Conservatism, we believe, often fares poorly in the court of public opinion because conservatives fail to make their case cogently or decline even to try out of fear of being branded as, well, something — “racist,” “homophobe,” or “uncompassionate.” But no one, liberal or conservative, should flee the battlefield of ideas out of fear. Principled debate is healthy.
Herewith, two issues on which conservatives fall short of waging a good, or coherent, fight. The first is a minimum-wage increase. President Obama would have folks believe the nation is chockablock with primary breadwinners trying to support a family on the minimum wage. That is false. A scant 2.9 percent of American workers make the minimum wage and, of those who do, the vast majority are either secondary breadwinners — i.e., a spouse supplementing the family income — or, more likely, a youngster 16 to 24 years old in his first job..
Do we want entry-level workers to receive more pay from their employers? Yes, but not if more youngsters are denied entry to the work force. When labor costs rise, employment generally suffers. That’s the last thing our economy needs.
Second issue: extending unemployment benefits. Not to sound “uncompassionate,” but one must ask when is enough enough — after 13 weeks of benefits, or 26, or 99? North Carolina says 73 weeks. In the last half of 2013, its jobless rate fell from 8.9 percent to 6.9 percent with the addition of 55,000 jobs. Critics cite a diminished labor-force participation rate, an across-the-fruited-plain truism somewhat dispelled by the record number of Tar Heelers actually working (nearly 4.4 million).
And let’s not overlook this truth: Once benefits expire, people go back to work. No less an authority than Alan Krueger, President Obama’s former chief economist, noted in a 2008 study, the seriousness of a “job search is inversely related to the generosity of unemployment benefits.” And even the mere existence of benefits.
These arguments notwithstanding, national Republican lawmakers are not averse to an extension of said benefits so long as its cost is offset with spending cuts. Eager to spend money as if America actually had it, Democrats say no. They “want to have their cake and eat it, too.” How unreasonable is that?