Proponents of a higher minimum wage have consistently argued that it won't actually add anything to the cost of doing business — or if it does, the amount is nominal, and anyway, it just comes out of the fat cats' profits, and as we all know, Profits are Bad. (This is the third leg of the contemporary leftist stool — Abortion is Essential, Sodomy is Wonderful, and Profits are Bad — and no amount of rhetorical Dulcolax will soften any of it.)

Restaurant receipt showing Minimum Wage FeeInto this fray stepped the owner of an eatery in Stillwater, Minnesota, where the minimum wage has been raised from the $7.25 prevailing national figure to $8. It appears that the new wage will increase his costs by about four percent. Rather than hide that increase among the prices of menu items, he decided to specify it on the actual receipt as a Minimum Wage Fee: this, he says, is how much an extra 75 cents an hour affects the cost of doing business. Okay, fine: everyone knows that waiters and other table help are not paid especially well, and it's certainly not going to rain on my parade if I have to fork over an extra 35 cents on a ten-buck tab to give them something of a break. (Besides, I generally exceed the "standard" 15-percent tip by five percentage points, perhaps more if the service warrants.) If nothing else, this tells me that the wage hike is apparently not going to result in job loss — at this location, anyway.

Then again, I try to be sensible about such things. There are those whose business model depends on people not being sensible:

"We believe that the industry is overreacting," Wade Luneburg of the MN State Council of UNITE HERE Unions told the Star Tribune [last] week. "Putting [minimum wage] fees on tickets and passing the cost on to consumers directly is strange at best, and creates an 'us against them' mentality while ordering dinner."

Excuse me? I've already told you that I think this is swell for the table staff. If it's "us vs. them" situation, who are "them"?

Exactly. The proponents of this measure are more than happy to take credit for it if it goes over well with the general public; but if there is any negative reaction, they have no idea what in the world you are talking about.

Then again, I'm used to the quaint idea of people being up-front with me. For the last decade, this line has appeared on every water bill I've received: "Drainage Fee — Fee Due To Unfunded EPA Mandate." The city explains:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now enforces strict storm water drainage regulations.

The monthly "drainage fee" is to pay for work we must do to meet these new EPA drainage standards and requirements. The regulations are the result of a federal mandate to clean up pollution from storm water which drains into rivers, lakes and streams.

Washington did not provide any money to pay for meeting the requirements. Every large city in the United States must spend local money — millions of dollars — to avoid crippling fines.

And so the city spells it out on the actual water bill. At least we know what we're getting for that extra five bucks a month.

Each year I get a new homeowner's insurance bill; twice each year I get a new auto-insurance bill. (Disclosure: different companies, but through the same agent.) The bills always detail how much it costs for this particular coverage and that one. And while I sometimes complain about the total, I can't complain about being kept in the dark: it's all right there. Of course, if I don't like the results, I can take my business elsewhere. Then again, neither of these firms is connected to the MN State Council of UNITE HERE Unions.

In fact, I think I'd like to see more transparency in such matters. It would be nice if when the cable company raises prices, the bill would tell us exactly where the extra dollars are going. Right now, all we get is so much for television, so much for Internet, and so much (oh, so much) for taxes and such. If, say, ESPN demands an additional 50 cents per subscriber, I think we ought to be told that. It's not like we can cancel ESPN separately. (Not to pick on ESPN particularly, but they're generally the priciest of the non-premium channels.)

It is beyond hope, however, to think that legislators might actually provide useful information to taxpayers about the cost of new legislation. The model for the future, apparently, is the so-called Affordable Care Act, about which scant little detail was originally provided; since then, most of the numbers, not surprisingly, have turned out to be somewhere between dubious and fraudulent. A little dose of transparency would do wonders for the Congress, which is precisely why we're never going to get it. Government officials are paid more than minimum wage; why they are presumed to deserve it more than waiters in Minnesota eateries is beyond me.

The Vent

  16 August 2014

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