Actor Kristen Bell recently portrayed a left-wing activist version of Mary Poppins in a Funny or Die video calling for a higher federal minimum wage. Singing to the tune of “Spoonful of Sugar,” Bell’s character complains, “I’m only paid the federal minimum wage,” or $7.25 per hour. She claims that increasing the minimum wage by $3 per hour would create a “living wage.” But consider some of the crucial facts the video omits as well as some of its outright deceptions:
- A minimum wage means that government punishes (or threatens to punish) employers who pay less than the minimum wage, ultimately by forcibly seizing the employer’s wealth or by locking him in a metal cage. A minimum wage thus violates the rights of employers to operate their businesses as they see fit, including their rights to offer terms of employment that they judge best for their businesses.
- A minimum wage also violates the rights of those seeking employment to offer their services for a wage they regard as reasonable. If an employer offers someone terms of employment, it is properly up to the individual, not the government, whether to accept those terms. In many cases, especially for the young and inexperienced, a minimum wage forces people out of work altogether. Just because government forces employers to pay an employed person more per hour, doesn’t mean employers will hire someone or keep someone on staff when their work is not worth that much to the company. The real minimum wage is zero, which is precisely what many people get as a consequence of minimum wage laws.
- People’s claim that “many domestic workers like Poppins are living below the poverty line” by making $7.25 is ludicrous. Anyone in the United States who has ever hired a high-end nanny “like Poppins,” or who knows someone who has, knows that such nannies cost far more than the federal minimum wage. According to one nanny employment website, nannies with just three years of experience earn an average of $600 per week or more, which works out to around $15 per hour. A relative of mine pays a high school student $10 or more per hour for babysitting.
- Which child-care workers, then, actually make only minimum wage? Perhaps inexperienced high school students or recent graduates earn that little—because that’s what people in the child-care marketplace think they are worth given their experience, age, and other relevant factors. Notably, such nannies and babysitters often live with their parents, or else with the parents of the children they watch, and so they are not providing the sole income on which their household is “living,” and they are being given room and board to boot. Observe that Mary Poppins was a live-in nanny whose employer provided her room and board; it’s absurd to claim that someone whose employer pays nearly all of her living expenses must earn $10.25 per hour for a so-called “living wage.” Forcing single mothers and other parents to pay more for child care will not be a boon to inexperienced nannies and babysitters; in many cases it will cause those child care workers to lose work entirely, as parents find other alternatives (e.g., asking Grandma to move in or starting a co-op with friends).
- Bell’s video rightly points out that Social Security taxes along with federal and state income taxes eat up much of a lower-income earner’s paycheck. (The video makes no mention of sales taxes, property taxes, or the myriad other taxes that confiscate wealth from rich and “poor” alike.) But, rather than urge Congress to reduce or repeal those taxes and decrease its violation of people’s rights, the video urges Congress to violate people’s rights even more.
- If Kristen Bell believes that some people need more money, she is perfectly free to share her own wealth with them voluntarily. What she may not morally do is urge government to force other people to act according to her wishes rather than according to their own judgment. If Bell wishes to force government to impose a minimum on what employers may pay so as to establish a “living wage,” logically, there is nothing stopping government from also imposing a maximum wage—and surely Bell earns far more than she needs merely for her own subsistence (she’s worth some $16 million).
- The original song “Spoonful of Sugar” is a delightful celebration of productive work. It begins, “In every job that must be done / There is an element of fun. / You find the fun and snap! / The job's a game!” Turning that beautiful, productivity oriented tune into a whining appeal for government to force employers to pay inexperienced workers more than their current efforts are worth to the employer is disgraceful. (For a humorous illustration of the economic absurdities of Bell’s proposals, see Remy’s reply in the video below.)
Coercion, the initiation of physical force, is ugly, it is wrong, it is evil—and it doesn’t become cute just because Kristen Bell dresses up like a nanny and sings a catchy song advocating it.
- Capitalism and the Moral High Ground
- Minimum Wage Laws: Immoral, Crippling, and Nevertheless Supported by Many