The reaction of the local chamber and downtown merchants to a proposal to gradually raise Illinois’ minimum wage is as predictable as it is short-sighted. As always, the chamber is focused on increased costs, ignoring the economic benefits of putting more disposable income into the hands of more potential customers.

Let’s look to the wisdom of Henry Ford. More than 100 years ago, Ford scandalized the automotive world by more than doubling the prevailing wage in the industry. Why? Ford was no socialist, no bleeding heart liberal, no altruist. He wasn’t even a very nice human being. But he was a pragmatist.

He was investing his fortune on a new technology: assembly-line manufacturing, which would lower costs per unit and increase output exponentially. The one problem he foresaw was whether there would be enough potential consumers to make increased production profitable. Ford increased the wages of his workers basically to create consumers. The more people with disposable income, greater the chances they will buy your product.

While the chamber wrings its hands over the increased costs of better wages, it ignores the prospect of increased demand as more of its workers find they have a few extra bucks left over after meeting basic needs. Prosperity is not produced by a few having plenty, but by the many having enough.

Employers who can’t afford to pay a decent wage should probably find another way to make their own living. 

Gary Minich, Decatur

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