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Debating the minimum wage

On Dec. 18, the Observer opinion pages published a guest op-ed from Charlotte resident and author Chuck Kelly. He argued for a higher minimum wage. Opponents, Kelly said, “fail to appreciate the fact that, throughout our history, a rising minimum wage has always led to better wages for those higher on the economic ladder as well.”

Kelly’s piece caught the eye of Wilton E. Carter Jr., an attentive Observer reader who worked in the textile industry for 35 years. Carter disagreed with Kelly, and emailed him to tell him so. Kelly then responded and a dialogue was under way. Carter and Kelly shared the conversation with the Observer opinion page editors. We thought it was unusually civil, that the debate captured the two sides of the issue well, and that other readers would be interested in their discussion. Here are excerpts:

Wednesday, Dec. 18, 11:38 a.m.:

Dear Chuck,

I do not know why the subject of minimum wages has come up lately. This subject has been “beaten up” many times over past years as the amount never seems to be enough.

Your piece in the Observer this morning seems to fit that new-old rhetoric about wages in the US. I do not know what level you think the wages should be. Is it $7.50, $10.50, $15.50 $25.50 and does it ever end? Who defines what is a fair wage? It basically should be between the one hiring and the one wanting a job. If one does not like the pay offered, look for a better offer.

In looking at your bio, don’t know if you ever had a small business, made a payroll, hired and fired associates or had any other experience rather than being a liberal pundit. It is easy to be critical when you actually never had to deal head on with what your associates should be paid and still make a profit for your business.

WE Carter

Charlotte

Wednesday, Dec. 18, 5:06 p.m.:

Dear Wilton,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, and congratulations for not calling me a communist or socialist.

One of the best graduate courses I had at Purdue was labor economics, which is a study of the history of labor laws, labor movements, wages and their impact on the economy. The verdict of our own history is clear.

Investors and business owners – as a class, not necessarily individuals – always do everything they can to reduce labor costs, no matter what the effect on workers, their communities, and in the case of globalization, the effect on our nation. If they can abandon American workers and their communities and take advantage of low wage workers with no workplace protections – they’ll do it in a heartbeat. And become incredibly rich in the process.

The only way capitalism works as intended – an economic system that benefits all classes of citizens – is when government sets minimum standards for wages and worker safety, and enacts policies that make up for the deficiencies and vulnerabilities of any economic system you can design.

I suspect we’ll never agree, but I can only write about the history of our country as I understand it.

Chuck Kelly

Wednesday, Dec. 18, 9:11 p.m.:

Chuck,

Thanks for your reply as you did not have to answer my drivel.

I was influenced by people like Duke Kimbrell of Parkdale Mills in Gastonia, Roger Milliken of Milliken & Co, Dalton McMichael of Burlington-Madison, Macfield/Unifi, Mayo Yarns, and Gene Gwaltney of Russell Corporation in Alabama. These four men created a lot of wealth during their careers for their stockholders as well as associates who helped them in the business. Thousands of jobs created by these men and they are just one group of people who had the freedom of choice in our country to make decisions for their business.

People like this are now demonized in this country as being rich and not caring about the associates and other workers who were involved. In their cases, it is best for government to get out of the way and let these people create value and a way of life for all who worked for them.

If the minimum wage is increased, no jobs will be created if McDonalds or Wendy’s have to increase their labor costs. Like in my former textile industry, the survivors had to become capital intensive and automate the process to be competitive. Same could happen to the fast food industry.

Chuck, let the market decide what works. If a person does not like being paid $7.50 per hour, then that person has the freedom to choose something else if he or she has the skills.

That is the real problem we have – no skills, poor education and certainly poor personal choices.

Have a nice Christmas,

Carter

Thursday, Dec. 19, 6:31 p.m.:

Wilton,

Textile industry leaders did indeed create thousands of jobs, and good profits for investors, even after the 1937 Fair Labor Standards Act forced them to discontinue using children under 16 in full time jobs, pay a minimum wage of 29 cents an hour, and time-and-a-half for overtime. Combination of private enterprise and government imposed standards like these created our middle class.

Friday, Dec. 20, 9:24 a.m.:

Chuck,

During the 1930s the country was in a severe “depression” and Roosevelt with approval from Congress was able the get the “New Deal.” A minimum wage was established.

There is no argument on this issue. Times are certainly different now. The unemployment rate since beginning of 2009 is higher than prior years. The participation work force level has reached levels not seen for 30 years. The folks need jobs. Raising the minimum wage will not at this time help to reduce this unemployment rate.

Good day,

Carter

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

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