Here is an example of a Socratic Questioning Dialogue. It is incomplete because the two participants, one of whom was in fact me, had to return to work but I think that it is a valid, albeit long winded, civil discussion that began to probe the reasons that advocates of a minimum wage have for so advocating and the possible offsets and reasons that the detractors might have. Had the discussion continued, it might have explored other ways that the beneficial effects of the minimum wage might have been accomplished or compromises that might have mitigated some of the unintended consequences of a minimum wage.
This dialogue occurred over the internet in a private thread in an internet forum over the course of a few hours with time for each participant to consider their questions and answers. This proved to be a very effective medium because there was time to consider and research answers and no pressure to blurt out an answer or follow-up question in front of a group. Additionally, there was a written record. I think that this format might be a superb way to conduct Socratic Questioning discussions in the future.
SOCRATIC QUESTIONING SCENARIO – MINIMUM WAGE
A minimum wage is needed to ensure that all workers earn enough money on which to live.
Q.How much is the minimum wage
A. $7.25 per hour.
Q.At $7.25 per hour then a full time worker makes $290.00 a week before taxes. Is that enough for a worker to live on?
A. Probably not but it can be supplemented by public assistance.
Q. So would it be fair to say that your assertion is imprecise and that it could better be phrased. “A minimum wage is needed to provide more money towards the living expenses of workers.”
NEW REDEFINED ASSERTION:
A minimum wage is needed to provide more money towards the living expenses of workers.
Q.Is it the government’s responsibility to ensure that all workers earn enough to live upon?
A. I think so.
Q. Why do you think so?
A. It is the government’s responsibility to protect us.
Q. From whom or what is it the government’s responsibility to protect us?
A, From misfortune, from greed , from passed down inequalities.
Q. On what do you base your belief that it is the government’s job to protect us from greed, misfortune and passed down inequalities?
A. On the fact that it is the last resort for many people?
Q. Could you be more specific, perhaps with an example?
A. If employers are greedy and keep more money than they need and the employees do not make enough then there is no one else except government to protect them from this greed.
Q. What happens if no one in government protects them?
A. They are victimized?
Q. How are they victimized?
A. By being forced by market conditions to accept whatever the employer wishes to pay?
Q. How are they forced by market conditions to accept employment from employers who pay less than they want or need?
A. There are no other alternatives.
Q. Why are there no other alternatives?
A. Because the employers want to keep as much money as possible.
Q. Can the worker start a business of his or her own?
Q. Usually not.
A. Why not usually?
Q. Because they do not have the job skills, or the business skills or the capital to start their own business.
Q. If they had the job skills or business skills could they perhaps get the capital to start a business?
Q. Can the workers go to an employer that pays more without the government setting a minimum wage?
A. They could if they had the skills and work history to merit more pay with another, better paying employer.
Q .So is it fair to say that the workers whom the government is protecting are underskilled or inexperienced workers in many cases?
A. Yes that is fair.
Q. Is it fair to say that your assertion is still somewhat imprecise and would be better asserted as A minimum wage is needed to provide more money towards the living expenses of workers who are often underskilled or inexperienced or are otherwise unfortunate or did not receive passed down wealth in the same degree as other workers?
A. Yes I suppose that is fair.
NEW REDEFINED ASSERTION:
A minimum wage is needed to provide more money towards the living expenses of workers who are often underskilled or inexperienced or are otherwise unfortunate or did not receive passed down wealth in the same degree as other workers?
Q. Is it fair to say that the reason that the employers will not pay this minimum wage on their own is because they do not find the workers skilled enough to help them make the level of profit that they want to make?
Q. And is it fair to say that the government is protecting the underskilled or inexperienced workers from the greed of the employer who refuses to pay them more ?
A. Yes that is fair to say
Q. What do you consider greed?
A. Wanting more than you need.
Q. Is it greedy to save money that you earn and don’t need right at that moment to live?
Q. Why isn’t it greedy?
A. Because you might need it later.
Q. So is it fair to say that you define greed as wanting to keep more money than you will ever need?
A. Yes that is fair.
Q. How do you know how much money you will possibly ever need?
A. I don’t know.
Q. Fair enough, how about how much money your family will ever need?
A. I guess you would have to determine the average need.
Q. The average need for what?
A. The average need to remain alive and healthy.
Q. How is that average need determined?
A. By averaging all needs of all people together and dividing by the number of people.
Q. So some people will have much greater needs than others?
A. Greater at least.
Q. What needs might be greater for some than for others?
A. Healthcare, educational needs, perhaps housing if some people did not inherit housing, perhaps transportation if there is not viable public transportation.
Q. Does the minimum wage vary according to the needs of the wage earner?
Q. Then how does the same wage address the varying needs of the various wage earners?
A. It doesn’t. It provides a basis based on averages.
Q. So the needs are met in greater part for some workers by means of the minimum wage than for other workers?
A. Yes. I would say so.
Q. So is it fair to say that the minimum wage protects all workers to some degree by forcing greedy employers to give up more of their retained profits but not all workers equally?
A. Yes that is a fair statement.
Q. How much does the employer need?
A. Enough to live on.
Q. Only enough to live on?
Q, Does the employer need money to eventually replace his machinery or repair his place of business.
A. yes, I suppose so.
Q. So that money retained by an employer is not greed as it is a future need?
A. Probably not.
Q. Does the employer need money to modernize his/her business?
A. Yes, likely so.
Q. Does the employer need money to withstand a downturn in business?
Q. Where does this money to replace, repair, modernize and endure come from?
A. Company profits.
Q. So money that an employer needs must come from the profits left over after all the employees and other expenses are paid?
