Many opponents of the living wage campaign state that such an idea is unjust. They believe people should earn whatever they can, and that the subsidization of a living wage through progressive taxation is wrong.
Is such a view indeed the just position?
The ‘injustice’ of a living wage would, of course, not need to occur if it weren’t for the prior injustice of disparities of wealth. However, are the concentrations of wealth indeed unjust in the first place?
Calling in the army to protect wealth (as the robber barons did) or allowing the rich to control opinion and government policy in order to protect wealth can only be considered just if their gain of wealth is just in the first place.
Unfortunately, this is rarely true. Luck and early advantages (such as training or talent) are usually the reasons for gain of wealth within one generation. Are these reasons just?
If one person takes their savings and buys one plot of land and another buys a second plot of land and then oil is discovered on one and the other turns to desert, then is the resulting disparity of wealth just? Did they earn it? Surely not.
Indeed, if a person inherits a billion dollars and never works a day in their life, but their fortune accrues interest from the labor of others, is that income just? Did the person earn their wealth or their income? I think not.
However, is it possible in our system to earn a million dollars by simply working harder than everyone else? Of course not.
If my parents pay for Harvard Law School and I work 60 hours a week and become a millionaire, a disadvantaged person who works 100 hours a week will never earn what I earn, no matter how hard they work. Therefore it is clearly not a difference in effort that produces the disparity, and so it cannot be that any such person earns their huge concentration of wealth.
In other words, a rich man can claim to be against a living wage (paid for by progressive taxation or an inheritance tax) but they simply cannot claim that their reason is due to its injustice.
Justice is clearly not a factor in their world view since, if it were, wages would be based on effort or sacrifice. They would not allow such wealth to accrue to themselves in the first place, in which case a legally-required living wage would not be necessary.
Adam Bird-Ridnell is a sophomore majoring in history and philosophy. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.