written by Jos, July 27, 1997
Okay - save this message, because it starts now, baby.

Alright. here we go.  But before we start, I just want to
say one thing.  I think the ideals that I held when I
considered myself a liberal have not changed.  I have just
concluded that "liberal" approaches will not work.
However, that does not mean what I propose will be easily
considered "conservative".  So, in the interests of
eventually banging out a platform with which we can run the
country, I submit to you the first of many articles,
originally promised long ago.

Target the Poor

I am not a libertarian; I think that the government can have a positive role in uplifting the economic condition of all of its citizens. That being said, let me explain how it finally ocurred to me how the minimum wage (with which I've long been ambivalent) is like a system of racial preferences (which I am decidedly against).

On the topic of race, the federal government and agencies that do business with it use something called "race norming" (at least they were a couple of years ago, and I don't think this has yet changed). Those who take the civil service exam have their scores 'normed' against others of the same race before being calculated into a final 'score'. Thus, a White who scored 90% and a Black who scored 65% may end up with the same overall score because of the overall performance of their race. Now, that to me is offensive enough, but that's not the point. The point here is that 'race norming' is not necessary because of discrimination, but rather because of overall lower scores of the Black population. Without the process of norming, the Post Office would not look the way it does. Now, I'm not saying that the Post Office *should* look different. But the fact that it would without norming takes us to the heart of the matter.

The intent of this race norming is good, I think. Disparity of performance between races is disturbing. But race norming and other racial preference programs do not do anything to solve the problem; at worst they exacerbate it (we'll talk about that some other time) and at best they *mask* it. And that is what I want to talk about today.

Such programs, by putting people in postions for which they are not, by definition, qualified, mask the underlying problem of differing racial performance. No one benefits by society's masking of the problem. We would benefit instead by allowing the market to function normally, and then taking our lessons from it.

This is how we get to the title of this piece, "target the poor", and the proper subtitle, "listen to the market".

Now, I know you're going to jump on that last statement, so let me clarify. The market is like an exceedingly honest friend of yours with no sense of tact, but excellent taste in fashion. Let's say your aunt asks you how she looks. Not knowing the first thing about fashion, you ask your friend. He tells you that she looks awful, and exactly why. Now, you probably wouldn't want to pass this information verbatim on to your aunt. But thankful that you got a truthful opinion, you work on how to put it pleasantly to Auntie. Now, that's a good way to blunt your friends brutal tongue. But, if you chose to, you could also blunt his tongue by refusing to allow him to say anything *too* mean.

Which is exactly what we do with a minimum wage. By allowing free wages, but not allowing them to drop below a certain limit, we are treating the economy just like you would be treating your friend by limiting his vocabulary. We are agreeing to listen to the economy, but only up until a point. We are limiting ourselves to only some of the information that we could possibly obtain. Through racial preferences in employment and education, we are doing the same thing. Its almost like we are saying "Don't tell us the bad news."

This is why I was so disgusted with the liberal reaction to the precipitous drop in Black enrollment at California's law schools following the passage of 209. Yes, it was fundamentally disturbing that the discrepancy in Blacks admitted was so large. But that stood not as indictment of 209, but rather an education system and society that has miserably failed its darker skinned members. Listen to what the market has to say about Black educational performance, and act on the lessons, but whatever you do, don't kill the messenger.

Back to the minimum wage. When an employer refuses to pay an individual a livable wage, the market is telling us something; either that the job is not very important, or that the individual doing the job is not very skilled. In this case, I do not think that the solution is to ignore the market and mandate that employers pay a minimum wage. The solution, I think, is to supplement that individual's income (thus bringing them to a livable wage) and work with them on improving their base of skills. This way, we are not ignoring the market, but rather listening to it in order to identify those individuals who need help. This is what I mean by "targeting the poor".

A minimum wage benefits huge numbers who don't "need" it, teenagers, and those just working to get out of the house. In policy wonk terms, this is accomplished through something known as the negative income tax. (I am ignoring here what is done at the Federal or state level, because I think that the question of federalism is something that we need to take up at a later date.)

Okay, I could go on, but my brain is a bit scattered right
now.  You get the idea.  If I've struck a chord or anything,
let me know.  I think that the policy of really targeting
those you want to help is better than overly broad programs
that might do more harm than good, and I want to be able to
apply it to discussions down the road.  For now, I talk
about racial preferences and the minimum wage.

Okay. That's all.


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