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Home | Blog | The Minimum Wage and Progressive Eugenics, Again

The Minimum Wage and Progressive Eugenics, Again

  • Eugenics
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01/26/2016

Last Week, The New Republic revisited the rarely-mentioned history of Progressive eugenics with a review of a new book:

I was prompted to revisit the Scopes trial—which, like many Americans, I hadn’t thought about since an 11th grade history final—by a new book from Princeton scholar Thomas C. Leonard. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics in the Progressive Era is hard to classify politically. Conservatives can find a lot to like in Leonard’s research, and at times it feels like a serious, credentialed version of Jonah Goldberg’s screed Liberal Fascism. Among his revelations: The minimum wage was created to destroy jobs; progressives (including the founders of this magazine) really did hate small businesses and they were all way too enthusiastic about Germany’s social structure. But Leonard’s personal politics are hard to read, and at the very least he’s invested in progressivism, writing that it’s “too important to be left to hagiography and obloquy.”

The minimum wage issue is especially interesting from an economic perspective, since the fact that the minimum wage destroys jobs was once its main selling point. That is, it was designed to destroy jobs for undesirable poor whites and alleged non-white racial inferiors. The whole concept of the "living wage" was once a benchmark used to evaluate the worth of a human being. That is, if you couldn't earn a living wage, you were ripe for sterilization. The minimum wage was thus a convenient way of weeding out the undesirables from the more valuable human beings. In other words, in pursuit of the Progressive ideal of "racial hygiene," the minimum wage was a key part of the agenda. 

I covered the topic more here, back in 2014.

But don't expect this inconvenient history to be a problem for the Progressive movement. Those Progressives weren't real Progressives, we'll be told. Peter St. Onge explains in The Affluent Investor this week:

Progressives’ slickest trick is that every time their policies fail they claim “No, that wasn’t ‘real’ Progressivism.”

It’s the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. The fallacy that “your people” would never do something bad and, if they ever do, well those weren’t really your people. “Exculpatory sub-grouping,” in psychologist Aiden Gregg’s phrase.

We see this fallacy repeatedly from the socialists: it’s never “real” socialism from Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, North Korea, Cuba, or Venezuela. However passionately every one of these regimes believed themselves to be socialist, every time they fail the propagandists write them out of the movement. 

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is the editor of Mises Wire and The Austrian. Send him your article submissions, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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