Keli Carender: Socialism, Seattle Style

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The extended recession of the Obama administration and the sluggish economic recovery have spawned something of a faddish parlor game among the liberal intelligentsia; whether American capitalism has run its course and it’s time to usher in a socialist model of government. After all, with stubbornly high unemployment, workforce participation at historic lows and myriad compounding factors contributing to our economic woes, it must certainly mean that capitalism is dead. Or so we are told.

One of the latest manifestations of this is the recent election of Kshama Sawant to the city council of Seattle, Washington. The 41-year-old native of India who came of age as a product of that nation’s caste system is a self-described socialist and a former local organizer for the Occupy movement who rode to victory in the 2013 election touting a $15 per hour minimum wage.

After winning her first election last November and settling into her $117,000 job as an entry-level councilperson, she went about the business of promoting her brand of socialism with the authority and power of her new position. Educated, articulate and well versed in the recitation of neo-Marxist agitprop, she clearly has read many books and been taught many things that aren’t so.

Such is the case with Sawant’s core mission of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour because she believes it helps poor people. She is convinced that she can, by decree, override the laws of economics from her perch on Seattle’s city council. “Victory in the fight for $15 an hour will mean a substantial improvement in the standards of living of working people in Seattle,” Sawant confidently told PBS in a recent interview. “A real class struggle like the fight for $15 in Seattle will energize and empower workers, raise their confidence and morale and make them realize that this is what we need to do.” Brava! All that is missing is a red cape and a blue leotard with the letter ‘S’ emblazoned across the front.

Problem is, her proposal is destined to deliver a lower standard of living for the people who brought her into office and raise unemployment among those who most need a job. True, she was a student of the economy and received a doctorate degree in economics from North Carolina State University but there’s evidence that she may have missed class the day they taught supply and demand.

In 2012, a team of researchers from Cornell, the University of Oregon, and San Diego State University studied the effects of raising the minimum wage in New York State between 2004 and 2006. Their conclusion was about as close to unequivocal as a reputable researcher can get. “We find robust evidence that raising the New York minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.75 per hour significantly reduced employment rates of less-skilled, less-educated New Yorkers,” they determined. Their findings are not isolated and have been replicated time and again in similarly rigorous research.

While Sawant might be tempted to dismiss this as employers merely seeking “revenge” by hiring fewer people, it’s little more than quantifying human nature and business behavior; the more expensive something becomes, the less of it we consume. Alas, this fact is lost on socialists and other social engineers like Sawant.

So far, Sawant’s biggest civic achievement is that she was able to persuade 3,151 more people into voting for her than her opponent. But her goal of raising the minimum wage as a means of closing the wage gap between slingers of hash and those in other career fields has at least some traction with young voters in Seattle. She wants very much to convince young Americans that capitalism harms them, that they cannot aspire to anything more than a minimum wage job, that socialism is the path to their salvation.

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Full article published on Spectator.org on May 7, 2014