Monday, May 14, 2012

The minimum wage and eugenics

I've seen plenty written about how minimum wage laws were a tool of progressives and believers in eugenics 100 years ago, but far too often we are left hanging without direct quotes. Written by Henry R Seager in 1913, "The Minimum Wage as Part of a Program for Social Reform" will have a certain familiarity, if you have read up on eugenics in America. It starts on page 3, ends on page 12. For those who may not be aware of it, Seager is who wrote the book that laid the groundwork for social security. Cute, eh? Here's what he wrote in the essay:
More important, however, than these immediate benefits would be the long run influence of the change on the ability of wage-earners to secure better conditions through their own efforts. Protected from the wearing competition of the casual worker and the drifter, wage-earners in every industry would find it easier to organize to demand better conditions. The greater health and vigor of the whole wage-earning population would lead to more persistent and more intelligent participation in all the movements of the day. The tone of our political life would be elevated and invigorated and we should be better able to grapple with those great economic and social problems that concern not only wage earners but all of us. This is the answer to critics of the minimum wage who object that it is merely negative and that it does not go far enough. If it goes far enough to contribute to the health and vigor of the masses of our citizenship, it must react beneficially upon all the important movements of the day.

Oh, it goes far enough. If you happen to be a regular reader, you're probably sick(as I am) of hearing this repeated slogan from progressives regarding what does or does not "go far enough". Enough is never enough for these people, keep "it doesn't go far enough" in mind as you read. Above, is the closing of the essay, the content is much more specific:(Page 9)

Just as there are special schools in the public school system for children who are backward with their books, so there must be developed industrial and trade schools for young persons who are so backward in their work that they cannot command even the minimum wages which the law prescribes. And it will not be enough to provide such schools. Young persons incapable of adequate self support and without independent resources will have to be assisted while they are taking advantage of them. Moreover, if on completing the course they are still unable to earn an adequate living, they will have to be treated as defectives for whom still further measures must be taken. If their defects are of a sort that render them entirely harmless members of the community they may be given licenses to work for less than the minimum wage required for normal persons. If there are reasons for isolating them from contact with others then they must be sent to farm or industrial colonies where they will be considerately and humanely cared for but under conditions that prevent them from inflicting injury on others. Critics of the minimum wage sometimes speak of this necessity which the plan presents of making special provision for the unemployable as if it were a new problem. It is not a new problem

Of course, all of this will require a huge massive government. New licences, schools, and isolation camps are not something that families do. And of course, we can't leave out the usual call for sterilization: (Page 10)

One important part of the program with reference to those who are defective from birth is to prevent that monstrous crime against future generations involved in permitting them to become the fathers and mothers of children who must suffer under the same handicap. If we are to maintain a race that is to be made up of capable, efficient, and independent individuals and family groups we must courageously cut off lines of heredity that have been proved to be undesirable by isolation or sterilization of the congenitally defective.

And with respect to putting together minimum wage laws and eugenics, he does this himself:

Michigan has just passed an act requiring the sterilization of congenital idiots. This may seem somewhat remote from the minimum wage but such a policy judiciously extended should make easier the task of each on-coming generation which insists that every individual who is regularly employed in the competitive labor market shall receive at least a living wage for his work. We cannot continue to increase the sums we spend for the care of congenital defectives in consequence of our failure to prevent them from becoming the parents of more congenital defectives without encroaching on the expenditures we ought to make for the better education and training of the normal children of normal citizens.

Doesn't go far enough? Progressives always go too far. Government must always remain limited, so that the people can always be free.

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