How About Minimum/Maximum Temperature Laws?
A version of the post below appeared on CD during the unusually cold winter of 2008-2009, and I present it again today, now that Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and more than 100 of his House Democratic colleagues have recently proposed legislation that would increase the minimum wage to almost $10 per hour:
In Defense of the Minimum Wage Law:
Unskilled workers are at the mercy of greedy, cold-hearted, ruthless, profit-seeking employers. Without some kind of government intervention in the unskilled labor market, employers will ruthlessly exploit unskilled workers, and pay them sub-standard wages (e.g. $5 per hour).
To counteract this injustice in the labor market for unskilled workers, our collective sense of fairness and justice demands legislation that currently forces employers to pay a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Wages below that minimum (e.g. $5 per hour or $6 per hour) are unconscionably low, and are outlawed by the minimum wage legislation, with violations subject to penalties, fines and possible jail time for employers paying less than the government-mandated minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
In Defense of the Minimum Temperature Law:
The frigid, cold, and harsh winter of 2008-2009, and the hardships it has caused for millions of Americans (including an estimated 700 deaths), firmly establishes that we are at the mercy of a very cruel, ruthless, merciless, cold-hearted, and uncaring force: Mother Nature.
Something must be done about this unacceptable situation. Without some kind of government intervention in the market for low temperature readings being registered on existing thermometers and thermostats, Mother Nature will continually and ruthlessly expose Americans to harsh winter conditions of unconscionably low temperatures. Who among us wouldn’t agree that these excessively low winter temperatures are unfair, unreasonable and unjust?
To counteract this inherent cold weather injustice and Mother Nature’s ongoing lack of concern for cold Americans, our collective sense of fairness and justice requires legislation that will force all thermostats and thermometers sold in the United States to have a minimum, reasonable and fair temperature reading of let's say 0 degrees Fahrenheit. As part of the new Minimum Temperature Law, all existing thermometers and thermostats in homes, offices, and businesses should be immediately replaced with new temperature-reading equipment with a minimum reading of 0 degrees.
Any temperatures below that minimum (e.g. -10 degrees F. or -20 degrees F.) are considered to be unfair and unconscionably low, and will be illegal and outlawed by the Minimum Temperature Law, with violations subject to penalties, fines and possible jail time for thermostat manufacturers continuing to sell thermostats with temperature readings below the government-mandated minimum temperature. Further, all news and weather reports, all TV and radio stations, and all newspapers and websites are immediately prohibited from quoting any temperatures below the federally-mandated minimum of 0 degrees F.
If successful, subsequent legislation for a Maximum Temperature Law should be considered for summer months, e.g. a maximum allowable temperature reading of 85 degrees Fahrenheit on all thermostats to control Mother Nature's unfair "temperature gouging" and "temperature scalping" this summer, with temperatures in the 90s and above in so many parts of the country this summer.
Bottom Line: If Minimum/Maximum Temperature Laws seem ridiculous, that's because they are totally ridiculous. And so are Minimum Wage Laws. Forcing employers to pay an unskilled worker $7.25 per hour doesn't change the reality that many of those workers are actually only worth $5 or $6 per hour. The artificially high minimum wage causes distortions and inefficiencies in the unskilled labor market because the minimum wage does not accurately and truthfully reflect many workers' true productivity, and it's like creating a government-mandated fantasy world. A disconnect is created between the true measure (e.g. $5 per hour) and an artificial, government-mandated measure ($7.25 per hour), of a worker's value or productivity.
Likewise, imposing a minimum (or maximum) temperature law would create a government-mandated fantasy world about weather conditions, with a disconnect between the true temperature (e.g. -20 degrees or 100 degree F) and an artificial government-mandated minimum or maximum temperature (0 degrees or 85 degrees F). And just like the minimum wage law creates havoc in the labor market, so would the minimum temperature law create havoc for Americans, because thermostats would be conveying inaccurate measures of the true temperature.
When it comes to the weather, what we want most is the most precise measure possible of temperatures, and we get those from accurate thermostats and thermometers, not from artificial, government-mandated minimum or maximum temperature laws. When it comes to maximizing the efficiency of the labor market, what we want are accurate, truthful and precise measures of worker productivity, and we get those from market wages, not from artificial, government-mandated minimum wage laws.