Coming off derogatory remarks he recently made about the underclass in America, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney apparently felt the need to throw them a bone. Last week, he reaffirmed his support for linking regular increases in the minimum wage to the rate of inflation. Given that Romney has held this position since he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, one could assume that he really believes the proposal would go a long way to helping the working poor. But, what he is really doing is focusing on the wrong mechanism to help them.
On the surface, Romney’s proposal seems reasonable. As prices increase, so should wages. After all, aren’t Social Security benefits indexed for price inflation? However, the first realization that must be acknowledged is that government economic policy causes the price increases that allegedly make the minimum wage necessary for some to live a minimal existence. In other words, if the federal government would simply live within its means and cease using the Federal Reserve to monetize huge amounts of debt and maintain artificially low interest rates, there would be little or no need for a minimum wage.
As the late Austrian economist Murray Rothbard pointed out in his book, The Mystery of Banking, from the mid-eighteenth century until 1940, prices in the United States actually fell on average from year to year,except during war years. Since 1940, the Federal Reserve, which became responsible for maintaining price stability and the value of the dollar through monetary policy, oversaw a decline in the dollar’s value of more than 93 percent. That calculates to a 1506 percent annual rate of inflation change! It’s no wonder we have become a society with a low savings rate and two partners working to make ends meet.
What was the difference between these two economic epochs in our nation’s history? The first had a gold standard and the second was based on a fiat dollar standard.
The bottom line is that minimum wage laws are a reaction by politicians to their own historical bungling of the economy. If Mitt Romney and his ilk really wanted to help the working poor in America they would endorse a sound money policy instead. In particular, a gold backed currency that would alleviate the ability of politicians and central bankers to devalue the dollar and cause price inflation by printing money and running deficits. In short, a return to the gold standard would stabilize and eliminate the need for a minimum wage.