Stossel on Jobs
By David Henderson
While watching the last 15 minutes or so of the latest Stossel program on Fox Business last night, I became aware that I had a smile on my face and was feeling positive and optimistic. Why? Because during those minutes, he interviewed a number of his Fox colleagues and a few others about their early work experiences, typically their first jobs. I enjoyed both the fact that the colleagues were enjoying telling the stories and the stories themselves. Many of them learned so much from their jobs, whether it was simple things like showing up on time or more-complicated things like how to do specific tasks. It reminded me about a lot of my own experiences, some of which I’ve discussed here, here, and here.
The earlier part was good too. He had on Steven Greenhouse a long-time reporter for the New York Times. Greenhouse’s beat is the workplace. Greenhouse was defending the federal government’s attempt to get rid of many internships that pay the interns zero. Greenhouse made some of the same arguments that Derek Thompson made and that I responded to here and here. So I won’t cover that same ground here to the same extent. I will point out, though, that Greenhouse moved fluidly between two positions: (1) unpaid internships are wrong because the interns get exploited and (2) unpaid internships are wrong because the interns get valuable things in return but, because interns aren’t paid, interns from wealthy families have an advantage. Those positions are not literally contradictory because some internships could involve “exploitation” and some could give the interns valuable experience. But there’s a simple solution to the cases where the interns feel exploited and Stossel pointed out the solution: quit.
In response to some of Stossel’s criticisms, Greenhouse, of the New York Times, retreated to the argument: “It’s the law.” Funny thing, I don’t remember the New York Times emphasizing, during the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, that Clinton, by perjuring himself, had broken the law. Of course, it’s possible that Greenhouse thought Clinton’s crime was important but simply kept it to himself.
When Stossel turned to the minimum wage, Greenhouse revealed his ignorance of the origins of that law. He claimed that the minimum wage was imposed because the federal government wanted to make sure that low-paid people were better off. In fact, a big part of the push for the federal minimum wage law in 1938 was by northeastern unions, composed mainly of white workers, who wanted to price out their lower-wage competitors in the South, many of whom were black. Gunnar Myrdal wrote about the devastating effect of the minimum wage on black people in his classic book, The American Dilemma, and Senator John F. Kennedy pushed for an increase in the minimum wage in the late 1950s on the grounds that it would price out competition from “colored workers.”
It’s interesting that Greenhouse appeared to know none of this, even though he has covered the labor and workplace beat for 16 years.
If you want to know more than Greenhouse knows on the minimum wage, though, check the Encyclopedia’s article on it.