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In opposing Ontario's increase in the minimum wage, Peter Reesor CEO of the Owen Sound Chamber of Commerce compares the economy to a Formula One race car. Well if this economy is a race car, it's missing on more than some of its cylinders.

Over 200,000 good manufacturing jobs have gone AWOL in Ontario since the Great Recession. Since NAFTA, 94% of jobs created are part time and precarious. Our economy is floating on the debt of Canadian families – the highest in the G7. Our working-age poverty is third from the bottom of 17 OECD countries. Visits to the food banks in Grey Bruce went up 92% between 2013-15.

If we're in a race, it's a race to the bottom. Is that a race we want to win?

Mr Reesor's point is that the economy is a complex thing – you switch out a part and you might blow the engine. In other words, it's too complex to change. This sounds too much like the too-big-to-fail argument we all heard the last time the economy blew a gasket.

So, the Chamber asks us to trust them, and the economists with the complex computer models that track all the moving parts. They know what's best for us, even if we don't ... even if we know you can't live on $11.40 an hour.

Well economic models aren't perfect. The algorithms carry the biases and assumptions of the modellers. Just ask Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve and arguably the architect of the Great Recession of 2008. A member of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform did ask him that very question and Greenspan said: "Yes, I found a flaw in the model that I perceived as the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works." And what did he miss? "Animal spirits" he said later.

If you look at the evidence, you'll find that seven decades of research in the US shows ramping up the minimum wage does not increase unemployment or depress economic growth. Alberta is in the midst of raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour and that province is, once again, leading the rest of us in economic growth. Fifty-three economists in Canada have voiced their support for raising Ontario's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Shoving aside all that evidence is like saying that 95% of climate scientists are wrong and that global warming isn't happening, even as buildings sink into melting permafrost in Inuvik.

But put aside the evidence and ask yourself, 'Is it really a good business plan when its success depends on keeping its employees in poverty?' I've got no beef with the Owen Sound Chamber of Commerce. In fact, I admire their thinking about economic development in the region. But, on this, their view of reality is too narrow.

Reality is only constrained by the inability to imagine a better world. After the Great Depression was finally over, President Roosevelt proposed an economic bill of rights. Its articles included, "the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation, and the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation."

In other words, the right to a living wage.

David McLaren

Neyashingaming

David McLaren is the author of the Peace & Justice Report on Precarious Work which surveys research that shows paying a living wage pays economic and social dividends.

 

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