The world has lost a giant today. A political strategist of the highest intellectual caliber, he is survived by three children, including current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (who I have had the honor to meet), seven grandchildren, and the proud and prosperous island nation he founded, cultivated, and governed.
To all my Singaporean friends, colleagues, teachers, and leaders whom I have had the privilege to serve, learn, teach, research, organize, and bond over a meal or drink with, I offer my deepest heartfelt grief, sadness, and respects on the passing of your nation’s founder, Minster Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
Minister Lee was an iconoclast with a vision to turn a small, poor, vulnerable and recently occupied island into an economic powerhouse with respect for the rule of law, gender equality, religious tolerance, and ethnic harmony.
While there will always be debate about his means–he used both carrot and stick to bring and retain power, authority, and order–there can be little reasonable debate about the ends. While there is a wealth gap (as there is in the country where I write this and almost everywhere else in the world), and an odd clause in our countries’ bilateral free trade agreement requiring Singapore to legalize chewing gum for “medicinal” purposes, where once were a collection of sleepy undeveloped villages–like the ones that remain today in nearby countries which are presently embroiled in political and religious conflict and with even more pervasive economic troubles–today is a multi-cultured cosmopolitan metropolis where CEOs of banks pick up their chicken rice from the same stall as the migrant workers who built your city-state at a wage (albeit with unequal bargaining power) they negotiated. Literacy is high (in multiple languages) and distributed without discrimination. The government is transparent and is quickly responsive to its citizens (though they encourage them to voice their grievances in a rather controlled and courteous manner suspicious to those in some other wealthy, stable nations).
Though he has left this world, he has left Singapore with a hugely gifted, talented, and potentially more liberal son in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Under his stewardship, I am certain investors, nations, foreign talent, and all of Singaporeans can look forward to continued stability, prosperity, and the always achingly slow, but inevitable evolution toward liberalization of civil and political human rights.
As the only lawyer (that I know of) practicing in Florida with a law degree from the National University of Singapore (LL.M. in International and Comparative Law) I will continue to advocate Floridians to invest in a Singapore that invested in me.
It is Singapore that allied with the United States during the cold war, is our partner in free trade, uses much of its huge Sovereign Wealth Fund to invest in the United States and its partner countries and in return encourages U.S. foreign investment by offering low (sometimes no) tax rates on income earned in Singapore.
Very importantly, Singapore kindly provides a safe harbor and home to the U.S. Navy’s sailors and ships of the 7th Naval Fleet.
With love, friendship, and respect,
Richard Junnier, Esq. (NUS Alumni, 2009 cohort)
In celebration of Labor Day, I turned down the invitation for the family barbecue to instead engage in something really fun–create a comparative analysis of minimum wages throughout the World.
This is a very difficult task.
First, the laws establishing minimum wages vary wildly.
In the United States, in accordance with its Commerce Clause authority, Congress has established a national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
There are exceptions.
If the worker lives in the U.S. Territory of American Samoa the minimum wage vacillates between $4 and $5.50 depending upon the industry. In the Northern Mariana Islands it is a flat $5.55 until it is incrementally raised to $7.25 in 2018. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, what employers pay is based upon the businesses’ yearly income–allowing firms which make less than $150,000 to pay a lower wage.
Washington D.C., which is controlled under federal jurisdiction, also gets special treatment–its minimum wage is $9.50 with a statutory increase to $11.50 by 2016. For those who are unfamiliar with D.C. lawmaking, under Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution as effectuated through the Home Rule Act, Congress can veto any Act of the D.C. City Council. The practical upshot is this: Congress allowed a substantially higher minimum wage for where they spend most of their time than they did for their home states.
I guess they care more about the financial well-being of D.C. citizens than that of their own constituents.
Also, as anyone who has ever been to a restaurant in the United States knows, tip-based jobs enjoy a considerably lower statutory minimum wage ($2.13) and while if they ultimately make less than $7.25 per hour including tips, the law requires businesses to make up the difference–in practice, many will not.
Far lesser known is a provision of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which allows employers to pay youth (anyone under 20) only $4.25 for their first 90 days of labor.
So much for Billy raking in the big bucks of “adult” minimum wage during his first summer job.
This is where it can get fun.
Each state also has the option of insisting upon a higher minimum wage.
Three out four of Arizona’s U.S. House delegation voted “no” to raising the federal minimum wage to $7.25, explaining that it would kill job growth in Arizona. At the same time, the Arizona Legislature raised the Arizona minimum wage to $7.90!
