The property which every man has in his own labor; as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable … To hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbor is a plain violation of this most sacred property.

—Adam Smith. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776.

The government should not seek to impose minimum wages. Minimum wages are essentially a prohibition on a person offering his labor for less than a certain amount. Yet low-paid jobs are how people enter the workforce and gain experience so that their skills become more valuable to employers and they can thereafter obtain higher wages.

Those who support minimum wage laws do not aim to prevent people from working but rather to make employers pay more. The problem is that the law is not omnipotent. It cannot make employers place a higher value on employees. The government cannot force sums to add up. The only thing a minimum wage law can do is force an employer to move his factory to China.

Someone capable of contributing to society will always obtain a job—unless the government has ruined the economy. The job may be menial, and it may be very low paid, but if they are diligent they will soon begin climbing the ladder toward higher wages and more skilled occupations. To try to force employers to pay unskilled employees more than they are worth will simply deny them employment. You cannot buck the market; to try to do so is to challenge reality itself. This was explained by Ayn Rand:

Unemployment is the inevitable result of forcing wage rates above their free-market level. In a free economy, in which neither employers nor workers are subject to coercion, wage rates always tend toward the level at which all those who seek employment will be able to obtain it. In a frozen, controlled economy, this process is blocked… unemployed workers are not free to compete in the labor market by offering their services for less than the prevailing wage rates; employers are not free to hire them. (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 1966.)

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove