Waging Battle

Proponents of a living-wage ordinance snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

In Dallas, there's at least one outspoken critic of the living-wage movement. W. Michael Cox, senior vice president and chief economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, has blasted such initiatives as a "growing cancer...sure to cause economic death." In a June 2000 Investor's Business Daily column, Cox argued that the cost of higher wages to business would hurt the least-skilled workers. "If government dictum replaces market reality, jobs will be lost, or never created in the first place," said the fierce free-market champion.

Others say tax credits would better help the poor, rather than wage hikes that push low-end workers off benefit programs and hurt businesses most likely to hire the unskilled. Still, debate among economists is now beside the point, at least in Dallas. (As many as 75 campaigns nationwide continue). Some bitterness remains, as well as the conspiratorial suspicion that some officials knew all along that the ordinance was a legal nonstarter. Chaney complains of being bested by an "invisible government" and compares himself to "a little mosquito fighting big elephants."

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