There are a few local Vermont blogs I read from time to time to keep up with the news from my home state.  One of them, Integral Psychosis, written by a fascinating guy who describes himself as a radical, left-wing, “libertarian-socialist” (a label that I find contradictory based on my conception of those words, kind of like a “hawkish pacifist”), approvingly cited this Tea Party-ridiculing post from commondreams.org:

You gotta love those zany teabaggers. Now the people who went to D.C. to protest government-run programs – on government-built roads, with government-funded police protection etc – are complaining the government-run subway system didn’t meet their needs, and Texas Rep. Kevin Brady has sent an angry letter to the subway czar. The kicker: Brady voted against stimulus funds to improve the Metro. Cognitive dissonance, thy name is wingnut.

“I will demand answers from Metro,” wrote Brady to whatever socialist tyrant runs the D.C. subway.

I’ve heard this type of argument many times before, often in debates over public school funding (‘you oppose increased funding for x, therefore you have no right to complain about the quality of service that x provides’), and it’s completely foolish.  There is no “cognitive dissonance” involved.  I just spent a summer living in DC, and I used the metro to commute to and from work every day.  From personal experience, I can say that the DC metro has a lot of problems.  Most significantly, there was the crash back in June, which actually resulted in nine deaths.  The investigation that followed the crash lasted for the rest of the time I was living there (about 8 more weeks), and caused massive delays every day for the rest of the summer.

Now, is a lack of government funding to blame for all of DC metro’s problems?  Maybe, but not necessarily.  There’s evidence that the metro system is poorly run: negligent bus drivers keep their jobs, and bus and train operators are overpaid.  More money won’t help if inept management will spend it unwisely.  But let’s not get bogged down in specifics about the DC metro system.  The point is that the specious reasoning exemplified in the commondreams post should be purged from serious debate.  It’s true that the quality of service that an agency provides is somewhat related to the funding it gets, but that there are a lot of other factors as well.  I wonder if commondreams made similar attacks on democratic congressmen who opposed funding for the Iraq War during the Bush administration but criticized the efficacy of US military efforts?

A tangentially related question: shouldn’t supposedly intelligent people be ashamed to habitually use immature smear terms to deride large groups of people (such as “teabagger”)?

Matt Yglesias posted a few days ago lamenting the high rate of unemployment for low-skilled American workers:

The brunt of the burden of unemployment is being borne by the least-skilled members of the workforce. In part that’s because high-skill occupational categories haven’t been hammered as heavily as construction and manufacturing…. It’s perhaps a sign of a more efficient, more flexible economy that we’re getting “better” at shifting recession-related burdens onto the low-skill people who are probably worst-positioned (in terms of savings and social capital) to deal with economic distress.

Low-skilled workers, already disadvantaged relative to other Americans, have been hit particularly hard by the recession, as Yglesias points out.  In light of this, we should support pro-employment policies so that this group of Americans will have an easier time finding jobs.  But among all the media coverage of the job creation potential of the stimulus this summer, it was easy to miss the job-killing measure that went into effect on July 24: the 70 cent hourly minimum wage increase from $6.55 to $7.25.  According to UC Irvine economist David Neumark, the wage hike will kill about 300,000 jobs for worders aged 16-24.

Granted, the number of jobs destroyed by this minimum wage hike is probably small compared to the overall low skilled unemployment effects of economic structural changes that Yglesias discusses.  Certainly the reason that the United States is hemorraging low skilled jobs at the current rate isn’t because of our minimum wage laws.  But that doesn’t change the fact that our minimum wage laws are counterproductive and hurting the very people that they are supposed to help.  It’s unfortunate that the professed concern for the poor of influential progressives like Yglesias never leads to criticism of the minimum wage.

What’s especially frustrating for those of us who really care about helping low-wage workers is that there is a program that does what the minimum wage is supposed to do (increase pay for low-wage jobs) and avoids raising employment barriers for the same group it’s intended to help: Earned Income Tax Credits, which subsidize low-skilled workers without raising costs for the employer.  Rather than pushing for increases in the minimum wage, progressives should be clamoring to increase EITC.  If being progressive is about wanting to help the poor, then this should be the progressive position.

Progressives’ continued support for minimum wage increases shows that as a group, despite their populist rhetoric, they don’t care enough about poverty to take the time to learn which policies actually help the poor and which do not.  Instead, they choose to ignore the economic evidence and continue to engage in counterproductive altruistic signaling aimed at the economically illiterate.