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EDITORIAL: We have $22! Do I hear $30?

Updated February 13, 2020 - 10:55 pm

The inevitable winnowing of the congested Democratic presidential field has accelerated. Following the New Hampshire primary, three lower-tier candidates — Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick — opted not to move on to the Nevada caucuses next week.

For the remaining long shots, it’s Hail Mary time. Take Tom Steyer, who has made little headway in the polls despite multimillion-dollar TV ad buys. As a result, the California billionaire has become increasingly desperate for media and voter attention.

That desperation was on full display Sunday when Mr. Steyer told a gathering in South Carolina that, if elected, he would advocate raising the federal minimum wage to $22 an hour. Take that, Bernie!

“Think about what this country would be like if we had a $22 minimum wage,” Mr. Steyer said, according to The Associated Press. “Completely different.”

Mr. Steyer didn’t offer any details about the proposal nor explain why he waited until February to go all-in on his Democratic rivals to capture the minimum wage pandering sweepstakes. He also didn’t offer an explanation for how he arrived at the magic figure of $22, which is well in excess of the $15 an hour that progressive activists demand. Why not just bump the wage floor to $75 an hour? Even low-skilled workers would become rich overnight!

One thing is certain: Mr. Steyer isn’t lying when he acknowledges his proposal would make the country “completely different.” The economic disruption he advocates would lead to widespread misery as the nation’s record low unemployment rate soars and millions of workers lose their jobs. In addition, Mr. Steyer’s plan would prompt the shuttering of thousands of small businesses and the evisceration of the restaurant and hospitality industries. Teens and young adults hoping to enter the lower rungs of the job market in order to develop the skills necessary for long-term success would be collateral damage.

The irony here is that Mr. Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager, passes himself off as a pragmatic businessman who can challenge President Donald Trump on his handling of the economy. Outlawing millions of jobs is hardly a recipe for prosperity.

Unfortunately for Mr. Steyer, his minimum wage gambit is unlikely to elevate his campaign above vanity status. The front-running Democrats have all advocated so much “free” stuff — health care, day care, college, a guaranteed income, student loan forgiveness, electric vehicles — that even a fanciful wage floor proposal seems paltry by comparison. Just like Mr. Steyer’s foundering run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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