Thursday, September 14, 2006
Chicago’s City Council yesterday failed to override Mayor Richard Daley’s veto of a bill that would have required big-box retailers to pay an especially high minimum wage. It’s usually a bad idea, I often write, to try to impose other social values through land use laws. Why only big-box retailers? Because companies such as Wal-Mart and Target are wealthy and can afford a higher minimum wage? Well, why not big banks, big food companies, and big law firms? A clerk earning minimum wage in one of these big operations would be as deserving of a raise as a clerk who works in a big box.
Because the big box retailers are popular whipping boys in the current public debate? Now we’re betting closer to the truth. If the widespread critical rejection of the Supreme Court’s decision in Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas (1974) (town can discriminate against group houses in a college town) stands for the proposition that land use law shouldn’t “target” (pun possibly intended) one group simply because a lot of people don’t like them, shouldn’t this principle apply to big-box retailers? Land use and labor laws shouldn’t discriminate against big-box retailers simply because a lot of people (including vote-collecting politicians) simply don’t like them.
Another interesting twist to the Chicago story is that the retailers implied that if the ordinance were enacted, they would simply move new operations just over the city lines (indeed, Mayor Daley argued that such a step would especially hurt Chicago’s poorer black communities). I have no doubt that the retailers might have tried this. In the face of evidence such as this, why do some people still doubt the existence of competition among governmental jurisdictions to avoid regulation -– the so-called “race to bottom”?