By Shane Kastler
In the ongoing debate concerning minimum wage laws, a Christian might be prone to ask the question: “What would Jesus do?” or “What DID Jesus do?” or perhaps most importantly “What did Jesus SAY for US to do?” Of course the answer would be “nothing.” At least nothing directly. So to try and arrive at a Christian position on the issue would require us taking a full-orbed look at his overall teaching and find principles that might lead us to where we should stand on the minimum wage.
A recent debate at Loyola University, on minimum wage laws, was absolutely dripping with irony for a man like me. Dr. Walter Block, an economist and an atheist argued against minimum wage laws, while Christian theologian Dr. Boyd Blundell argued in favor of them. The first irony for me was that I (an ordained Baptist minister) was in full agreement with Block, the atheist, on this issue. Where it gets complex, from my theological/analytical perspective, is that Block uses his brilliant mind, along with laws of logic that govern his thought processes to analyze economic realities that are also quite “law like” to come to a conclusion, which I believe is correct. Minimum wage laws should be abolished because they don't really help the poor that they claim to help. Block's use of logic and universal laws very much suggest a certain order which exists in our world. And such beautiful, consistent, unfailing laws of order seem to suggest someone behind it all who has established said order. Atheism cannot account for such pristine examples of order; for in atheism everything is random and up for grabs. Yet atheists, like Dr. Block, gladly use the incredible intellect (given by God) and the laws of logic, economics, or science (established by God), to come to conclusions that are accurate. We should thank God that Block uses God's gifts to come to such prescient conclusions; while marveling that he denies this very God even exists. But back to Christian economics.
Would Jesus demand a government enforced minimum wage? Of course the arguments for this come from the fact that Jesus' told his followers to care for the poor. Certainly providing for the less fortunate is a Christian principle. While no Christian would deny this; the sticking point is how Jesus would envision us engaging in our benevolence. Would the government be in charge of this? Or more to the point, would the government be involved at all? Let us not forget that Jesus' relationship with the government of his day was somewhat (shall we say) strained. He was crucified you know; by the Roman government (state) on the firm recommendation of the Jewish Sanhedrin (local). All governing authorities aligned against the Lord and he was executed as a criminal of the state. So now, are we to believe that Jesus would expect this same world system (albeit a different nation and a different century) should be charged with caring for the poor?
One major fly in this ointment is that Jesus was calling his followers (not the government) to show mercy to the poor. And for it to be true mercy, it must be an act performed from a pure, loving, and un-coerced heart. The old axiom is very true: “If I reach in my pocket and give you money for food it's charity. But if someone else reaches in my pocket and gives you money for food it's thievery.” From a Christian perspective, the government cannot force benevolence upon us because forced benevolence ceases to be benevolence once the force is inflicted. Forced benevolence is coercion. And I promise you Jesus was not teaching and promoting coercion. Minimum wage laws, like all other forms of government intrusion into economic matters, involves coercion. Blame it on Washington. Blame it on Congress. Blame it on the President. But don't blame it on Jesus.
Minimum wage laws further drift from Christian principles in that they allow a third party to dictate the terms of a two party agreement. If I, as an employee, am satisfied with the wage offered; and the government steps in and insists that it must be higher; they insult me. They suggest I'm too stupid or weak to handle my own financial affairs. As an employer, if the government steps in demanding I pay more, they equally insult me by implying that I'm unfair. But if the boss is happy and the worker is happy; what right has the government to step in with insulting behavior? Is there anything remotely Christian about that? Not at all.
One final thought. While statistics might be legitimately used or slyly manipulated to prove either side of the issue; common sense and observation tells us that by forcing companies to raise wages, some jobs get eliminated. If an employee is paid more than they earn for the company they are parasitic and will not last. That worker will have to go; or that position will have to go; but something's got to give. The poor go from $10/hr to zero because their job is gone. Is this what Jesus would have us do to the poor? Eliminate their jobs all together?
So we come full circle in our irony and back to the Block-Blundell debate. I, as a Baptist theologian, using the Bible, conclude through my “Christianized” logic that the atheist Walter Block is indeed correct in his stance that minimum wage laws should be abolished. The government has no business setting wages and to do so is harmful to the poor; and to everyone else as well. And I conclude that Dr. Boyd Blundell, the Christian, is wrong. Jesus, in his earthly days, was not pushing for minimum wage laws. And would not encourage us to do so today. They don't help the poor, they hurt the poor. They insult both the employer and the employee. And they involve coerced benevolence which is no benevolence at all. If a Baptist like me; and an atheist like Walter Block can figure these things out; then maybe there's hope for the rest of America as well. Maybe. But I doubt it.