A colleague alerted me to this episode of the Nightly Show on Comedy Central. The entire show focused on two food polices: restrictions on food stamps and minimum wage for fast food workers. Maybe I'm getting old, but I didn't find much of it very funny. Which is too bad, because I agree with the underlying premise of at least one of their arguments. Which also happens to undermine their other argument.
First, the episode takes issue with state laws that would restrict what food stamp recipients can buy with the money they receive. I've written before about how food stamp restrictions are unlikely to have much effect. But, here they focus on the paternalism of it. Should the government tell people what they should and shouldn't eat?
I'm somewhat sympathetic to the conservative argument that these are not "earned" dollars but rather a government handout, and as such the state might have some leeway in dictating how they're spent. However, as I explain at the above link, the restrictions are really an allusion anyway in the sense that most recipients can "get around" them by simply reallocating their budget. Moreover, if the government can assume the right to tell food stamp recipients what to eat, what's to stop regulators from assuming they know better how you and I should eat? In short, we ought to respect the choices of others. We may not agree with everyone's choices, but we live in a free country. Give people the dignity of the presumption that they know best how to better their own situation with whatever resources they might have.
In the second half of the show, they take on minimum wage. I find this a bit ironic because the first half of the show repeatedly makes the case that we shouldn't tell people what they can and cannot do with their money (in this case money received by the state). But, apparently when it comes to minimum wage, the government SHOULD tell people what they can and cannot do with their money (in this case money that employers have earned in the market). You can't pay people a wage they'd willingly accept. It's not a ban on soda, it's a ban on hiring low skill workers at a wage equal to their marginal productivity.
The show also seem to miss the potential substitutions between labor and mechanization that will be hastened with higher worker wages. As I said in a tweet last week: Here's how I ordered at McDonalds the last time I was in France where minimum wage is ~12/hr