Similarly, while both Republican House members from Nevada voted “no;” Nevada itself voted “yes,” to have a minimum wage one dollar higher than whatever the federal minimum wage might be.
Connecticut, meanwhile, was the first state, now among many, to heed President Obama’s call and enact a $10.10 minimum wage effective 2017.
*** An aside ***
Many argue that minimum wages hinder economic growth.
The political argument (as opposed to the academic and philosophical ones which allow for nuance, case studies, and Game Theory), which ignores that almost all firms try to grow and expand at all times, is that employers, already experiencing a recession, will be less likely to hire more workers or keep the ones they have due to added expense.
The counter-political argument, which involves screaming and crying but I believe to be correct (because it’s founded upon principles which have been empirically verified through multiple cross-cultural multivariable longitudinal studies on the interplay between modest and gradual minimum wage increases and their interrelating effect, incorporating the “Lipsey-Lancaster Theory of the Second Best” in the results, on employment rates, inflation, the Gini index, and the relevant populations’ subjective perceptions of prosperity, fairness, and standard of living–endearingly called “the Happiness index”) is this: “No it doesn’t you heartless jerk.”
For more compelling arguments favoring a raise in the minimum wage, you can visit the FAQ page of the U.S. Labor Department here.
For the argument that there would be a slight decrease in employment, (0.3%) accompanied by a reduction in the U.S. Gini index score (the Gini index measures the disparity between the rich and poor) you can visit the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s analysis here.
Rather than risk loosing readers by directly making an argument through mathematical and law and economics formulas, I will instead recite a more entertaining and sardonic, though intellectually dishonest, argument:
Let’s assume that minimum wages hinder economic growth:
Perhaps that is why the following states with no statutory minimum wages are beacons of industrial commerce and sophisticated opulence: Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Meanwhile, states with higher minimum wages are depressed jobless gutters without a hint of glamour: California (it’s GDP is higher than that of the whole of India), Connecticut (it has the highest per capita personal income in the country), Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
Even Florida voters took a break from passing evermore permissive gun laws to enact a higher minimum wage.
(The reason the above argument through cherry-picked examples meant to appeal to your emotions and humor is intellectually dishonest is because correlation does not prove causation. A fun way to remember this logical fallacy is through its seminal study involving bars and churches: It turns out that the more churches a city will have, the more bars it will also have. Does religion foster drinking? Does drinking drive one to seek God? No, there is a third variable–the greater the population of a city, the more bars and churches it will have. Now, that I have explained this heuristic fully, for the sake of glib entertainment, we shall completely ignore it in the future.)
*** End of Aside ***
Of course there is one industry that exempts itself entirely from the minimum wage–politics. “Volunteers” are not merely asked to donate their labor for free, but substantial financial contributions are also encouraged.
Making it more complicated, cities can also get into the action. Seattle just decided to raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2008. Studies from Berkeley economists conclude that there will be no impact at all on employment rates, though prices when dining out might increase by seven percent.
(So for every hour worked, a Seattle laborer can afford one “short” coffee.)
Though that won’t be enough to make a Luxembourger jealous.
Luxembourg currently uses a tiered system which culminates with the highest national minimum wage in the world–$17.48 per hour for skilled workers ($14.56 for unskilled workers) above the age 19. The wage plummets to a mere $10.92 if you are a 15 year-old unskilled worker.
In other words: a person in Alabama who works 40 hours per week, every week, with no vacation or getting sick, at minimum wage, gets $15,080 whatever their age or skill-level. In Luxembourg, the floor for a pimply child who can’t read is $22,685.04 annually.
If you are at least twenty and have a degree, that amount swells above $30,000 a year–double that of an American and almost matching the per capita personal income of all workers in Idaho.
Expressed through words rather than statistics, this means that those considered the poorest of the poor adult skilled workers of a tiny country in north Europe make near the same as the average person in Idaho whatever his or her age, knowledge, skills, and ability.
This is the current state of the Luxembourg economy: According to the World Bank, the 2013 GDP per capita for Luxembourgers is $111,162.
For the United States it is less than half that at $53,143.
