Rights and initiatives
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on September 15, 2006.
Why is it that, come November, most people will either vote to violate rights of contract and uphold rights over one's body, or vice versa?
The Nov. 7 ballot will feature three important measures. Referendum I would create domestic partnerships. It makes sense to assure legal standing for gay couples. Amendment 42 would raise the minimum wage and adjust it annually for inflation, and Amendment 44 would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults age 21 or over.
My guess is that Boulder will vote in favor of the marijuana initiative, but it will fail statewide. I also suspect that Boulder will vote for the minimum wage law, but I hope that the rest of the state will come to its senses and reject this rights-violating, economically destructive proposal.
The argument in favor of Amendment 44 is fairly straightforward. People have a right to control their own bodies. Many people use marijuana for medical purposes, and the current registration system is onerous and unnecessary. Many adults also use marijuana recreationally without hurting others. Indeed, most users, including professionals from all walks of life, use marijuana at least as responsibly as others use the drug alcohol.
The fact that Pete Coors was arrested for drunk driving, for instance, is no argument for the renewed prohibition of alcohol. It is instead an argument for getting drivers under the influence of any substance -- or who are simply reckless -- off the streets. That some commit crimes against people while under the influence of marijuana implies only that police should spend their time going after criminals, as with alcohol.
That marijuana use has mildly bad consequences for most users is no argument for the drug's prohibition. Living in a free society means we get to live our own lives, even if some people don't do that very well sometimes. The fact that some people have irresponsible sex or eat too much is no argument for state control of sex and food.
Then, as economist Jeffrey Miron points out, the drug war causes a dramatic increase in violent crime by driving drug sales to the black market. Amendment 44 is a step toward reducing such crime.
It is also a step toward reducing police abuses. The Cato Institute recently published Radley Balko's Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. The executive summary reviews, "The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants... These increasingly frequent raids... are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded... These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects."
Just as people have the right to control their own bodies, so they have the right to interact peaceably free from state coercion. They have the right to contract. That is fundamentally why any minimum wage law is wrong: It violates the individual rights of both employers and workers.
The basic economic case against minimum-wage laws is that they price some of the least-experienced workers out of a job by requiring employers to pay more than those workers can produce. Thus, minimum-wage laws, allegedly passed to help the poor, in practice result in throwing some of the poorest workers out of a job, thereby preventing them from gaining the experience necessary to become more productive and demand a higher wage.
As Thomas Sowell summarizes, "The minimum-wage law is very cleverly misnamed. The real minimum wage is zero -- and that is what many inexperienced and low-skilled people receive as a result of legislation that makes it illegal to pay them what they are currently worth to an employer."
Generally those who earn minimum wage soon earn the experience necessary to earn more. And, by the way, "the vast majority of minimum-wage earners contribute second and third incomes to a household," notes Whitney Blake for The Weekly Standard.
Of course, the left is perfectly able to dredge up a few politically motivated economists who claim that minimum-wage laws don't hurt the poor. Similarly, some economists have claimed that full-blown socialism is a good idea, and some biologists have claimed that evolution is false. The difference is that wage controls are now politically correct.
Support for minimum-wage laws derives from two main fallacies. The first fallacy is that equality of income is a desirable goal. Advocates of this view typically see wealth as a "fixed pie" that must be redistributed, rather than as something that is produced and that grows over time to the extent that people's economic rights are protected. The second fallacy is that employers can somehow get away with paying wages approaching subsistence. The reality is that, as improved capital and technology increase productivity, workers progressively bid up real wages.
If you vote for the minimum-wage law, you are voting to hurt some among the poor and violate their rights to compete for a job. Vote "no" on Amendment 42.