Today a nation turns its low-paid eyes to Seattle, where lawmakers have just approved a measure that will raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour. The measure will create the highest minimum wage in the nation and one of the highest in the world. It will also make Seattle into a testing ground for what supporters of the wage hike hope will be a cross-country movement.
The strategy to pass the $15 minimum wage — which, as I wrote last week, was devised by Seattle's socialist city-council firebrand, Kshama Sawant, and pushed to completion by its mayor, Ed Murray — should be a Kennedy School study in shifting the Overton window on contentious issues. At first, a $15 minimum wage sounded crazy — like a Scandinavian social experiment gone wrong. But when political candidates realized they could distinguish themselves from the pack by pushing for it, the $15 minimum wage started to look promising, then, eventually, inevitable.
Supporters of the bill are hoping it will spread. Already, labor activists in cities like Milwaukee, Providence, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, and New York City are calling for similar wage hikes. And crazier things have happened — even though economists warn that raising the minimum wage by such large amounts could wreak havoc in the labor markets, it's still a political slam-dunk for progressive politicians hoping to play up their populist bona fides.
In a way, Seattle has done us all a favor. The harmful effects of increasing the minimum wage seem obvious -- it's just common sense that increasing the cost of something decreases its supply. But it can be hard to actually prove that because the changes are usually so incremental and the minimum wage really affects so few people. In Seattle, I think, we're going to see the harmful results very soon, and they will affect a lot of people.
But it's not like the people didn't see this workers'-paradise scheme from the council's "socialist firebrand" coming -- the mayor actually campaigned on it. So Seattle residents will get what they asked for.
Oh, and they might want to listen to this complaint from an Austin homeowner:
“I’m at the breaking point,” said Gretchen Gardner, an Austin artist who bought a 1930s bungalow in the Bouldin neighborhood just south of downtown in 1991 and has watched her property tax bill soar to $8,500 this year.
“It’s not because I don’t like paying taxes,” said Gardner, who attended both meetings. “I have voted for every park, every library, all the school improvements, for light rail, for anything that will make this city better. But now I can’t afford to live here anymore. I’ll protest my appraisal notice, but that’s not enough. Someone needs to step in and address the big picture.”
Yep. You get what you vote for, then you have to acually pay for it.