Human Interference and the Minimum Wage: A Rodent Love Story

Photo of a nutria by Denisa Kasickova
Photo of a nutria by Denisa Kasickova

As a former zookeeper and environmental educator, I understand the delicate balance required to sustain any ecosystem. The story of the rat-like nutria, Myocastor coypus, and its invasion of New Orleans, is a perfect example of how humans, convinced they know better, can make a major mess of things. A mere 20 of these 12-pound rodents were brought to Louisiana in the 1930s, in the hopes that they would eat the destructive and invasive vegetation known as the water-hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes. Not only did the nutria have an aversion to the obnoxious plant, but, being rodents, they bred an estimated 20 million animals within two decades. To this day the water-hyacinth and the nutria share the prize for ecological mayhem, resulting in the destruction of wetlands, displacement of native flora and fauna and reduction in the region’s biodiversity.

How does this relate to raising the minimum wage in Massachusetts?  Stick with me.

Just as balance is important in fragile ecosystems, the same balance is vital to our American economic system. The free market works beautifully when left largely alone. Humans cannot force major change without affecting every other part of the equation. As in nature, nothing happens in a vacuum.

Increasing the minimum wage to supposedly lift people out of poverty is a lofty goal, which, on the surface, sounds quite compassionate.  However, research brings to light a myriad of unintended consequences and a history of counterproductive results.

In the words of economist, Thomas Sowell:  “It would be comforting to believe that the government can simply decree higher pay for low-wage workers, without having to worry about unfortunate repercussions, but the preponderance of evidence indicates that labor is not exempt from the basic economic principle that artificially high prices cause surpluses. In the case of the surplus of human beings, that can be a special tragedy when they are already from low-income, unskilled or minority backgrounds and urgently need to get on the job ladder, if they are ever to move up the ladder by acquiring experience and skills.”

Extensive research has proven that increasing the minimum wage not only does not deliver the promise to reduce poverty, but actually causes employers to cut back on both the number of workers they hire and the working hours per employee.

Massachusetts has a minimum wage rate of $8.00 per hour, a rate higher than the hourly federal rate of $7.25. And who is earning this hourly rate? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the majority of those earning minimum wage are under age 25 and nearly two-thirds of them receive a raise in their first year of employment. Only about 3 percent of employees over age 25 earn minimum wage and 94 percent of them also have a working spouse.  So where is the crisis?

The supporters of raising the minimum wage will appeal to your emotions with talk of “fairness” and “social justice.” Make no mistake; this is not about helping the poor – it’s about political favors.

I attended a hearing at the State House on this issue and was shocked to see a line out to the street and continuing down the next. I naively thought it was fantastic that people were so civically engaged. I soon realized, these were not your garden variety engaged citizens – these folks were “community organized.” People with clipboards buzzed around, handing out talking-points, telling people when to catch their busses and when they would eat lunch.

Inside, there was a sea of purple with SEIU and various other union groups, socialists and anarchists. The proceedings were nothing short of an orchestrated dog and pony show. All testimony in favor of raising the minimum wage was heard first, when the cameras were rolling and it was standing room only. By the time the opponents of the wage hike addressed the committee, the cameras had disappeared and the community organized were long gone.

Why the strong union support? Apparently, a raise in the minimum wage automatically triggers a raise for union workers. Hence all the concern with fairness.

Whether we are dealing with well-intentioned nature lovers or unions and politicians seeking personal gain, the results will be disastrous for the rest of us. The natural solution is for man to stop fixing things and for the free market to determine what wages should be.

It is foolish to intentionally introduce a species with a growth rate among the highest of any plant known to man, or a spectacularly prolific river rat that can produce three litters a year at 13 offspring a pop. But it’s downright immoral for our government to force an increase in the minimum wage while duping us into believing it’s about fairness.

Related stories

South America’s nutria, one of the worst invasive species in US wetlands

Nutria, A Rat-Like Pest Ravaging Gulf Coast Wetlands, Can Be Lured With New Substance

Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants

Thomas Sowell on the tragedy of the minimum wage

PAUL CRANEY: Minimum wage hike: Old, honorable and fundamentally flawed

Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2012