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As others see it: Better ways to boost wages

With Minnesota House members back in session and debating raising the minimum wage, the lawmakers’ interns are doing some of the work. ...

But as the interns go about this researching, drafting and writing, some of it in support of raising the minimum wage, they’ll be doing so while getting wages that are considerably less than the minimum. Their wages are zero. Interns don’t get a cent. ...

Given that the Minnesota Senate calls its internships an “education program” that students undertake for college credit, it seems likely Senate interns go unpaid, too.

The point here is not that the legislative interns should be paid. Unpaid internships give students valuable experience, exactly as promised. That’s why the programs consistently get more applications than there are positions available.

Instead, the point simply is this: Why are lawmakers debating a costly mandate for private industry — namely, raising the minimum wage — while refusing to take on the same burden? The answer seems obvious. And it presents in microcosm all of the arguments against mandating a big and sudden increase in the minimum wage: Because lawmakers don’t have to pay; as mentioned, they get plenty of qualified applicants who’ll volunteer. Because lots of interns are needed to fully staff and support a legislative session. And because if lawmakers were forced to pay the big expense, it would mean they’d have to hire many fewer interns.

That would benefit the paid interns while hurting all the others, by robbing those unlucky others of meaningful and personally beneficial work.

As North Dakota’s experience has shown, the best way to boost wages is to unleash the economy to create jobs. The second-best way probably is to subsidize wages through bipartisan programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. The worst way is simply to command that wages rise and then expect whole industries and workforces to cope.

That’s such an obviously counterproductive method that lawmakers aren’t even willing to impose it on themselves.