Eugenics and the Minimum Wage

mardi 1 décembre 2009 ·

Sidney Webb and his wife Beatrice are two of the founders of the university I go to currently and there were the best known socialists in the United Kingdom and they were internationally renowned for their book on the Soviet Union. For those who didn't know, the LSE was founded with the perspective of promoting fabian socialism by training generations of intellectuals and scholars that would thwart capitalism.

However, during my readings I discovered something special. The Webbs believed in eugenics, a popular theory until the end of the first half of the 20th century. They wanted to improve the genetic quality of the british population by removing the "unworkables". One way of doing this was the minimum wage. I am being very serious. Calling them "parasites", Sidney Webb believed that "the most ruinous to the community is to allow them to unrestrainedly compete as wage earners". Thus, it became necessary to adopt a minimum wage. It would exclude immigrants (which Webb considered as a source of impurity) and more importantly, it would exclude the "unworkables" from the labour market if the wage was set above market levels. His idea was to use government policy to basically kill them off since they would not be able to earn a living wage. Most of the economists who endorsed the euginics argument for a minimum wage were from the Progressivism School rounded around Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin.

So when I criticize the minimum wage for excluding people of the labour market and for not helping the poorest, I have to understand that these effects of this policy that I criticize were the intended result? I always believed that the case for the minimum wage was to increase bargaining power of unskilled workers so they would not be exploited by employers. It seems that now I can feel vindicated since I am the real one defending the poor people!

The more you know...

Source : Encyclopedia Britannica

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Bryan Breguet est candidat au doctorat en sciences économiques à l’université de Colombie-Britannique. D’origine Suisse, il a passé les cinq dernières années au Québec au cours desquelles il s’est engagé en politique provinciale malgré le fait qu’il ne possédait pas encore la citoyenneté canadienne. Il détient un B.Sc en économie et politique ainsi qu’une maitrise en sciences économiques de l’université de Montréal. Récipiendaire de plusieurs prix d’excellences et bourses, il connaît bien les méthodes quantitatives et leurs applications à la politique.

Vincent Geloso holds a master’s degree in economic history from the London School of Economics, with a focus on business cycles, international development, labor markets in preindustrial Europe and the new institutional economics. His research work examined the economic history of the province of Quebec from 1920 to 1960. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the Université de Montréal. He has also studied in the United States at the Washington Centre for Academic Seminars and Internships. Mr. Geloso has been an intern for the Prime Minister’s cabinet in Ottawa and for the National Post. He has also been the recipient of a fellowship from the Institute for Humane Studies and an international mobility bursary from the Ministère des Relations internationales du Québec. Currently, he is an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute.

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