Acton Institute Powerblog

Giving the Just Wage Its Due

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Focusing on the universal to the neglect of the particular is a collectivist error, says Dylan Pahman in the first of this week’s Acton Commentary.

Justice, classically defined, is to render to each what is due. A just wage, then, is that wage which remunerates a worker with proper regard to his or her particular contribution, need, and other circumstances. The focus on a living wage reduces this criterion to need alone and furthermore presumes that the need of each worker is the same. But is this actually the case? No, it isn’t.

The full text of the essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • bbroome62

    We need to follow the money. Retrace the path that the money took to the one percent.

  • JRDF

    Dr. Pahman is correct.

    As I stated on another Acton Commentary:

    It is sad to see our (Catholic) Bishops pushing this minimum / living wage
    communist, racist non-sense. They ignore the very catholic social doctrines
    they profess to uphold.

    Subsidiarity — It is the local community (and it’s local economy) that can
    best set the minimum wage, not the federal government. How many leaders &
    business folks of the black community would love to help / hire a struggling
    youth in their community; but cannot because the federal government prices that
    black business owner and struggling youth out of the LOCAL labor market. The
    black entrepreneur in rural Duplin County NC would have to pay that struggling
    youth a NATIONAL “living wage” that would allow that youth to live in
    New York City — a place where the employer could not even afford to live.

    And for the lazy individual, who better to know, understand and reform the
    sloth of an individual, than the very members of the local community that would
    be personally faced with either admonishing or enabling the slothfulness?

    Solidarity — Minimum wage pits the employee against the employer as
    adversaries; instead of the solidarity required of efficient, productive,
    sustainable human endeavors. Mandated minimum wages fundamentally start from
    the anti-solidarity assumption that the employer (even the poor rural black
    employer) are innately greedy and evil; while all employees, even the slothful,
    are pure and saintly.

    Speaking of anti-solidarity — minimum wage has always been a racist’s economic
    weapon. Minimum wage laws were originated in the US as Jim Crow laws to price
    newly freed black entrepreneurs & laborers out of the labor market. During
    WWII, the Federal government set minimum wage contract laws to protect the
    northern trade unions from southern black entrepreneurs & laborers that
    were immigrating north; willing to work at a lower contract and wage to send
    money back to their families in the south. — Just as Unions today oppose
    immigration reform to protect the unions from Mexicans willing to work for less
    & send money back to their families in Mexico where the cost of living is
    very low. In South Africa, the unions / government officials freely admitted to
    utilizing minimum wage as their official national policy to maintain Apartheid.

    Sustainability — As arbitrary increased wage mandates continue to prime the
    feed-back loop of increased cost of living / increase wages; the economies of
    local communities, businesses, families become unsustainable. Rural black
    communities become unsustainable / deserted, as the youth move to the big city
    looking for other jobs [and the politicians & CRONY capitalists swoop in to
    buy up the black community’s real-estate.]

    Consequently, one should see that national minimum wage is moralistic. As
    Cardinal Ratzinger warned; Moralism, which ignores the technical and the
    consequences, is the antithesis of morality.

    Thus is the ubiquitous progressive call for a blind Tyranny of
    Compassion: while intentionally blind to unintended consequences, exists simply to document one’s own“compassion” [Matthew 6: 01-06] and bully those it deems non-compassionate.
    And on a similar note, see:

    Today, due to a national minimum wage, the members of local black communities
    cannot work in the spirit of solidarity in order to sustain their community,
    because the federal government [and the USCCB] ignore the fundamentally just
    social doctrine of subsidiarity, which is essential for a sustainable

    (For more on these social teaching see the CCC, as well as writing of St.
    Pope JP II & Pope Benedict)

    Actually, much of this minimum wage talk is quite fanciful; ignoring reality.
    It is interesting that those self-righteous, who demonize the “rich”
    companies, ignore their own reality.

    They go to college to be hired by these rich companies that always pay far
    above the minimum wage. And these “evil rich” companies always
    advertise (and pay) a “competitive salary”; so that they can
    out-compete other companies for the best possible job candidate.

    One also finds it interestingly sad how obsessively materialistic the USCCB is
    on this topic. They see no dignity in poverty. By insisting upon minimum wages,
    the USCCB obscenely professes that “man CAN live by bread alone.”
    That an individual’s wages and the materialism acquired from those wages is the
    exclusive dignity of labor.