“I support it, but it doesn’t apply to me”

On page 154 of his book The Secret Knowledge, David Mamet wrote:

I recognized that though, as a lifelong Liberal, I endorsed and paid lip service to “social justice,” which is to say, to equality of result, I actually based the important decisions of my life–those in which I was personally going to be affected by the outcome–by the principle of equality of opportunity; and, further that so did everyone I knew.  Many, I saw, were prepared to pay more taxes, as a form of Charity, which is to say, to hand off to the Government the choice of programs and recipients of their hard-earned money, but no one was prepared to be on the short end of the failed program, however well-intentioned.  (For example–one might endorse a program giving minorities preference in award of government contracts; but, as a business owner, one would fight to get the best possible job under the best possible terms regardless of such a program, and would, in fact, work all legal, perhaps by semi- or illegal means to subvert the program that enforced upon the proprietor a bad business decision.)*

*No one would say of a firefighter, hired under rules reducing the height requirement, and thus unable to carry one’s child to safety, “Nonetheless, I am glad I voted for that ‘more fair’ law.”

Reading this passage brought to mind a conversation I once had with a friend about minimum wage.  He listened to my arguments.  It reduces opportunities for unskilled workers.  It increases unemployment.  It’s a private transaction between two individuals.  The worker can always opt not to take the low paying job.

He listened, but he still couldn’t get over what he saw as an imbalance of power between an employer in areas with few other opportunities (still not recognizing that those limited opportunities may be a result of minimum wage) and an employee.

It occurred to me to ask how he pays the individuals that worked for him on his car lot.

He answered: Them?  Well, they are not “my” employees.  They are independent contractors.  They are paid a commission based on how much they sell.

Me: So, if they don’t sell any cars over a several hour period, they make nothing, which is less than minimum wage?

Him: Well, yes. Technically.  But they usually average more than minimum wage.

Me: Usually?  What about when they don’t?  There has to be hours or days that go by when they don’t sell a car.  Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and ensure that they make at least minimum wage all the time?

Him: Do you know how much that would cost me?  Besides, then they wouldn’t have as much incentive to sell. 

A perfect example of what Mamet wrote about.

Mamet finishes his chapter:

In the waning days of my belief in “Social Justice” I discovered, in short, that I was not living my life according to the principles I professed, that I disbelieved both in the probity and in the mechanical operations of those groups soliciting first my vote and then my money in the name of Justice, and that so did everyone I knew.  Those of us untroubled by this disparity, I saw, called ourselves “Liberals.”  The others were known as Conservatives.

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8 thoughts on ““I support it, but it doesn’t apply to me”

  1. Pingback: A Few Random Morning Links … | The Pretense of Knowledge

  2. Clearly, your friend was using two different parts of his brain in order to simultaneously hold two contradictory beliefs. The signaling part to support the minimum wage and the calculating part to run his business. How rude of you to try to interrupt this delicate balancing act!

  3. I kid of course, but you can understand how being untroubled by internal contradictions might be an asset in the political arena? I think this is part of the salami slicer growth of government. It will get worse and worse until we get Cuffy Meigs or Jacob Zuma.

    • The funny thing was that I expected my probe into his pay practices to be fruitless. I expected him to say that he paid minimum wage or above and then we’d go on. He did laugh at his own inconsistency and I give him props for being honest.

      I like your signaling and calculating explanation. Very clear.

  4. Pingback: Personal Preference Bias | Our Dinner Table

  5. Pingback: Even more on the minimum wage | Our Dinner Table

  6. Pingback: Why not raise (or eliminate) the limit on immigration? | Our Dinner Table

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