At one of the debates, Eric Bidwell said he wasn’t sure that a living wage ordinance for city contract employees was a good idea, because it still only applied to one class of people. In other words, if we as a city believe in a living wage ordinance, why shouldn’t it apply to everyone in the community — not just those who work for a business which contracts with the city?

What would San Diego be like if we had, say, an $18/hr minimum wage?

A first reaction would be that the cost of everything would go up, and I think that would be true. But at the same time, a greater portion of our money would be staying at home, in our community, which would be economically very healthy (when we work for our neighbors it’s much better, on many levels, than working for faceless people far away).

And I wonder if we wouldn’t also adapt by using less, or thinking more carefully about the things we spent our money on.

I work in the restaurant industry, where many or most folks make less than $18/hr. If the minimum wage were raised to that level, the cost of restaurant meals would rise, and we would all eat out less. We’d be more likely to buy food and cook it ourselves with families, and when we did go out to eat we’d know that everyone who was preparing our meal was doing so as a full member of our community. I think this would be work out well for all of us, even if the business I work for was diminished somewhat in the process. A healthy social ecology could be much more valuable to our city than the growth of many large, high-revenue businesses.

Conventional wisdom is that in a living-wage economy, a lot of businesses would go under and there would be large unemployment, but I wonder if that’s really true. It seems to me that there are so many ways each of us could contribute to our community that are worth $18/hr, that people would find a way to do so.

There are certainly potential problems with a living wage, such as import/export imbalance between communities, where, for instance, local avocados might rot on trees because imported avocados are cheaper in the supermarket due to (hypothetical) low Chilean labor costs. Those problems would be real and would require creative mitigation. I can’t help but think, though, that the benefits of guaranteeing a base level of income for working folks would outweigh the difficulties that would be presented.

On a related note Algernon Sidney commented to my last post that Bidwell is not a serious candidate because he proposed that “everyone in the city” be paid equally. When I heard Bidwell say that, in the context of the debate, I understood him to talking about city employees, not city residents.

Even then, it’s a radical idea, and one that’s unlikely to work in practice — but I found it pretty thought-provoking. I imagine it could make a great starting point for developing a successful system for compensating municipal employees.

When rethinking our approaches, even though we have to accept reality, perhaps it makes more sense to start from a principled ideal, rather than with the current state of things.


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