On the first night of the second wave of Democratic presidential debates, candidate Pete Buttigieg took a jab at those he considers “bad Christians.” It started when the mayor from South Bend, Indiana, took a question on the issue of retraining industrial workers and worked in a canned response about the minimum wage.
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) July 31, 2019
It should be noted that this tangential response was entirely against the rules of the debate. Before this statement, Buttigieg had already “answered” the question, arguing for the unionization of “gig workers.” CNN moderator Don Lemon said, “Thank you, mayor,” and was ready to move on. But Buttigieg couldn’t resist.
The ‘Wrong’ Sort of Christian
Buttigieg wanted to get in a quick “dig” at who he considers the wrong sort of Christian — essentially, any Christian who disagrees with his political views. So, Lemon generously let Buttigieg go on with his insulting minimum wage line more than 35 seconds after his time was up, a luxury not afforded to many of the other candidates who were routinely clipped off mid-sentence. That’s not the main issue, however. The main issue is that Mayor Pete is dead wrong.
With his add-on answer, Buttigieg didn’t just call for the minimum wage to be raised — which by itself would have been foolish and economically illiterate — he attacked the Christian faith of millions of Americans:
“Like, the minimum wage is just too low, and so-called conservative Christian senators, right now, in the Senate, are blocking a bill to raise the minimum wage, when Scripture says that ‘whoever oppresses the poor taunts their maker.’”
The closest rendering of Buttigieg’s quote is Proverbs 14:31 in the New American Standard Bible translation. He did, curiously, leave out the rest of the verse, which concludes, “But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.”
The end of the verse Buttigieg quoted is arguably the most important part. The New Living Translation accurately translates it as: “Helping the poor honors Him.” Mayor Pete has it backward. Instituting a higher minimum wage wouldn’t solve poverty; it would worsen it. If Mayor Pete had his way, and a $15 minimum wage became the law of the land, more poor Americans would suffer.
Buttigieg’s Minimum Wage Policies Would Harm the Poor
By artificially placing a floor on what would be the true market value of a job, minimum wages interfere with the fundamental nature of supply and demand. Employers, in turn, must find a way to offset artificially high wages or go out of business. This is done by raising the prices of their goods or services (thereby hurting all consumers) or by employing fewer workers. The second option is the most common response, which hurts the very people who need entry-level jobs the most. Economist Thomas Sowell points out:
“Low-income minorities are often hardest hit by the unemployment that follows in the wake of minimum-wage laws. The last year when the black unemployment rate was lower than the white unemployment rate was 1930, the last year before there was a federal minimum-wage law.”
The real minimum wage is zero, which is what employees are “paid” when their employer cannot afford to keep them any longer. All price controls ultimately lead to scarcity, a decrease in quality, or a “black market” for the good or service provided. In many cases, price controls lead to all three.
The generosity urged by Jesus Christ places the onus on individuals so that they may each act on their own in a sincere spirit of giving. Jesus called for charity, not government-enforced price floors for wages, which is what the minimum wage is.
The Bible’s Call for Charity
The Bible is clear that Christians should help the poor, care for the sick, and do unto others as they would do unto themselves. Matthew 7:12, Matthew 25:40, Luke 6:31, John 13:34–35, and countless other verses call on Christians to care for the less fortunate members of society and to love one another. Jesus does not, however, call for anything resembling a minimum wage or for government to infringe on the rights of private business owners.
Scripture calls for Christians to be generous and charitable; it does not call for the government to redistribute wealth. In Luke 12:13-15, Jesus rebukes a man for requesting wealth redistribution from the top down and warns against all forms of greed.
Using the government’s monopoly on coercive force to compel people to “help” the poor takes away all meaning from what could have been a charitable act. The Bible is clear on this. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says:
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
We Need More Cheerful Giving
Not only does the Bible come out pretty hard against stealing, Ephesians 4:28 recognizes that the best way we can help our fellow man is by working hard with our own hands so we can build up enough money to help those in need.
The greatest philanthropists of the past were successful capitalists. John D. Rockefeller donated over $540 million to charity, a figure even more astounding considering that’s not adjusted for inflation. Andrew Carnegie gave away over $350 million. Successful modern-day American capitalists Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have donated $35 billion and $34 billion, respectively.
America needs more authentic, cheerful giving, not more failed economic ideas that hurt the poor and the very people that need help the most. While we’re at it, we could use a little less lecturing from politicians who warp Christianity in order to score cheap political points.