Lessons from Other Countries’ Minimum Wages

Minimum Wages Around the World

After the recent fast food worker organizing, Business Insider decided to look at minimum wages all over the world. And when you compare us to, you know, comparable countries, we don’t look too good. Australia (those rugged individualists) have a minimum wage that is $1.88 higher than the wage the fast food workers are asking for. You know: the wage that pretty much everyone scoffed at? France, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Canada all have a minimum wage that is in the ballpark of what the president has called for.

Of course, you can also see that the minimum wage in poor little Sierra Leone is only 3¢. But that’s the funny thing about conservatives when it comes to this kind of stuff. When it comes to spouting off about our country, America is always number one! But when it comes to having a fair judicial system or reasonable pay, somehow we just can’t cut it. The country is just getting by! We need to lower Social Security benefits. We need to kill off Medicare. (Better to kill Granny with neglect than with Death Panels!) We just don’t have the resources to educate our children. In other words, these people think America is a third world nation if it comes down to asking the rich to pay the smallest amount.

Of course, as Dylan Matthews reported, not all countries have minimum wages. Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, and Switzerland, for example, do not have them. But all advanced countries have policies designed to provide workers with more leverage than they would have in the social Darwinian hellscape that conservatives so admire. For example, most countries have not spent the last 60 years enacting policies designed to destroy unions. As Matthews noted, “Most of them make up for it with widespread collective bargaining, which sets de facto minimums.” De facto minimums that are higher than ours.

But even after seeing this, I wondered: does this take into account the cost of living that people experience in different countries? Helpfully, Business Insider offered another article that addressed this issue, Here’s How Many Minutes Of Working Minimum Wage It Takes To Buy A Big Mac All Around The World. Now the “Big Mac Index” is far from perfect, but it does provide an idea of just how well workers are doing in the various countries:

Big Mac Index

What’s interesting here is that if you look at the labor cost component of the Big Mac in each of these countries, you will see that it is quite stable. It is about 20% higher in Australia and about 10% lower in the United Kingdom. And about the same in the US, France, and Japan. As I’ve argued so many times before, raising worker wages does not not not increase prices by the same amount. So we really could raise the minimum wage and it would not only help the workers, it would help the economy!

But there is one big reason that conservatives are against it: it would hurt profits a little. But the rest of us have to ask: are we going to continue electing politicians who do the bidding of the 1% or are we going to elect those who support the rest of us?

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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