other nations that didn’t enforce similar minimum wages, like China.
Eventually, however, I pulled my head out of my rear end, and started thinking anthropologically. Minimum wage is just another cultural practice and, like most cultural practices, it becomes completely absurd if you start forcing it down Others’ throats.
1st absurdity: volunteerism and unpaid internships. American businesses aren’t allowed to pay anything less than $7.25/hr, unless they’re paying $0/hr!
2nd absurdity: paid volunteerism. Did you know businesses can charge you for the privilege and expense of volunteering for them? Technically, this translates into negative earnings. No joke.
3rd absurdity: no maximum wages. What keeps large corporations from using unlimited credit to pay executive bonuses equivalent to the national GDP, or more? Hypothetically, couldn’t someone get paid all of the money and crash the economy?
4th absurdity: people who aren’t allowed to sell their own time, for earnings they’re willing to accept. Depending on job availability, need, and even passion, some of us are willing to work for sub-minimum wage. I’ve been, myself.
Most folks I know conceptualize minimum wage as the minimum payment they’re owed for their time. However, a simple number line (pictured above) illustrates that minimum wage really creates an “earnings pothole” where you cannot sell your own time. Even if someone’s willing to buy and you’re willing to sell!
If that wasn’t absurd enough, we also condescend upon cultures with smaller or differently shaped potholes. A case in point, China has several minimum wages because it’s a big place with economically incomparable regions, like Tibet and Hong Kong. Yet journalists often cherry-pick China’s “sweatshops” without discussing their representativeness, while ignoring American sweatshops in territories like Puerto Rico.
Question for the discussion thread: have you ever worked for minimum wage? When? Where? For how much? What did you do? Of course, any other comments are welcome, too. Even short and stupid ones. So be awesome and say something below! No registration required. Yay, anonymity!