Monday, July 14, 2014

Living Wage and the Politics of Jesus

A note about the launch of the Maori Party's campaign caught my attention. Speaking of its policy, Stuff reports,

"The party revealed it would campaign on policies including lifting the minimum wage to the living wage of $18.80, extending free doctors visits to children up to 18 and free public transport for all low income whānau, children aged 18 years and under, and students."

I am not going to pause on bus fares, or even doctor's visits (good ways of assisting the betterment of society as they are). The particular note which caught my attention was a policy to lift the minimum wage to the living wage of $18.80.

It caught my attention because as I have discussed the concept of the living wage with promoters of the living wage, in my own obtuse way I have felt I have heard arguments for a 'minimum wage' as much as I have heard conceptual reasons for a wage to help people to 'live.' So I am inclined to be favourable to this approach!

Nevertheless I also recognise that there are some very tricky arguments to consider for and against concepts such as minimum wage, living wage and equivalence between the two.

Robert Reich, for instance, recently gave seven reasons for the minimum wage in the States being raised. To which Tim Worstall replied by saying what 'terrible' reasons they are! Buried within each case are two important points (IMHO): higher wages is potentially a great way to enlarge workers' share of the overall cake, especially in the face of increasing inequality; increased taxes and greater benefit payments might be a more precise measure to deliver more to those with less.

What does the politics of Jesus say to the concept of the living wage?

(1) In Jesus' kingdom people get to live with dignity and food on the table. The healing miracles and the food miracles were expressions of the quality of life intended for kingdom people: brought from the margins to the centre of society, sat down at tables with food to eat and some to spare. Any measure which increases wages to a level people can 'live' on and any measure which provides benefits to help those who cannot work or cannot find work to 'live' are worth supporting and promoting. There is no kingdom measure by which we celebrate economic 'success' because lots of entrepreneurs make more money than they know what to do with. (There is no kingdom mandate for punishing such people either! But a strong plea is made to give away what one has to benefit the poor).

(2) All gospel talk of the kingdom of God is predicated on Old Testament talk of the world God sought Israel to work for, one in which justice rolls down like a river, the poor and aliens are provided for, and forgiveness of debts (at least periodically) is encouraged. To the extent that striking a level for a minimum wage or for a living wage are mechanisms for rectifying economic injustice (however difficult it is to define what that is), Christians should be working for rather than against that.


Anonymous said...

The living wage is great and can't come quick enough. My teenage kids will be amongst the biggest winners!!!!

After all, the Treasury showed that young people are the biggest group, and unlike families would not have the claw-back under the welfare system, which would leave those with children little better off.

I also would add that the minimum wage ($US7.25 == or at current exchange rates $NZ8.22) is so low in the US compared to ours, that any assumption that what is right for there is right for here is highly dubious.

(The same is also true of our "poverty line" of 60% of the median wage - which happens to be 60% higher than the USA poverty line, even though their median wage is higher. At least that is what Lindsay Mitchell calcuated


Father Ron Smith said...

Party political statements on any matter involving the betterment of the poorest in society are to be welcomed. However, they do need to be balanced against the capability of the resources of government to fulfill the promises made.

It would not be good to do totally away with the need for personal charitable involvement with one''s fellow human beings. Jesus did say: "The poor, you always have with you". it is the way in which each of us treats the needs of the poor that is important. Government cannot take away one's personal responsibility to be charitable.

Caleb said...

Agreed. A living wage could also improve NZ's notoriously low productivity; according to the livign wage movement, many businesses have found that when they pay staff better, they get more product for each labour dollar. When you're well-paid, you're less likely to leave and incur turnover/training costs, less likely to be worn out with long hours or second jobs, more loyal to your workplace, less likely to steal, more likely to go the extra mile, etc.

Ron... Re: the poor always being with you, please note my remarks about context buried amid a multi-comment comment on a previous blog (here).

Caleb said...

Hi Peter and fellow readers. You may be interested in this link from an Australian newspaper which reports that most economists now agree raising the minimum wage doesn't increase unemployment, and many even decrease it. (At least so long as "the minimum wage rate is set at or below" or "moderately above" "the marginal product of labour". I'm not sure how you determine what that level actually is, though).

Caleb said...

Forgot the link - here it is.