Deidre McCloskey’s recent treatise (How the West (and the rest) Got Rich) on was a thoughtful essay on the power of liberty and its impact on economics. For the most part, McCloskey did a fine job explaining classical liberalism (“worthy of a free person”) and how the Great Enrichment — our uplifting out of poverty — really came about only when man began to have the liberty to think new ideas and create them.
There was one section, however, where Ms. McCloskey was incorrect. She indicated in passing the right had championed “Social Darwinism” and put forth concepts like eugenics — but this is incorrect. The idea gained footing during the Victorian Era due to the evolutionist Herbert Spencer, and it was promoted by progressives such as Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in the United States. The idea that people should be left by the wayside in a “survival of the fittest” kind of mentality is particularly repugnant and certainly not one espoused by conservatives or libertarians. Conservatives and libertarians are notoriously more generous; liberals don’t take their own money and give to the poor — they take other people’s money and give to the poor.
Consider for a moment too, the idea of wealth input. When people like Bernie Sanders suggest that wealth is unfairly going to wealthier people — well, how do you determine how much should go to each person? Should it really all be the same? Is that equality? Should LeBron James get the same as the least talented player in the NBA? We should be focusing on the equality of opportunity — the quality that you put in is equal to what you get out of it.
For example, Bill Gates make tens of millions a year and he pays several people $1 million or more a year because they are worth it to him. If Gates paid only the minimum wage, other companies would snap the employees up because of their talents . Gates, in paying some of his employees large sums, has recognized their worth because they are generating whatever output was satisfactory to Gates — for example, a strong ROI for the year.
On the other hand, if minimum wage advocates insist on paying $15/hour just for the sake of paying $15/hour instead of $7.50, why should they? Why should the employer be forced to take on the extra cost if the output isn’t worth $15/hour, if they aren’t generating that kind of value? Thus, with that kind of imbalance, the employer must make changes in other areas of his business to make it work — whether it be one or more fewer job overall, price increases, etc.
If people aren’t being paid $100,000 because they are not worth it to their company of employment, that’s a part of business. But it is patently unfair to make arbitrary wage increases in the guise of “fairness.” Why is it fair to some but not others? Why are the people earning $500,000 not suddenly getting $600,000 if others making less get arbitrary wage increases? Why are they excluded? Is that fair? That is why such policies are inherently unfair. The employer should be able to determine, on his own, to pay what his employee is worth and what his employee can generate — without artificial wage policies or government coercion.
It’s difficult to own a business and stay in business when the government comes along and makes changes to how the company is allowed to be in business in the middle of the game. That is patently unfair and unequal. These types of actions stifle a business’s freedom to do business, which is why McCloskey’s era of the “Great Enrichment” is proving to be on the decline.