Religion & Liberty Online

When progressive business owners oppose the $15 minimum wage

Progressives are known for making blanket denunciations of “corporate greed” with little distinction or discernment, rushing to support a range of regulations, price controls, and market manipulations to mitigate the supposed vices of free and open exchange.

Yet amid such sweeping disdain, we also see an emerging fondness for particular kinds of businesses, namely, those that market themselves as pursuing more “moral” or “communitarian” ends. Epitomized by terms like “localist consumerism, “artisanal quality,” and “social entrepreneurship,” these businesses are somehow excused from such accusations due to their roles as the scrappy, combative counterparts to the bigger, meaner machine.

The irony, of course, is that these same bottom-up challenges to capitalistic “excess” tend to be vulnerable, not to market forces, but to those laundry lists of preferred progressive policies.

As protests for a $15-per-hour minimum wage continue to rage across the country, cities like Seattle and states like California and New York have already begun to adopt such schemes. In places like San Francisco, we’re already beginning to see the collateral damage. As the East Bay Times reported, “upward of 60 restaurants around the Bay Area have closed” in a 5-month period. Or, as a recent study in the Harvard Business Journal concluded: “The impact of a $1 rise in the minimum wage would increase the likelihood of exit for the median restaurant on Yelp (i.e., a 3.5 star restaurant) by around 0.055 percentage points, which is approximately 14 percent.”

Now, in Minneapolis, where a city-specific $15 minimum wage hike bounces around the City Council, local business owners are being proactive in their resistance. The Southwest Business Association conducted a survey of 246 businesses in the area (mostly restaurant and retail establishments), and “overwhelmingly (61%), respondents reported there would be a ‘very negative’ impact to their business if the city implements a $15 per hour minimum wage.”

Several of these business owners shared their concerns, noting, most pointedly, that they oppose such a wage hike, even despite their support for politicians who promote such policies:

“It’s extremely difficult to make ends meet,” says Jane Elias, owner of Simply Jane Studio. “I’m a bleeding-heart liberal and I’m a big Bernie Sanders supporter, but this whole flat-out $15 one-size-fits-all is just wrong.”

“This is not a political issue,” says Heather Bray, co-owner of The Lowbrow. “I am a proud, proud progressive…All we’re talking about is basic arithmetic. The arithmetic doesn’t work. People will not continue to go to budget-conscience restaurants when they’re no longer budget conscious.”

The intellectual dissonance is real, but their point stands. The risk is severe, and it doesn’t just impact the businesses themselves. It impacts the entire community.

“Our commitment has always been to this neighborhood,” says Bray. “People choose to live in South Minneapolis because they care about being close to their neighbors and really invested in their neighborhood. Our margins are a lot smaller than a lot of other restaurants, because we know our farmers’ names, and we believe that it’s important to our customers to know their food is being farmed sustainably and coming from the local community.”

Whatever one thinks of capitalism in general, these are ethical businesses with high standards for their employees and customers and a firm commitment to their community.

The destructive power of greed is and will always be a legitimate threat to any business and its customers. But in cases like these, we see how the central planner’s supposed antidote is often a poison just as strong.

Photo: Rally demanding $15/hr minimum wageFibonacci Blue, (CC BY 2.0)

Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.