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OKC benefits from market wages

Mark Costello March 25th, 2014

Nearly 20 years ago, a 17-year-old approached me looking for a job. I offered him a minimum-wage job, thinking I was doing him a favor. Before his 22nd birthday, he was the president of my company’s office in England with 50 people reporting to him. Before his 26th birthday, he was a millionaire.

Today, he is the CEO of his own successful construction company in Oklahoma, providing other young people their first opportunity for profitable employment.

One of my responsibilities as Oklahoma’s labor commissioner is to advance profitable employment of the wage earner. I take that responsibility very seriously. For that reason, I do not favor government intervention in the marketplace that would deny young job seekers their first job opportunity.

Recently, the Obama administration launched a full-court press to increase the federal minimum wage to more than $10 per hour. President Obama’s proposal is not driven by principles of economics. Historically, when the minimum wage is increased, the result is greater unemployment. The Congressional Budget Office reports that the president’s proposal will cost half a million more Americans their jobs.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once stated, “The most anti-black law on the books of this land is the minimum wage law.” Unfortunately, young black males will be particularly hard hit, as unemployment rates for that demographic is, in many markets, two to three times greater than the national average for other races.

Friedman also noted that those with disproportionately less education and experience were at a significant disadvantage when looking to put their foot on the first rung of the employment ladder.

Many minimum-wage workers are teens, young adults just starting in the labor force and spouses providing a second income. In a competitive, free market, employers will pay the wages necessary to attract the talent they need in order to compete in the marketplace and make a profit. If city government mandates wages above the market, then employers will hire fewer workers and/or do not make a profit and subsequently go out of business.

There are two primary economic worldviews. One is that of capitalism and free markets, which have raised the standard of living and individual prosperity to historic levels. The second perspective is that capitalism is intrinsically evil and government must intervene to assure fairness for all. I believe in free markets and capitalism.

It is reasonable to assume that President Barack Obama subscribes to an anti-free-market worldview. The problem with the White House view is that it is ideologically driven and not borne out of real-world experience. The sad reality is that if Obama and his local union allies are successful, his proposal will hurt young people looking for their first jobs and small businesses seeking to make a modest profit.

Mark Costello was elected Oklahoma Commissioner of Labor in 2010.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

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03.27.2014 at 11:06 Reply
His beloved "free market" would have no minimum wage or labor protections so that workers could slave away for pennies a day, work 7 days a week with no OT or sick leave or benefits and be on their own if injured on the job. Sounds like he'd like the country to go back to 1910 and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire days. The value of today's minimum wage in constant value (compared to 20 years ago) is $4.87. Sure, a minor teenager on his parents insurance living at home with no bills to pay might be able to subsist on that - but millions of people (adults trying to support themselves and families) are trapped in minimum wage jobs. Not everyone can be the boss. But everyone deserves a living wage. And the reality is that corporations won't offer one until forced to. The really scary part? This man is the "Commissioner of Labor."


04.21.2014 at 03:36