They call them “economic laws” for a reason
So the citizens of San Francisco voted themselves an increase in prices, er, excuse me, a “$15 minimum wage” and thumb their noses at the laws of economics.
Reality hits back. Borderland Books, an iconic SF bookstore, provides the perfect two-fold example with this announcement:
In November, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 per hour by 2018. Although all of us at Borderlands support the concept of a living wage in principal and we believe that it’s possible that the new law will be good for San Francisco — Borderlands Books as it exists is not a financially viable business if subject to that minimum wage. Consequently we will be closing our doors no later than March 31st. The cafe will continue to operate until at least the end of this year.
Many businesses can make adjustments to allow for increased wages. The cafe side of Borderlands, for example, should have no difficulty at all. Viability is simply a matter of increasing prices. And, since all the other cafes in the city will be under the same pressure, all the prices will float upwards. But books are a special case because the price is set by the publisher and printed on the book. Furthermore, for years part of the challenge for brick-and-mortar bookstores is that companies like Amazon.com have made it difficult to get people to pay retail prices. So it is inconceivable to adjust our prices upwards to cover increased wages.
The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly 39%. That increase will in turn bring up our total operating expenses by 18%. To make up for that expense, we would need to increase our sales by a minimum of 20%. We do not believe that is a realistic possibility for a bookstore in San Francisco at this time.
Note the key lines. “The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly 39%.” Yet, there’s not 39% room in the earnings to weather that increase, because an 18% increase in operating costs puts them in the red. Borderland Books explains why – retail price is almost impossible to get anymore so they can’t increase the price of the product to cover the cost. Result? The workers in the bookstore will have a wage of $0 as of March 31. I’m sure they’re thrilled.
Meanwhile the cafe will stay open because it can do what? Pass the cost on to the customer. So in essence, those who voted for the increase in minimum wage voted dollars out of the pockets of those who opposed it as well as their own. While the workers in the cafe will get their $15 an hour minimum wage, it will be achieved in an increase in the price of the goods the cafe sells (about 20%). And if their experience is anything like Seattle’s (which also instituted a $15 minimum wage) tips will dry up to next to nothing, while perks (such as free meals, parking, etc.) will be discontinued now that the workers make enough money to pay for most of them.
Yes, economic illiteracy has a price – and here it is. Fewer jobs, higher prices, all a result of fools who thought they could magic “a living wage” out of a vote without that having any consequences to the workers or themselves.