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Solution to Unemployment Found: Kill the Unemployed

November 7, 2014 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken


That was the solution proffered by eugenicist progressives during the 1920s and 1930s. At least, that was their preferred option. Frank Taussig admitted that we “have not reached the stage where we can proceed to chloroform [the unemployed] once and for all, but at least they can be segregated, shut up in refuges and asylums, and prevented from propagating their kind.”

Many leftists today deny that minimum wage laws increase unemployment among the least skilled and most disadvantaged workers. Among many early progressives, however, it was fully admitted that minimum wages cause unemployment, and this fact was to be used to effect good eugenicist social policy.  In “Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era” in The Journal of Economic Perspectives by Thomas C. Leonard, Leonard examines how the minimum wage was used to separate the “worthy” workers (i.e., those who could earn a “living wage”) from those unproductive workers who should be sterilized.

From Leonard’s analysis, we learn several things:

1. It was assumed and fully admitted by progressives that a  minimum wage would cause unemployment among the least-skilled workers in society.

2. For the eugenicists, the resulting unemployment was a good thing because it allowed the “experts” to more easily cull those who were worthy of being allowed to continue to exist and reproduce, from those who were not.

3. Such arguments for the minimum wage were also closely related to the racism inherent in early minimum wage arguments, which is covered in more detail here.

Leonard explores the assumed benefits of unemployment caused by minimum wages here:

Columbia’s Henry Rogers Seager, a leading progressive economist who served as president of the AEA in 1922, provides an example. Worthy wage-earners, Seager (1913a, p. 12) argued, need protection from the “wearing competition of the casual worker and the drifter” and from the other “unemployable” who unfairly drag down the wages of more deserving workers (1913b, pp. 82–83). The minimum wage protects deserving workers from the competition of the unfit by making it illegal to work for less. Seager (1913a, p. 9) wrote: “The operation of the minimum wage requirement would merely extend the definition of defectives to embrace all individuals, who even after having received special training, remain incapable of adequate self-support.” Seager (p. 10) made clear what should happen to those who, even after remedial training, could not earn the legal minimum: “If we are to maintain a race that is to be made of up of capable, efficient and independent individuals and family groups we must courageously cut …read more


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