“Fair” Pay

Some in the media have picked up on the following video clip from the Secretary of Labor claiming that all workers, legal or illegal, have the right to be paid fairly:

Conservatives are in an uproar that she would imply that illegal immigrants have a right to be paid fairly when they are in the country illegally. But somehow lost in this uproar are more fundamental questions. What does “fair” mean? Who gets to decide what “fair” pay is? And, what does it mean for someone to have a right to “fair” pay?

Invariably, when a government official speaks of fair pay that is code for some sort of government-mandated minimum or living wage.  That is what is meant by the phrase, “We can help.” In truth, the answer to an employee who does not like the wage their employer offers for their work is to find another employer. When government gets involved, the rights of individuals to freely choose are abridged.

The idea that someone has a “right” to some rate of pay or benefits not proposed by their employer is a misuse of the term “right.” No one has a right to someone else’s property. The wage an employer pays is their property.

It is only when the employer agrees that an employee’s work will be worth a certain wage that the employee obtains the wage. This agreement is a voluntary transaction between two individuals: the employer and the employee. When the government gets involved, it represents force: forcing one person to give money to another against their will and without a mutual trade.

Imagine if employers went to the government and demanded that it set up minimum-work laws, requiring individual employees to increase their productivity for the same pay against their will? There would naturally be an outcry.

Unfortunately, the outcry over the notion of illegal immigrants having a “right” to “fair” pay misses the point. Legal or illegal, no one has the right to use government force to inflate their pay.

* The preceding was originally posted on the Young Americans for Liberty blog.

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