Next November, Californians will decide whether to raise the state's minimum wage to $12 an hour -- which would be the highest level of any state and not so far from the $15 an hour goal often mentioned by labor activists.
Surprisingly, this proposal is getting on the ballot courtesy of a wealthy Californian businessman Ron Unz. (Yes, the same Ron Unz who earlier led a campaign to eliminate bilingual education in California.) Why does Unz want such a big hike? One reason is that he's a conservative who doesn't think that corporations should be leeching off taxpayers by paying workers so little money that they end up on public assistance -- a subsidy we've been talking up here for months. Unz told the New York Times:
“There are so many very low-wage workers, and we pay for huge social welfare programs for them,” he said in an interview. “This would save something on the order of tens of billions of dollars. Doesn’t it make more sense for employers to pay their workers than the government?”
The automatic rejoinder to proposals for hiking the minimum wage is that “jobs will be lost.” But in today’s America a huge fraction of jobs at or near the minimum wage are held by immigrants, often illegal ones. Eliminating those jobs is a central goal of the plan, a feature not a bug.