(Since this is a “travel law” blog, I’ll quickly note that Luxembourg is wonderful. There is an enchanting steep gorge which protects miles of subterranean and mountainside tunnels–called the Bock Casemates–used during World War II which you can explore virtually alone for hours. The vast National Museum of Military History in Diekirch warehouses dozens upon dozens of tanks and life-sized battle displays. Admission is 5 Euro. Afterward, enjoy a locally brewed “Diekirch beer” (one of the world’s best and most rarely exported pilsners) at the rustic village’s best Restaurant Lounge Bar Bel Mondo. Finally, if you want to try to meet the flashy but friendly Cuban-born Grand Duchess, make the rounds at the very few Cuban-themed bars in Luxembourg City–she used to hang out frequently at “Cuba Libre,” across the cobblestone square from her palace, but I understand that it has sadly closed since my last visit.)
So far we have assumed that money is worth the same everywhere.
On average, milk costs about $1 per liter in the United States. That’s a bargain if you live in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the price is nearly twice that; just right if you live in Grand Forks, North Dakota; and downright pricey for Eugene, Oregon where prices are 10% lower. In Los Angles–the nearest city to the dairy condensing plant at Artesia, owned by California Dairies Inc., which provides 43% of California’s milk and 9% of the nation’s milk–a liter costs $1.03.
That’s just in the United States.
Thrifty that I am I have never booked a room in New York City or London for less than $100. Meanwhile, my rooms in Fez and Marrakech, Morocco were $6 and $4 respectively. I once spent $2 (split with a friend) for a perfectly acceptable air conditioned room in a Bolivian mountain village. I even paid a street vendor there with a coin worth one cent for a small bag of popcorn and got several more coins back in change.
An hour long full body massage is about a $125 on a cruise through the Caribbean, $1 on a remote beach in Bali (preformed as a charity exercise by blind monks), $5 on Koh San Road (a Swedish massage, a few miles away, complete with oils, incense, and ambient music at the splashy Bangkok Mandarin Oriental is also only $90), or $10 in an, anywhere outside of Istanbul, Turkish hammam.
As the United States looks to see which experiments with minimum wages work and don’t it has plenary of, albeit, very diversely circumstanced, case studies to review.
To effectively divine any meaning from sundry minimum wages you must consider the comparative purchasing power of what the foreign wage offers to the laborer where he lives. This is done through a purchasing power parity analysis.
So, when Bloomberg News says “real hourly wage” it does not refer to the statutory rate, but the rate’s purchasing power parity as converted into U.S. dollars. So, after that calculation, in 2013, the countries with the ten highest minimum hourly wages are (though not all sources agree ): Luxembourg ($10.66), France ($10.60), Australia ($10.21), Belgium ($9.97), the Netherlands ($9.48), Ireland ($9.01), New Zealand ($8.62), the United Kingdom ($7.88), Canada ($7.85), and sneaking in at number ten, the United States ($7.11).
(To be thorough, the numbers above are lower or higher than the actual statutory wages due to a higher or lower cost of living in those countries compared with that of the United States.)
Those results might not be totally horrible excepting two considerations.
Each of those other countries offers free universal health care.
Also, not only does the insured pimply illiterate kid from Luxembourg get paid 8K more than our minimum wage workers–he also receives five weeks of paid vacation each year.
Most industrialized countries (and also most non-industrial countries) have minimum wage statutes which also require a minimum number of paid days off.
There is (arguably) a systemic economic benefit from this. Chronically unemployed workers are able to obtain temporary work when Holger takes that long-planned six week vacation to Miami! Some firms also hire additional permanent personnel to accommodate its known needs when employees go on holiday.
In Luxembourg, it is a flat 25 days minimum whoever you are. Many other countries have a graduated scale based upon the number of days you work in a week, your occupational sector or status, your age or your seniority with a particular firm or your years working generally–or a confounding multiplicity of those factors requiring the use of tax forms, a certified medium, and a graphing calculator to understand.
The Bahamas gives you 14 days after your first year and 21 days after your fifth. The Dominican Republic is more stingy by offering only 20 vacation days after your fifth year of employment. Argentina’s schedule is based upon seniority going from 2 weeks to 5 weeks after your twentieth working year.
I heard a rumor that someone has even found work in Venezuela. I’m not sure if I believe it, but if it is true, he or she is legally entitled to a minimum of 20 days off a year with an extra day for each year of work–up to 30 days. (Though good luck enforcing it.)
The minimum for the European Union is four weeks, but many of the member states laugh at such a miserly holiday schedule. Finland and France each require 5 weeks while England and Hungary max out at 28 days and 37 days respectively. Hungary’s tabulation is based upon workers’ ages and the number of children they have.
