Bob Barr

Unemployment numbers in the District are significantly higher than neighboring counties in Virginia, especially among low-wage workers. Wal-Mart will take thousands of potential jobs, millions of dollars in tax revenue, and a source for inexpensive consumer goods should it pull out of D.C. Even if the company caves and agrees to pay the “living wage,” it will wind up increasing costs for local customers, who ultimately will pick up the regulation’s tab.

The LRAA is a classic example of local bureaucrats abusing their power to enact ordinances and zoning laws to manipulate the local economy for the benefit of political agendas -- not the benefit of the citizenry. It is a principle of Economics 101 that everybody loses whenever the government decides to pick market-place winners and losers. In this case, the biggest losers would not be Wal-Mart or the greedy politicians who occupy seats on the D.C. City Council, but rather jobless and low-income D.C. residents.

The collateral damage from the LRAA is already mounting. According to Victor L. Hoskins, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, three other retailers have canceled plans to open locations in the city because of the bill. Similarly, The Washington Post reports the bill may also interrupt redevelopment plans at other locations in the city. Whereas the avowed purpose of the measure was to prompt higher wages for hourly workers, the outcome will be the opposite, with thousands of unemployed resident left with fewer options to earn any wage.

Obviously, it matters little to the D.C. government that the notion of a “living wage” is entirely subjective (why stop at $12.50 per hour?). It also fails to register with D.C. Council members that the District itself does not even pay what it calls a “living wage.” Clearly, the LRAA is simply a hammer to try to force large, successful retailers like Wal-Mart to unionize, and a way to curry favor with voters by strong-arming higher wages from retailers.

All is not yet lost.  D.C. Mayor Gray might decide to veto the bill; or Congress may assert its constitutional authority over the District of Columbia and prevent the “living wage” measure from taking effect.  Even were it to go into effect, a court challenge based on obvious “equal protection” defects in the measure would probably kill it eventually.  Until then, residents of Washington, D.C. will continue to suffer under a government clearly deficient in both economic savvy and common sense.

Bob Barr

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.