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The Minimum Wage quadrupled from 1938 to 1956

Message Doug Berg
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>There is a handy new app available at and at iphone's app store: "Mythopedia" by Media Matters. A dictionary of conservative lies, it currently numbers about 400, but only 400? Surely they are not watching enough Fox News! You can search for the myth - I prefer lie - it even accepts voice commands, and you are presented with cogent facts and arguments debunking the associated "myth". Perhaps they should have called it Prevaricatopedia. Myth is entirely too pleasant to the ear. People adhering to right-wing dogma are either intellectually lazy or lying sumnabitches, or both, but surely they are not anthropologists studying harmless ancient folklore.
The main problem with Mythopedia is the supposition that arguing with these people is a productive enterprise. The crazies on the right, i.e., today's GOP, are not fazed by facts - theirs is a religion and challenging spiritual beliefs is dangerous, particularly where I live, here in Arizona. Their cooky canons can, however, be beaten down with raw political power, as we recently witnessed in last years defeat of Arizona's ALEC and Koch-sponsored religious freedom bill.
Obviously under duress, the now-retired 70-year-old bleach-blond guvnah waited until the last minute to veto the bill due to a massive and national public outcry. Apparently, under Arizona's arcane pocket veto provisions, the bill would automatically have become the law had she done nothing. This proposed legislation would have allowed businesses to discriminate if the discrimination stemmed from religious beliefs. As I read it, the bill not only allowed discrimination against gays, it also protected racial discrimination by Christians, particularly Mormons (Arizona has a large Mormon population), if they righteously believed some faulty Biblical interpretations, and decided that African-Americans, "the descendants of Cain", should not be served by their businesses. Arizona, the ultra-right's favorite petri dish, received all the unfavorable press, but nine other red states had identical bills poised for passage that were quietly deep-sixed by people power. Some have recently reappeared.
If this racist garbage is new to any of you, let us quickly dispose of it. I am no Biblical scholar, but let a lifelong atheist and gentile at least pretend. The "mark" of Cain in Gen. 4:15 is "owth" in ancient Hebrew. It is translated variously as sign, omen, or warning from its ancient Hebrew. And the Hebrew "qayin", often translated as Cain, also means "Kenite", another people living down the road a ways. Thus, "the mark of Cain" from the King James version is quite likely to be "the warning from the Kenites". To make matters worse, some confuse the mark of Cain with the mark of the beast. No sane scholar believes the Bible meant to say that Africans are the descendants of Cain, but some Southern Baptists are pretty sure of it. And Brigham Young claimed that the founder of Mormonism, John Smith, preached that Africans were the "seed of Cain", marked forever for Cain's murder of his brother. Africans, therefore, were deemed by Mormons to be incapable of ever reaching heaven.
Anyway, in spite of my apprehensions, I decided to give this new Mythopedia app a try. I searched with the term "minimum wage" and was greatly disappointed - perhaps not Media Matters' fault so much as the entirely defensive economic posture of the left today, and the ever-powerful corporate democrats and economists, and the shrinking number of independent media voices.
The myth my search retrieved from Media Matters database was that "raising the minimum wage reduces employment". I clicked on the lie, and Media Matters presented me with - wait for it - another lie! The only counter-argument they displayed was a study claiming that raising the minimum wage has "negligible effects on employment" , not a very compelling, hard-hitting argument to use against some of my rabid, looney tunes, tea party neighbors here in Arizona! More importantly, it is equally as incorrect as the 1st lie.
Mythopedia cited 2 studies, one by Neumark and Wascher indicating that raising the minimum wage results in fewer jobs for low-skilled workers, and another study by John Schmitt which was actually a review of several other studies, including Neumark and Wascher's.
Schmitt's 2013 study of other studies concluded, according to the National Review, "the opposite" of Neumark and Wascher . Schmitt concluded that raising the minimum wage has "negligible effects on employment". Last summer, Democratic party spokespeople shouted this wonderful news everywhere on the main-stream corporate media! Raising the minimum wage won't hurt the economy... much!
And therein lies the rub. That is the acceptable range of economic opinion today, even in the Democratic Party. Even as it geared up for the midterm elections last fall declaring that its main issue was an increase in the minimum wage, the only argument I heard was one of fairness, and that it won't hurt the economy much.
