One of the most solid and enlightening findings from modern psychology is the extent to which people are tribal. It does seem that 80% of human behavior is used for social signalling. Most of what we do and say has little rational content, and is mostly intended to signal belonging to a tribe or some subset of it. Even most linguistic behavior, and languages themselves, are little more than badges of tribal membership.
Not to say that’s a bad thing; you can’t make bricks without clay, evolution works with what’s available, and human brains were selected for sociability for a reason. But we happen to live in the post-Enlightenment, and the general assumption is that people are rational. Of course if people were rational they would agree in most issues, yet they don’t. That’s a priori very hard to understand. The typical answer to the paradox is that some people are evil. Which does explain some of it, but doesn’t really solve the problem, in fact it makes it worse by exacerbating conflict.
Everything makes much more sense when you understand that 99% of disagreement is due to people’s brains being tribal. The basic model is that people are hard-wired to choose a team, stick in it, and defend it no matter what. In the same way as there is a critical period for language learning (a vast majority of people are physically incapable of properly learning a foreign language after infancy), there probably is also a critical period for tribe-choosing. If you are a leftist after age 30, you will probably stay there no matter what. Ditto for everyone else. I just happened to stumble upon news of new Pope Francis I kissing the feet of some Muslim teen criminal in a detention center. Of course Catholics, some of which I’ve personally seen arguing for the nuking of Mecca and for expelling foreign criminals from the country, are defending the Pope’s “infinite charity” or whatever. Why do people even go all the way to Rome and cram into the Piazza di San Pietro just to cheer at a white blob the can’t even see in the distance? Well, they’re Catholic. That’s all that matters.
Every tribe (or “thede”, I still prefer tribe though) has its own set of shibboleths that signal membership. The Catholic Church has a very smart structure, so they can adjust the shibboleths in a top down fashion. For all the talk of the Church as the quintessentially old and inflexible institution, its centralized structure means it can rapidly adapt to changing circumstances. See how quickly they turned left after 1962, denying everything they used to believe in for millennia, without altogether collapsing.
Most tribes though are more decentralized, and rely on consensus shibboleths, which makes it much harder to change and adapt. In the worst case you get an arms race of new shibboleths racing for supremacy, i.e. the leftist singularity. In most cases though you just get old, stale, rotten arguments repeated for decades without any further thought. See Libertarianism. They just go on sputtering the same old crap.
Say the talk about the minimum wage. Libertarians today are organized around three shibboleths: Minimum wage is bad, free trade is good, open borders are good. If you disagree with these, or try to analyze them with any level of detail, you get kicked out of the tribe. Which means you don’t get hired at George Mason University. And that’s bad. They pay pretty well at GMU. And they provide free bubbles where even borderline autists can get hot chicks and raise a bunch of children.
I understand the old argument against the minimum wage: some people just aren’t very productive, which means they won’t be hired for the minimum wage, which means they won’t get experience so they will never become productive. Fair enough. You know, abstract arguments can go on and on and on, and you can even argue that anal sex is cool because snails are hermaphrodite. But let’s come back to concrete reality for a moment. There’s tons of arguments for a minimum wage. First there’s the fact that some employers are just evil. Just read Wal Mart is losing revenue because they are having trouble staffing their supermarkets. And they are saving wages from present employees by make them work only the hours deemed necessary by management. How much money is Wal Mart making? How much money do the Waltons have? How much land does as person need?
Then there’s the argument that free competition doesn’t really exist, private exploitation does, it is very likely that people could be hired for peanuts, coerced/manipulated/brainwashed into going on forever in a semi-slavery situation. Anyone who has been in business for any amount of time knows that wages, like any other prices, have nothing to do with productivity or cost. Prices depend only on bargaining ability. The same way as there are rip-off prices everywhere in the market, employers could and would rip-off employees by any means they could get away with. In China the routinely kill annoying workers in the coal mines. In Japan they round up homeless bums, drug them with amphetamines and lock them in mountain camps to dig tunnels.
But I don’t think that’s the real rationale for a minimum wage. The fact is that having people work for peanuts does make economic sense, but from a societal standpoint, it’s unseemly. Inequality is a fact of life, in fact one of the most real and stable facts of life. But it’s unseemly. People don’t want to live in the same society as people who earn less than, say, 10 bucks an hour. Poor people suck for tons of reasons, they tend to be stupid, crass, dress badly, have bad hygiene, but beyond all, poor people remind you of where you come from, and where you might go to. People deny HBD because in some part of their brains, they know regression to the mean is true, and poor people remind you of the phantom of downward mobility. HBD-denial and the war on poverty aren’t about helping the poor. Eradicating poverty means you won’t become poor yourself.
Abolishing the minimum wage means that, in a worst-case scenario, you might be forced to work for less than a legal minimum for a not so unseemly lifestyle. And that’s fucking scary. Anxiety is bad for you.
Federico says that the minimum wage is an elite conspiracy against resilient (antifragile is a stupid word as is Taleb) communities autonomy. Well there’s something to it, but how much? Of course any government will try hard to disrupt any independent organizations in their jurisdiction. Government didn’t allow private corporations until 200 years ago. But anyway, any community wanting to train their people in any job aren’t having trouble with the minimum wage. Are the Amish paying minimum wage to their teenage carpenters? Are the Feds messing with Hasidic kids helping in the family store? There’s tons of loopholes. It’s not about that. The people like the minimum wage. It’s comforting.
I personally don’t see the benefit of having people working for peanuts. If someone really is incapable of producing more than 8 bucks an hour, and doesn’t have family or friends to give them a black market job, I’d rather not have him in the workplace. I just don’t want to see the guy. I don’t want to be taught of his existence. It’s unseemly. People don’t want to live in reality. They want to live in Lake Wobegon.