Q. If people loan the employer money to modernize, repair, replace or endure hard times do they need to be paid back and paid interest on their loan?
Q. So if the money that the employer needs to pay repair, replace, modernize, endure lean times, and pay back loans comes from profits then it is not greedy to try to make the profits large enough to cover all those needs?
Q. Do all businesses have the exact same needs?
A. No, not likely
Q. So is it fair to say that the minimum wage is meant to protect all workers of a certain lower skill or experience level to some degree but not to the same degree?
A. Yes it is fair to say.
Q. Is it also fair to say that the minimum wage is set to protect the same workers, to varying degrees, from the greed of employers and that that greed is defined as wanting to keep more of their profits than they will ever need?
Q. What if the minimum wage was greater than the employer could pay and still retain enough gross profit to pay for repair, replacement, modernization and repay debts and interest? What should the employer do?
A. Either raise prices for his/her goods or services or go out of business.
Q. If the employer raised prices would the workers at some point be affected by that price increase?
Q. If the minimum wage workers were affected by that price increase would that offset the good done by the forced minimum wage increase?
A. Maybe but probably not to the same degree as the good done by the increased wage.
Q, Is it fair then to say that the increase in the minimum wage which is applied uniformly affects workers whose needs vary and businesses whose needs vary to varying degrees and that sometimes that effect offsets some of the gain to the workers by increasing prices in the market?
Q. yes that is fair to say.
Q. You mentioned that a business could go out of business if it could not make enough profit to meet all it’s future needs after an increase in the minimum wage, correct?
Q. Does the business going out of business protect the workers from low wages?
A. Not directly.
Q. Does it adversely affect some workers?
A. Yes it could.
Q. Is it fair to say that in the cases of those businesses that must increase prices or go out of business that there is sometimes an adverse offset to those that the government meant to protect even though it is not necessarily directly proportional to the advantage in wages that a minimum wage creates?
A. I suppose so.
Q. Does the business going out of business adversely affect other workers?
A. Yes, likely so
Q. How might it adversely affect other workers who are not minimum wage earners?
A. Well they might lose their jobs or there might be an increase in the supply of labor due to the businesses that closed and therefore they might not have as much leverage in being promoted or retaining their jobs.
Q. Would business raising their price possibly affect workers other than the minimum wage workers?
Q. How would that affect them?
A. They would have to pay more for goods and services.
Q. So is it fair to say that the minimum wage, while providing a greater minimum income for some unskilled, underskilled and/or less experienced workers also can increase some costs for all workers, force business closures and cost some workers their jobs, and create an increased supply of those workers and cause a decrease in wages due to that increased supply?
A. Well that could be said but it should be added that I think that the increased wages for some workers of lesser skill and experience levels more than offsets the higher prices , lost jobs and lowered wages for other jobs created by the increased competition due to displaced workers.
Q. Noted. In what ways does the minimum wage offset the aforementioned higher prices for everyone and loss of jobs?
A. It allows more people just starting out to enter the job market and support themselves and their families if they have one.
Q. Did we establish that $290.00 a week is not necessarily enough to support themselves?
A. Yes we did
Q. Could we change your statement to read that you believe that , the increased wages for some workers of lesser skill and experience levels more than offsets the higher prices , lost jobs and lowered wages for other jobs created by the increased competition due to displaced workers although it likely is not enough to allow them to support themselves just on it’s own?
A. Yes, that sounds correct.
Q. Are employers bound by law to pay at least minimum wage to all workers?
A. No, but they are to most of them.
Q. Which workers do not have to be paid minimum wage?
A. Full-time students who work 20 hours or less per week during the time school is in session, some workers under 20 years old for the first 90 days, tipped employees providing that their tips bring their wage above the minimum wage amount, employees with disabilities if they get a certificate verifying that their disability impairs their productivity, and volunteers and unpaid interns. Some farm laborers.
Q. Why are these exceptions made to the minimum wage for full time students.
A, Full time students probably to encourage hiring students that need supplemental income but are not as flexible for work schedules and who will not likely be staying at the job beyond their term of study.
Q. Why would it matter to the employer if the student was not staying on the job after his/her term of study?
A. Because the employer usually wants to retain workers who gain valuable job knowledge and skills that make his/her business more productive.
Q. So would you say that an employer would rather pay $7.25 to a worker that was possibly going to stay longer than a student’s term of study than to a student that was not going to stay with the employer beyond his/her term of study?
A. Yes, I would.
Q. So would it be fair to say that one of the reasons full time students are exempted in part from minimum wage is that employers might otherwise no temploy them if they had to pay them the same as a non student who might be retained for longer?
A. Yes I would.
Q. You said that students might not be as flexible in their work schedules. Do you mean as flexible as non-students?
Q. So is it fair to say that employers might find it better for their business to not employ full time students if they had to pay minimum wage to them.
Q. Is there a set amount below minimum wage that an employer must pay to full time students and if so how much is it?
A. $4.25 per hour
Q. So now if an employer has the choice between getting a non-student who is better for the business for $7.25 per hour or a full time student who will be less flexible and more likely to leave at the end of his/her term of study he has been incentivized to opt for the student over the non student by the minimum wage difference?
A. That is probably true.
Q. How does this protect the non student worker who may have to support himself or his family?
A. I don’t know
Q. How does this benefit the employer as before he could have gotten the best employ for the position without regard to government minimum ?
A. It probably does not.
Q. You said that employees with disabilities that affect their work output are exempt from the minimum wage.
yes, in documented cases.