This is obviously wrong. Propaganda repeated often enough becomes the truth. The actual capital 'T' Truth and is so damn self-evident that it is truly scary to see everyone dance around it. No one will state the obvious: raising the minimum wage increases employment and gooses the economy into turbo-charged overdrive. Period. You don't need to read studies of studies. Either you know this deep in your gut or you are a deluded fool. Or you are doing the deluding. The evidence is everywhere.
How can putting money in the hands of poor people hurt the economy? It is difficult to save money when you're earning the minimum wage - every penny of a minimum wage increase is spent, and spent immediately, and since 2/3 of the economy is consumer spending, and as these wage increases inexorably trigger increases to folks further up the socioeconomic ladder, economic growth is inevitable. Anyone that ever took Econ 101 before 1980, before the corruption of our education system - more later- , can testify to this.
For instance, the recession of 1945 witnessed a tremendous decline in GDP as the country shifted from a wartime economy. Government spending collapsed, and in October of 1945 the minimum wage was increased by 33%! The unemployment rate was never high during the subsequent 3 years. The recession of 1949, induced by a period of tight money and more reduced spending, saw unemployment in early 1950 rise to 6.5%. That same year, Congress almost doubled the the minimum wage from $0.40 to $0.75. It was increased by another 33% in 1956! Can anyone seriously argue that the country was worse off economically from these policies? Unemployment didn't see the 1950 rate of 6.5% again until 1961. The 1950's are the Conservative's version of Utopia, right behind the McKinley era!
Back when minimum wage increases were frequent and substantial, the United States of America experienced the strongest economic growth and the highest living standards in the history of man. It was fueled by a quadrupling of the minimum wage from 1938 to 1956 and high levels of government spending (the GI Bill, interstate highways, secondary schools, community colleges, the space program, etc.).
It is so obvious that one is compelled to dig deeper. Why do economists ignore it? The answer is equally obvious, really - they are paid to ignore it. I urge the reader to undertake one quick read, or re-read, hopefully, of the infamous "Powell Memo". It explains everything. Penned in 1971 by the eventual Associate Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell while he quietly labored for the Chamber of Commerce, it is a confidential manifesto, and a blueprint for the corporate takeover of the country. It has been religiously implemented by men like the Koch brothers. If either dies - the joke goes - the other is the richest man in the world. It's actually true. Added together, the wealth of the Koch brothers is larger than any other human on the planet, and estimates say they stand ready to make over $100 billion more on the XL pipeline. Any wonder the Koch brothers followed Powell's advice to be more active in the political arena? Any wonder why they spent $400 million in the last election cycle? If the pipeline is approved, it is truly the best investment they or anyone else has ever made - a return of 24,900 % in a few short years. That's a little better than your 401K, I imagine.
Many have compared the Powell Memo to Hitler's Mein Kampf. Each contained a political ideology and implementation strategy. Thankfully, the overt racism is absent in the Powell Memo if not from its followers, and Lewis Powell was not Hitler. But the implementation of each manifesto arguably resulted in slave wages. Hitler was the more murderous, evil sociopath, but at least he and the elite he served kept wages high for Germans. Similarly, today's billionaires are also sociopaths They also stir up hatred toward toward minorities and immigrants and foreign workers, but U.S. billionaires are not as generous as their German forbears to workers in the homeland. The neocons even adopted the Nazi-tainted word - homeland.
The Powell Memo has resulted in the corporate domination of society at all levels and a massive propaganda machine defining the acceptable range of opinions:
- Journals. In the good old days, the New England Journal of Medicine refused publication to researchers who accepted money from pharmaceutical companies. They ended the policy years ago when, by there own admission, they couldn't find any researchers in the medical field who were not tainted by drug money.
- Universities. Corporations were advised by Powell to fund chairs, research grants, and university departments , and to exert the influence gained by this funding in hiring and tenure decisions, research topics, course offerings, and publishing rights. Special attention is now paid to the Departments of Economics at our most elite institutions. Try to obtain funding for a paper that supports the efficacy of government spending, regulatory control of business, or minimum wage increases, all of which are painlessly easy to prove, but nearly impossible to fund.
