The Economic Denialism of a $15 Minimum Wage

Both California and New York have passed minimum wage legislation that will prevent in relatively short order their citizens from working for less than fifteen dollars an hour.  The New York bill will double the minimum wage. The California bill will increase the minimum wage by fifty percent. Even in a political climate growing increasing hostile to liberty such legislation stands out as an egregiously irresponsible and ignorant intrusion on freedom.

We hear a lot about “denialists” when it comes to climate change, but these enactments represent a massive denial about basic truths of economics. When a commodity—in this case labor—becomes substantially more expensive, people will buy less of it. The result of these laws will more unemployment for the least able among us.

Does anyone doubt that if newspapers, including those who editorialize in favor of such increases, were required by the government to double their subscription price that they would sell substantially fewer newspapers? Or if the government decreed that salaries of tenured professors must be go up by half, that colleges would substitute other kinds of instructional tools for tenured professors?

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American Exceptionalism Is Ending—Where?

Old American flag background for Memorial Day or 4th of July

Professor McGinnis’s fine post on the end of American exceptionalism has rudely preempted my equally fine, nearly finished essay on that very subject. Let me start where John ended and explain why it’s worse than he thinks:

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The End of American Exceptionalism?

American exceptionalism may be disappearing. American exceptionalism posits that the United States is fundamentally different from other nations, particularly those in Europe. The United States was founded on a commitment to principles whereas other nations were founded on ties of blood. Moreover, our principles were those of the Enlightenment, embracing individual liberty and the rule of law.

One of the results, as Seymour Martin Lipset noted, was that the United States has never had a serious socialist party. But in this election cycle a serious socialist has come close to winning the Democratic nomination. Indeed, Sanders would be winning except for the loyalty Clinton enjoys among African American voters. But as the votes of the congressional Black Caucus show, African American voters are the most left-wing bloc economically. Next time they would be likely vote for the socialist candidate who imitates Sanders.

We have also never had a major nationalist party, like the National Front in France. Such parties run not only on protectionism and xenophobia but on preserving an unreformed entitlement state. But Trump’s platform is a somewhat paler version of such virulent European parties.

The combination of Trump’s and Sanders’ rise shows that the candle of liberty by which American exceptionalism glows may be flickering out.

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Why Carson and Trump Aren’t Fading Away

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It looks as if the Republicans are stuck with the strange truth that, now more than ever, their leading candidates are Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

The perception of the members of a key focus group was that Carson is “wise” and a “gentleman.” He might be more immune than Jeb to the Trump allegation that he’s “low energy.” While he did seem nervously lacking in assertiveness during the first two debates, his tone is inspirational on the stump and at times on the talk shows. He excels at quietly but firmly articulating American exceptionalism as a mixture of economic liberty and Biblical faith. For better and worse, Ben Carson isn’t much like Jeb Bush.

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The Irony of American Exceptionalism

This week brought the stunning news that Russia has deployed technology that records every phone call made in the United States, keeps it for 30 days, and retrieves segments for listening and long-term storage.

Not really. But the United States has done precisely this to telephone users in an unknown target country. Leaked documents indicate “every single” call there was recorded—not merely metadata that tracks numbers called, but the actual content of conversations.

Consider that inversion a political Rorschach test. There is a breed of American elite whose mood, upon reaching the end of the second paragraph, would instantly melt from outrage to relief. That breed lacks the political virtue par excellence—prudence—and it is getting us into trouble.

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Immigration and the American Exception


This next conversation is with Richard Samuelson on the constitutional principles that have guided our nation's approach to immigration, that is, until recently. In an essay in the Summer 2013 Claremont Review of Books, (link no longer available) adapted from an academic version published in Citizens and Statesman, Samuelson argues that Our political institutions strive to treat individuals as individuals, who relate to the government on that basis, rather than as parts of groups, castes, or classes. A regime dedicated to protecting the rule of law and the rights of men–including the right of each individual to make his way in…

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Friday Roundup, October 25th

Twilight of the American Republic: The new Liberty Law Talk presents a different way of thinking about American Exceptionalism. This discussion with author Justin Litke considers how the twentieth century emergence of an expansive American Exceptionalism relates to the frayed constitutional consensus of the American founding. What did Michael Oakeshott think of the American founding? That's the question taken up by Elizabeth Corey in this week's feature review essay on Gene Callahan's book Oakeshott on Rome and America. Alberto Mingardi @ Econ Lib on Germany trading its political stability for economic stupidity. Then again, there's much of that going on these days. The…

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Twilight of the American Republic

Twilight of the Republic

This next Liberty Law Talk is a conversation with Justin Litke on his new book, Twilight of the Republic. Our conversation focuses on the book's attempt to situate twentieth century claims of American Exceptionalism within the context of the political symbols and public meanings that are revealed in significant political documents stretching back to the Mayflower Compact and forward to Albert Beveridge's 1900 Senate speech "In Support of American Empire." Along the way, we discuss the Declaration of Independence, Federalist Papers, the Constitution, and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in order to better understand Litke's powerfully argued claim that the…

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Making Free Men and Women

Richard Samuelson’s timely Claremont Review of Books essay, “The Genius of American Citizenship,”  presents the Founders’ argument for the citizenship of American exceptionalism, as opposed to the cultural and economic arguments that have dominated today’s debate over immigration. As Jefferson feared then, citizen identity without a sense of political duty will produce a “heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass”—the conditions for centralized bureaucracy we are seeing ever more realized today.

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Diplomatic Decline and Constitutional Ascent

Two recent commentaries on the recurrent question of American decline illustrate the warped terms of American self-conception, the consequent irrelevance of the declinism debate—and the ways in which America’s own political tradition might better inform our understanding of our power in the world.

In one, Harvard’s Joseph Nye argues with some persuasiveness that American power may or may not be fragile in absolute terms but that we are likely to remain ascendant in relative terms.  However, we will be “‘first’ but not ‘sole’”: The likeliest scenario, he projects, is not the rise of another superpower like China but rather “the rise of the rest”—the emergence of a multipolar world in which the capacity to maintain alliances and work with others will be key.

In the other assessment, Rob Asghar rejects the notion of decline altogether, noting, among other reasons, that “today’s trajectory is not tomorrow’s destiny,” that American culture is uniquely conducive to growth and that we are more aware of our own flaws than of our competitors’.

Each of these analyses is persuasive in its way.  Asghar is correct to direct our attention to the bygone days when we were instructed to prepare for submission to our emergent Japanese masters, who it turns out were instead incapable of letting anyone go out of business.  Nye persuasively—more on this in a moment—notes the end of “the unipolar moment.”  Meanwhile, the American culture of creative destruction, which both authors observe, positions the country for continued economic success.

But both also miss a larger question: not how much power America has, but how much power America needs.

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