I have the good fortune of living in Seattle, which is still being featured in newspapers around the world for Mayor Ed Murray’s $15 minimum wage plan. I’ve already spoken in this space about the minimum wage and the consequences of that increase to the city – so I will try not to dive too far down that hole again. However, I do want to use the plan as a launching pad to start a bigger conversation about the importance of thinking long-term as we attempt to build a better tomorrow. Reacting is a lot of fun. You can get outraged over some event and rant about it on social media channels and go join a spirited protest and sign several petitions and get a high from all that perceived accomplishment. I’d venture to argue, however, that reacting is seldom as helpful as we like to think it is at the time, nor is it a completely harmless exercise. After the devastating attacks on 11 September, it made a lot of people in this country and around the world feel a lot better to rush into war against those we held responsible. However (and hindsight is 20/20) in our reactionist zeal we largely failed to comprehend the implications of undertaking that effort without solid goals or a solid exit plan. Going back to Seattle, we can certainly see that there is a problem in the city: too many people (particularly minorities) are unable to sustain life in a city that is growing more expensive faster than their wages have increased. The ‘easy’ solution, the reactionary solution, is to immediately start calling out for a rapid increase in the minimum wage across the city. The idea of earning $15 an hour is a particularly exciting one for those who low-wage earners who you were trying to help, so
it would like be received with hefty public appeal and pushed forward. Unfortunately, however (and in a lot of ways regardless of the time frame allowed for firms to implement the higher wage) there could be several unintended consequences in the long term — firms could be forced to close or exit the area, particularly smaller ones. Minority employees who were performing undesirable jobs for low wages could also be pushed out of their jobs by a pool of individuals now tempted by the higher earning potential. I’m not necessarily predicting that these things will happen, but I do get a sense that we may have allowed ourselves to jump a little bit too quickly, before we were sure exactly how deep the water was. Of course, it is also important to note that a lot of the consequences of our actions in the long term are difficult (if not impossible) to predict. All I’m asking is that a tone of greater deliberation and concern be invoked in future debates. Let’s try to be less reactionary and more visionary.