- Media. Today, 6 corporations own 90% of the media in the U.S. (When Reagan was President it took 50 companies to reach 90% control) We read, see, and hear what these corporations want us to, and nothing else unless we work at it. These corporations and their media pundits have close ties to and investments in the defense industry and right-wing think tanks.
Whenever I hear the latest news of the media industry's continuous consolidation, I can't help but be reminded of my college roommate's uncle and his rustic cabin in New Hampshire. I was lucky enough to be invited there on several occasions. Prominently displayed in the front room was a wonderful map of the State of New Hampshire in 1812 that I could study for hours. There were colorful symbols laden with meaning for everything in 1812 New Hampshire, with a legend below revealing the truth behind each mystical sign. One such sign depicted a daily newspaper. I was shocked at how many there were! It was difficult to do. but I carefully counted each daily newspaper symbol, only quitting when I reached 100, certain that I had not double counted and equally certain there were several more I had missed. Well-informed voters were actively involved in their government in 1812 New Hampshire. Today there is one daily newspaper in the Granite State, a right wing rag in the largest city.
- Textbooks. Scholars. Think Tanks. Speaker Bureaus. Organized attacks on and subversion of the media. The Courts. Stockholder power. Massive corporate involvement in politics. ALEC. It's all there. Much as the Project for a New American Century predicted the need for a "Pearl Harbor"-like event to generate support for the necessary invasion of Afghanistan, Lewis Powell foretold neo-liberalism and the New American Corporatism. Although only the extreme right is allowed today to use terms like "liberal"and "fascist", perhaps I should name it for what it is, the New American Fascism. Mussolini preferred the term "corporatism" as more accurate than the overburdened "fascism". Either is indisputable to the informed observer of today's America.
It is truly astounding how much America has changed in my lifetime. In 1975, I attended graduate school in California, considered by most at the time to be the best university system in the world. Moving from New York, I was forced to pay out-of-state tuition when California residents paid zero dollars in tuition and were bitter because Reagan as Governor had recently required them to pay for books and some modest fees. This was when the costs of college were funded 90% by various government-funded institutions and 10% by the student. Today, those figures are reversed. I earned a Masters degree for a total tuition cost of $400 per quarter. Out-of-state tuition, mind you. Would the silicon valley revolution have occurred without free college education? Today's graduates from the same school I attended in 1975 are averaging costs about 4,000% greater, with infinitely-worse job prospects at far lower salaries and suffocating debt burdens. Only children of the elite need apply.
That is how much America has changed, and largely due to one man - Lewis Powell - the Supreme Court Justice who voted in 1986 with the 5-4 majority in Bowers v. Hardwick. This was the decision upholding a Georgia criminal sodomy law. This infamous Supreme Court decision also denied gay couples the right to privacy in their own homes. Before he passed away, Powell generously suggested that he "probably made a mistake in that one". He never apologized for the Powell Memo.
To fight the right today, we have the truth, and we have the internet - for now at least - and apps like Mythopedia, to attempt to disseminate the truth to a wider audience, but of course massive corporate dollars are being expended to misinform, to silence us, to strangle our free speech rights. Net Neutrality has already been hugely compromised. We receive daily emails begging for money from excellent news sources struggling to survive with unpaid writers and underpaid staffers. Please. Give where you can. Chants of break up the big banks are common,. It might be more important to break up the big corporate media, first.
Ironically, the greatest inspiration in our struggle is the Gay Rights movement. Powell was the swing vote that legally declared gays in this country to be sodomites with no rights of privacy. We have come as long way from Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986 to the total capitulation of the Republican Party last year in Arizona and 9 other states. There is hope. We are beating their pants off in the social arena. Now let's begin the economic onslaught. Unfortunately, the opponent this time is both major parties, and we threaten the very existence of the wealthiest one percent since Croesus. And yet there is hope. One party is weakened, and the other can be co-opted. There are examples to follow. The civil rights movement, gay rights, the Arab Spring, Occupy. There is no alternative but to struggle, and there is always the inevitable arc of MLK's moral universe bending towards justice.
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The Minimum Wage quadrupled from 1938 to 1956

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