Morning Must Reads: Young Workers, Social Darwinism and the Minimum Wage Destroyed the Roman Empire!

The second article in The Philadelphia Inquirer series Struggling for Work: Broken Dreams of a New Generation appeared Sunday. It takes a look at the huge toll unemployment is taking on people in their 20s.

The New York Times reports that while the demand for publicly-financed job training has increased, as employers have started adding jobs, the funds available are shrinking.

The combination of high unemployment and state budget cuts has lead to rising property taxes in many local Pennsylvania communities. Thus, politicians hoping to start or catch a wave of property tax resentment have introduced proposals to replace the property tax with a sales tax and a higher income tax. Curiously little of the reporting on these bills asks the important question: Will these proposals raise the same, more or less to pay for local education? 

Philosopher Philip Kitcher has a great column this morning on Social Darwinism.

The heart of social Darwinism is a pair of theses: first, people have intrinsic abilities and talents (and, correspondingly, intrinsic weaknesses), which will be expressed in their actions and achievements, independently of the social, economic and cultural environments in which they develop; second, intensifying competition enables the most talented to develop their potential to the full, and thereby to provide resources for a society that make life better for all. It is not entirely implausible to think that doctrines like these stand behind a vast swath of Republican proposals, including the recent budget, with its emphasis on providing greater economic benefits to the rich, transferring the burden to the middle-classes and poor, and especially in its proposals for reducing public services...

There are very good reasons to think both theses are false. Especially in the case of the Republican dynasties of our day, the Bushes and the Romneys, success has been facilitated by all kinds of social structures, by educational opportunities and legal restrictions, that were in place prior to and independently of their personal efforts or achievements. For those born into environments in which silver spoons rarely appear — Barack Obama, for instance — the contributions of the social environment are even more apparent. Without enormous support, access to inspiring teachers and skillful doctors, the backing of self-sacrificing relatives and a broader community, and without a fair bit of luck, the vast majority of people, not only in the United States but throughout the world, would never achieve the things of which they are, in principle, capable. In short, Horatio Alger needs lots of help, and a large thrust of contemporary Republican policy is dedicated to making sure he doesn’t get it.

In the past two weeks, my colleague Stephen Herzenberg and I ran a series on the fuzzy logic and math behind claims that the prevailing wage raises total construction cost. When we started, we noted the Commonwealth Foundation's cost-savings estimates were based in part on the assumption that labor costs represent as much as 45% of total cost — a figure substantially higher than the 24% suggested by the U.S. Census of Construction for Pennsylvania.

By the end of last week, another researcher from the Commonwealth Foundation went on television to claim that labor costs could be on average 75% of total cost. If the Commonwealth Foundation is to be believed, Pennsylvania construction contractors still build roads using only people, shovels and horses. 

Just in case you thought the willingness to say anything to advance a political cause is something new, the good people at the Cry Wolf Project have, excuse the pun, a howler on the minimum wage from 1937. 


0 comments posted

Post new comment

Comment Policy:

Thank you for joining the conversation. Comments are limited to 1,500 characters and are subject to approval and moderation. We reserve the right to remove comments that:

  • are injurious, defamatory, profane, off-topic or inappropriate;
  • contain personal attacks or racist, sexist, homophobic, or other slurs;
  • solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites or to sell products or services;
  • may infringe the copyright or intellectual property rights of others or other applicable laws or regulations; or
  • are otherwise inconsistent with the goals of this blog.

Posted comments do not necessarily represent the views of the Keystone Research Center or Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and do not constitute official endorsement by either organization. Please note that comments will be approved during the Keystone Research Center's business hours.

If you have questions, please contact [email protected]

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <p> <img>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.