In Canada, they control it at the provincial level. Most provinces require 10 paid days off a year while wanderlust Saskatchewanians insist on having 15.
The Mediterranean island of Malta does it by the hour–192.
In some countries it matters what sector you work in. The U.S. encourages collegiate hard-science majors with scholarships and debt restructurings–Estonia (which now ranks 9th in the world for science education) requires all of its scientists to get 52 vacation days a year. In Switzerland, public sector employees get an additional week beyond those dedicated to private enterprise.
At least two countries emphasize its value of manual labor. In Australia, lower-paid service industry jobs are typically rewarded with 5 paid weeks of vacation while white-collar workers get 4 weeks. In Singapore–which otherwise has no minimum wage–grants its laborers (excepting “domestic workers”) 7 to 14 days but there are 0 guarantied days for management and executives.
(I imagine that they give themselves the time they need though).
Vietnam and Thailand mandate that sweatshop workers–yes, sweatshop workers–get respectively 10 days and 6 days of paid leave each year.
The United States guarantees its workers zero.
Our minimum wages are miserly. We must purchase our own medical insurance. Those who work physically hardest–the career fast food and box store employee, sweaty landscapers and agricultural workers–will likely never get a paid day off.
America, happy Labor Day.
In November of 2012 I was invited to the White House as part of a Florida Leadership Work Group. Our task was to discuss and organize grassroots opposition to the Sequester, the Fiscal Cliff, and the impending federal debt default. I will not bore you about the discussion, what we organized, or about ultimate success during a surreal moment of political-economic history. Instead, I thought I would share what it is like to be asked to the White House as a political advocate.
The Invitation is by email.
It is in a forwarded email actually–transitionally sent through someone more important than the ultimate recipient–which requests that an RSVP be made to a third-person, who is also more important. The ultimate invitation is signed by yet a fourth person of consequence, on behalf of his boss who is so consequential she doesn’t even send her own emails. It is she who will be the host and President’s representative at the meeting.
At the time, I was Leon County’s DEC chief, and my invitation was sent courtesy of the Vice Chair of the Florida Democratic Party. I was requested to respond to the ex-director of the President’s Florida Campaign (who was the organizer of the event) and the actual invitation was from the White House Office of Public Engagement. Our host would be Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President of the United States.
Yes, it was impersonal; yes, the date was unfeasible, (the meeting was scheduled for the Monday after Thanksgiving, which was only a few days away); yes, there was a dress code problem (I was visiting family in south Florida and my suits were in Tallahassee)–never-the-less, after rereading the email several times trying to discern whether it might be a prank or I might be misunderstanding something–I excitedly picked up the phone to friends and family: “I’ve been invited to the White House!”
“White House” really means the Eisenhower Executive Building.
“White House,” it turned out, unless you are an ambassador, cabinet member, or medal of honor recipient–means “Eisenhower Executive Building.” They do not tell you this in the invitation or the numerous follow-up emails and conference calls until you are in Washington. (Perhaps an invitation to “White House adjacent” would be less inspiring in getting guests to ditch their families during a holiday and travel last minute at great personal expense to discuss economics with policy wonks.)
Any suggestion, even if done with humor, that the Eisenhower Executive Building is not the White House, will be met with aggressive dissent by staffers who work at the Eisenhower Executive Building but apparently explain to friends and family that they work at the White House.
Indeed, the Presidential standard and crests are everywhere. Our huge meeting room, decorated with photos of more important people in more important meeting rooms, even came stocked with the obligatory dark blue curtain for press conferences and podium, each marked with the White House’s official crest. Our invitation, the agenda, the souvenir “thank you” note casually signed “Barack Obama,” every stick of stationary proudly reads: “The White House.” A high-school projector at the fore illuminates the opening slide with “Welcome to the White House.” A similar greeting awaited at the double-oak door in the form of a large sign accompanying a buoying voice from a government employee.
The signage is necessary.
Like many of our most-protected buildings, the publicly-apparent security apparatus of the EEB is designed primarily to keep unauthorized people out. There are multiple outer-compound checkpoints guarded by very serious, but extremely polite, police and Secret Service. (I suppose politeness is a prerequisite since they know your experience with them is immediately followed by a meeting with a head of government.) But once you are in, you are in. You have a bright green “V” pass and, as long as you don’t do something objectively stupid like open a door marked “National Security Agency Only,” you pretty much have free reign over the place, and aside from subtle markings like “Presidential Council of Economic Advisors” or “Remote Nuclear Command” everything on every floor looks the same.
