Living Wages or More Walmarts?

In the mood for some warped economic thinking?

Check out Tim Worstall’s latest piece in Forbes. In it, Worstall argues that raising the minimum wage in Washington DC to $15 an hour will hurt low income workers because — get ready for it — Walmart can’t come to town.

Obviously, the argument is garbage, but before explaining why, a bit of background: In March, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser called for an increase in the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020. This Tuesday, the D.C. City Council unanimously voted to approve that raise.

The development fits into a growing swirl of activity surrounding the Fight for $15 at the national level. Over the past few years, municipalities across the country and state lawmakers in New York and California have voted in $15 an hour, which is increasingly becoming a new labor norm.

Our nation’s capital is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the country, and were it measured as a state, it would have the highest level of economic inequality. City data says the raise to $15 an hour would increase hourly pay for 70,000 D.C. employees. A study from the Economic Policy Institute says it would probably also create pressure for employers to increase wages for an additional 44,000 who now make just above $15. Another study from the Roosevelt Institute linked social injustice with economic equality- arguing answers to both problems are often intertwined.

But to critics like Worstall, none of this matters. These critics argue that the wage hikes are too much, too fast, and that they will scare away business that might otherwise “serve” low-income workers. For his part, Worstall focuses on the fact that Walmart — bastion of social justice that is it is — might choose not come to D.C. because it doesn’t want to pay workers $15 an hour, and the local workers will miss out on “large saving to consumers.”

How bad can the hypocrisy get? In a city gentrifying as fast as D.C., with the highest inequality in the country, and a nasty history of racial division and injustice, the Worstall’s of the world argue for a totally hands-off approach. Let the city continue down its path of economic inequality, they say — there is no need to take measures to improve this basic, underlying social injustice.

Let there be two Washington D.C.’s. Let there be two Americas, they say. One for of the rich and one for the poor.

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