Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dr. Stephen L. Carter ― Minimum Wage and Moral Consequences

Stephen L. Carter, a Bloomberg View columnist, is a professor of law at Yale University.

(Bloomberg View)

Suppose that GreatBigCo has a retail center in Carterville, and pays its employees slightly more than the minimum wage. Suddenly the minimum wage is doubled. If GreatBigCo decides to close its store and move elsewhere, has it committed a moral wrong against its employees?
Yes, I know, the company is obviously run by evil right-wing capitalist greed-heads who would pay workers pennies if they could. But that’s not what I’m asking. The question is whether GreatBigCo has a moral duty to remain in business in Carterville and pay the higher wage.
A lot of people would say yes. The ethical question, however, turns out to be one of considerable complexity. In ethics, rights and duties are correlatives. Therefore GreatBigCo has an ethical duty only to a person who holds a right against it. If GreatBigCo has a moral obligation to stay and pay, it’s because employees have a moral right to those jobs, and at a particular wage.