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Policy: Budgets & Deficits

Examiner Editorial: Heritage Foundation's Index of Dependence exposes the 'living wage' lie

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Editorial,Heritage Foundation,Big Government,Defense Spending,Budgets and Deficits,Conservatism,Liberalism,Minimum Wage

Liberal activists across the nation have since 1994 demanded a “living wage,” which, depending on who is doing the defining, means the amount required to cover the basic needs of an individual or family. As with so many arguments made by the Left, the living wage appeal sounds reasonable. After all, why shouldn't an employer pay employees at least enough for them to have decent housing, clothes, food, transportation and educational opportunities?

But there is a big lie behind this seemingly reasonable argument, namely that the employer is responsible for providing a person's basic needs, not the individual himself. The falsehood is further illuminated by this question: Who is responsible for providing for the employer's basic needs? If the answer is the employer, then society has two classes and equality is just a politically convenient myth.

The practical reality is that when employers are responsible for providing a living wage, sooner or later, it becomes the government’s duty to guarantee it. The choice then is between the dependence society encouraged by the living wage or the free society that results when individuals are primarily responsible for themselves.

The stark truth that liberal activists never want to discuss is that a society that requires employers to pay the living wage is economically unsustainable and traps individuals and families in permanent dependence upon the government with no hope of ever improving their circumstances.

There are hard numbers that make clear that these considerations are not just theories. The numbers are crunched by the Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis and published in the conservative think tank's annual Index of Dependence on Government. Using 1980 as the baseline for the index, there was a 3.3 percent increase in dependence from 2010 to 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, according to Heritage.

The long-term trend illustrated by the index is increased dependence upon what Heritage describes as “federally funded programs that were chosen for their propensity to duplicate or replace assistance -- shelter, food, monetary aid, health care, education, or employment training--that was traditionally provided to people in need by local organizations and families.”

At a time when it is commonly believed that defense accounts for most federal spending, in fact social welfare spending programs account for just under 70 percent of the federal budget, including both discretionary and non-discretionary categories. A parallel trend in this growing dependence is the steady long-term decline in the number of people who pay no net federal income taxes. There was a decline from 48.6 percent to 44.7 percent in this data point from 2010 to 2011 but the long-term trend is clearly in the other direction.

In short, the dependent society is a hopeless society because, as Heritage explains, “government programs not only crowd out civil society, but too frequently trap individuals and families in long-term dependence, leaving them incapable of escaping their condition for generations to come.”

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