Open Letter to a 'Living Wage' Advocate
by Brian Schwartz, January 7, 2004Living Wage: two wrongs don't make a right.
An open letter to a "living wage" advocate
Dear Ms. Herndon,
In your letter to the Boulder Weekly, you acknowledge that in a true free-market economy, the tax-funded subsidies you and the Boulder Living Wage Campaign advocate for city employees would not be necessary. You correctly state that laws prohibiting or compelling our economic choices benefit special interests while hurting the poor. Yet, instead of combating this injustice by fighting such government plundering, you push for a "living wage", which is yet another tax on the many to benefit the few. Do you really think that two wrongs make a right?
You also claim that a "living wage" ordinance is in "the city's interest." But a city does not have interests per se, only its individual residents do. How do you know such interests, since you seek to deny tax-payers the choice of whether to support your cause, or one of the hundreds of human-service charities in Boulder County, or for that matter, state and or national organizations?
If the "living wage" is more of a worthy cause than existing voluntarily-funded charities, then why resort to government coercion to fund it? Instead, the Boulder Living Wage Campaign could be a voluntarily-funded charity that simply mails each city employee a monthly check. There's no better way to discover if this is truly in people's interest than leaving them free to make their own choices. To claim that one's neighbors don't know their interests, i.e., "what's good for them", is arrogant, and to seek the power of law to compel them fund your own interests is intolerant at best.
There are hundreds of human service charities in Boulder County. If the Living Wage Campaign is so good, it should compete with them fairly, as you write, "on a level playing field." Consider Philanthropic Research, Inc., itself a nonprofit organization. With its on-line GuideStar database of nonprofits, it "envisions the evolution of an increasingly efficient nonprofit marketplace where donors seek out and compare charities, monitor their performances, and give with greater confidence; [where] nonprofit organizations pursue more effective operating practices, embrace greater accountability, and enjoy lower fund-raising costs; and society benefits from a more efficient, generous and well-targeted allocation of resources to the nonprofit sector."
"[W]e all value a society where everyone exercises personal responsibility," you write. But by denying Boulder residents choice in what charities to fund, you deny us the responsibility to seek out the best ones. Ms. Herndon, please ask not what your country can force other people to do for you.
Brian T. Schwartz is a doctoral candidate in Electrical Engineering at the University of Colorado, where he is also active with the Campus Libertarians.