Frederick Douglass (1817–1895) is considered by many to be America’s greatest African American. Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King make up their top three.
Born into slavery, Douglass became a free man and rose through the ranks to eventually become the first African American to receive a vote for nomination for President of the United States. His final years were spent as Consul-General to the Republic of Haiti.
Following the American Civil War and the emancipation of America’s slaves, Douglass was asked, “What should be done for these (former) slaves?”
“Nothing!” he replied. “Leave us alone. By freeing us, you’ve done enough already.”
“If you leave us alone, we’ll work our way up. We will create pathways for others to follow.”
The value of getting one’s foot onto that first rung of the ladder cannot be overstated.
I mention this because a number of years ago an application was made to amend the Australian Fast Food Industry Award and dramatically increase the wages of junior employees.
It was unarguable that junior employees’ wages were very low at that time, but this had the significant benefit that many young people from lower socio-economic areas were able to get jobs and, to paraphrase Frederick Douglass, “work their way up.”
Appeals to reject the application fell on deaf ears and a substantial increase in the Award wage occurred.
This had the perverse effect that middle-class college students started applying for the jobs – and getting them. One franchise-owner said to me …
“Why wouldn’t I employ the college kids?
They’re smart, articulate, reliable, their parents drop them and pick them up in a BMW! The lower socio-economic kids were not as good, but hey, they were cheaper.”
No-one was sacked and replaced, but over time the poor kids were replaced by wealthier kids.
Let’s face it, some people don’t have a lot going for them. They come from dysfunctional families, aren’t blessed with particularly high IQs, and have other problems. The one thing they do have going for them, however, is their ability to compete with more fortunate young people on price.
They may not have been as articulate or refined as the wealthier kids, but they were prepared to work for less.
Not anymore. We have taken away from them that one last remaining labour market advantage they had over the rich.
This form of price-fixing is at the heart of labour market regulation. It’s called ‘centralised wage fixing.’ It is putting the power to dictate to someone what they can and cannot work for – regardless of what they want – into the hands of people completely remote from the ones whose lives they are about to ruin.
When people, young people in particular, are excluded from full participation in community and working life, the social costs are enormous – drug and alcohol abuse, crime, domestic violence, poor health, depression, frustration, boredom, bikie gang recruitment, civil disorder, teenage pregnancy, even suicide. This is what happens when young people don’t have a job. They are locked out of the labour market at exactly the time they are biologically ready to enter into relationships, get married and start a family.
Now no-one is arguing against a welfare safety net, but we have to allow people to get a foot on that first rung of the ladder.
The current political battle is not between Left and Right, rich and poor. It’s between freedom and authoritarianism. It’s between those who, like Douglass, want to help people become self-reliant by removing barriers to entry to things like jobs and housing, and those who see those without jobs and houses as political opportunities to get themselves elected. “It’s not your fault”, political opportunists say. “You are a victim. The system did this to you. That rich kid took your job. Vote for me and the government will look after you. I’ll remake that cruel and nasty free-market capitalist system.”
Not only is this economically stupid, it is morally reprehensible.
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Bob’s contribution to the Australian community has been reflected in a wide range of appointments including National President of the Housing Industry Association, Co-Founder and Inaugural President of Independent Contractors of Australia, Director of The Centre for Independent Studies, and Senator for South Australia.