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Something Wicked This Way Comes


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My thanks to author Ray Bradbury for the use of his 1962 novel’s title, Something Wicked This Way Comes, for the headline of this month’s column. His story is a dark fantasy about a nightmarish experience when a traveling carnival pays a visit to a small town. The carnival’s leader is the mysterious “Mr. Dark,” who seemingly wields the power to grant the citizenry’s every desire. In reality, Dark is a malevolent being who lures these individuals into binding servitude to him forever.
 
Just a little more than three months ago, on January 1, 2016, California’s minimum wage increased to $10 per hour, making it the second highest in the nation (second only to the District of Columbia’s $10.50 per hour). At that time, the governor cautioned, “Raise the minimum wage too much and you put a lot of people out of work. There won’t be a lot of jobs. It’s a matter of balance.”
 
Fast-forward three months to April 4, 2016, and Mr. Dark—aka Governor Jerry Brown—signed SB3, increasing California’s minimum wage to $15 per hour to be phased in over a number of years, clearly indicating his idea of “balance.” At an earlier press conference, flanked by democratic politicians and union officials, the governor glibly stated, “This is a bold proposal. If I’ve ever heard an understatement, this is it. Apparently unhappy about having only the second highest minimum wage in the country, the governor and state legislature moved swiftly to claim the number one slot.
 
How swiftly? In about one week’s time, the idea moved from a discussion with union leaders to the legislature, where it passed on a straight party-line vote to Jerry Brown’s desk where it was signed into law. Why waste time holding open hearings discussing the pros and cons of legislation that carries a $4 billion annual price tag? Why bother to invite business and others with vested interest to the table to hear their concerns about the consequential impact of this massive mandatory cost increase?
 
An association called California Consumers Against Higher Prices, which represents a broad coalition of parents, seniors, farmers and small business owners, summed it up best: “Right now, all eyes are on California, and it’s unfortunate that lawmakers have showcased a clear willingness to strike a bad deal alongside special interest groups at the expense of their constituents, working families and small businesses. This is policymaking in its most incredulous form, and while we’re resolved to craft solutions that will help our members survive these drastic changes, we fear this overreaching policy is too much, too fast, and is nothing short of economic malpractice.”
 
It’s always fun when California lawmakers undertake an interesting economics experiment with the electorate serving as the guinea pigs. Most early estimates project the loss of tens of thousands of jobs as business reacts to the cost burden this mandate creates. It will very likely backfire, causing greater unemployment and, certainly, resulting in higher prices across the board for companies heavily stacked with minimum wage and part-time workers.
 
Minimum wage jobs aren’t supposed to be permanent. They’re entry-level positions, ideally to stimulate people to work hard, get educated and develop their skills so they can increase their prosperity. Unfortunately, these jobs are increasingly seen as long-term, so we’re artificially raising wages for people who’ve yet to embark on career type jobs.
 
You know, I’ve always had trouble wrapping my mind around big numbers. Finally, I “get” what a million of something is, but still find it difficult to appreciate a billion of anything. Once upon a time, a crafty advertising agency did a really good job of putting that billion figure into perspective: A billion seconds ago it was 1959. A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age. A billion days ago no one walked the earth on two feet. A billion dollars was only 8 hours and 20 minutes ago at the rate our government is spending it.
 
So when the governor’s own Department of Finance pegs the impact of the minimum wage at $4 billion per year, you’d think maybe more than a week’s deliberation might have been appropriate.
 
That’s it for now. Enjoy this month’s magazine.

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