Getting lost, I had to ask someone who clearly had Jack Bauer’s job to show me to the bathroom. (He was super-nice about it; I swear everyone who works at the EEB must have been sent for customer service training at the Ritz Carlton.)
Before the White House asks for your advice; you are sent to their partisan think-tank to be told what your advice will be.
When you are invited to the White House as part of an issue-specific problem work group, before the “discussion,” you are first diverted for hours of seminars and lectures at their public policy think-tank. They tell you that you are there for lunch, but its really more like accepting the free Disney weekend invitation from a timeshare realtor. It’s not “mandatory,” but seeing as they physically walk you from their downtown building to the EEB Secret Service check-in station, attendance is “highly encouraged.”
The lunch itself was buffet–sandwiches, fruit, salad, fancy lemon water–the sort of nightmare scenario that keeps tea-partiers awake when Fox tells them that the First Lady is conspiring to take over the cafeterias of public schools. I think Michael Bloomberg catered.
The lectures and seminars were presented by some of the top intellectuals in taxation and economics, and since I have relevant post-graduate degrees in what they were explaining, I was very entertained as I watched political operatives try to argue and object to peer-reviewed empirical information. After silently laughing for two hours, in an effort to be productive, I began asking friendly leading questions so the experts were able to connect to the operatives in a language they could understand. I’m a little ashamed to admit that there were a few people in the room who apparently didn’t know such basic things as the difference between “debt” and a “deficit.” The reader might not know either, but the reader probably wasn’t asked to advise the Obama administration on economic matters during a national crisis.
With school over, we were escorted the half mile to the conspicuously guarded entrance to the White House-EEB Complex.
You are divided into geographically overlapping groups, told to disclose your political resources, and collectively come up with a plan.
I was a part of the north Florida group which consisted of two representatives from Jacksonville (an influential banker and the director of the Jacksonville Field Office, I think), the Chair of the Franklin County DEC (representing rural counties), and a God of north Florida fundraising (representing the 2nd Congressional District), and myself. For those who care about such things, of the three women and two men, two were African-American and three were Caucasian, with one representing the GLBTA Community.
To begin, there were warm-up, team-building, nonsense exercises reminiscent of mandatory corporate retreats–where there is a lovely park or golf course but you cannot go because you are too busy falling backward into a colleague you wouldn’t trust to refrain from stabbing you in the back let alone catch you.
Time passed. Once we came up with our plan, we presented it to the group at large for comments and suggestions. Then we listened to the other plans and made comments and suggestions. A part of the plan required the participation of elected officials who, theoretically–very theoretically–would listen to me as the Chair of (and chief fundraiser for) their county’s political executive committee.
This gave rise to the most fun series of phone calls I have ever made in my life.
“Hi, this is Richard. I’m calling from the White House.”
Generally, I don’t have difficultly getting a local or regional elected official to take my call. If they’re very busy they might call back in a few hours or text me that they’re in the middle of something.
But there is a unique urgency implied when you leave a message on their cell phone–or even more fun–with their assistant, that you:
- are calling from the White House;
- after an hours long meeting helmed by the President’s chief advisor; and
- the Leader of the whole freaking Free World, the most powerful person on Earth, a human being so exalted and important that hundreds of people are trained for the full-time employment of dying for him if necessary–he, the President of the United States, is tasking YOU with an assignment.
Public meetings were disrupted, private meetings were abruptly ended, at one point I had a majority of a local commission returning my call at the same time.
Influence and access has never been something I have cared much about, aside from how it effects my ability to advocate, but I have to admit, this was about the most fun you can have while wearing a suit. To add to the ambiance, as I made the calls, I was energetically pacing the outside halls.
It was all very “West Wing.”
Follow-up Meetings and Status Sessions were done telephonically.
Obviously the response I got from various leaders is of the deepest confidentiality, but I think its important to make one broad note: The most accommodating, unhesitating, and helpful, leaders–by far–were those publicly perceived as being very conservative. They made no demands, no nuance, and no complaints. They did their work quietly. They were successful. They asked for no credit.
Perhaps it was because they were retired military, merely out of habit, unconditionally heeding the call to action from the Commander-in-chief.