Dispatches > The Buzz
- The federal government posted a record surplus for the budget year that ended in September, collecting $237 billion more from taxpayers than it needed to pay its expenses. It is the third straight year of surpluses. Washington extracts more from the economy today than at any time since World War II. It siphons about 20 percent of the nation's gross domestic product through taxes on income, capital gains, gasoline, and so forth. Social Security taxes alone provided nearly $150 billion of the overtaxation.
- If it's a good thing to make it illegal to pay unskilled workers less than $5.15 an hour, why not $11 an hour, or $12 without benefits? Why not? answered the city fathers of Santa Cruz, Calif., who last week mandated a "living wage." This laughably inflationary minimum wage is the highest in the country, in a city already regarded as the second least-affordable in the nation. While the plan would at first only cover full-time city workers or companies with city contracts, it shows the growth in so-called living wage ordinances. About 50 others are on the books nationwide and their popularity is growing-even though they end up hurting the very people they purport to help. Many companies will forgo business with cities rather than increase labor costs. If the cost of entry-level workers goes up, businesses are less likely to hire them. This hits especially hard temporary and part-time positions, which make up the bulk of minimum-wage jobs. People who make $5.15 an hour are typically looking for experience or extra money, not a "living wage." According to the DC-based Employment Practices Institute (EPI), nearly seven of 10 minimum-wage earners live with relatives or have a working spouse. The group argues that higher minimum wages and living wage laws push unskilled workers toward welfare.
- In a surprising move, a committee of scholars has ruled that the study of intelligent design is a legitimate academic inquiry. The committee was set up to evaluate the work of the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University. Baylor president Robert Sloan established the Polanyi Center a year ago, sparking widespread opposition among faculty members who favor evolution. Last April, the faculty senate requested that the center be disbanded; Mr. Sloan responded by organizing an independent review committee to advise the university. Last week, the committee recommended that the center continue operating because intelligent design has a "legitimate claim to a place in the current discussions of the relations of religion and the sciences." Center Director William Dembski issued a press release announcing the triumph of academic freedom. "Dogmatic opponents of design," he said, "have met their Waterloo." Taking offense at the celebratory tone of the press release, dissenting faculty members reacted swiftly, and two days later the Baylor administration took away Mr. Dembski's directorship. He'll continue research and writing as an associate professor.