Civic Cocktail, a monthly get-together that mixes food, drink and public discussion, is never dull. This past Wednesday, it was especially lively because venture capitalist Nick Hanauer — the man largely responsible for Seattle’s new $15 minimum wage law – took center stage.
Interestingly, Civil Cocktail takes place at the Palace Ballroom, owned by famous Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas, who – to put it mildly – is NOT a fan of the $15 minimum. But that’s the kind of place Seattle is – a place where movers and shakers with radically different opinions can still allow each other lots of room to talk.
Per usual, Civic Cocktail started out with palette-pleasing Tom Douglas appetizers (complimentary with the $10 – $15 admission). Nearly a full-house lined up for savory lettuce-salmon rolls, as wait staff replenished and took away plates, and the bartenders kept the cash-bar line humming along.
It was fitting that Hanauer started out by referencing restaurant workers. Washington State wait staff are paid $9.32/hour plus tips vs. just $2.13 plus tips in other states. And our state minimum wage ($9.32) is already the nation’s highest. These higher pay rates haven’t hurt Seattle’s restaurant scene or our local economy, which was recently the fastest-growing in the nation, Hanauer pointed out. So why is $15 a good new minimum for Seattle? Said Hanauer: “It’s more or less between the $10.54 it would have been if it had tracked inflation nationally, and the $21.70 it would be if it tracked productivity gains nationally.”
Hanauer, a very successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist, went on to say that his motivation for championing a higher minimum wage is strictly economic. “Some people are motivated by fairness or compassion. Not me. I believe these two things: (1) That capitalism is better than any other system; and (2) The most inclusive economies work the best.” It’s hard to argue with that. Still…
How will things actually work out? Will a $15 min. wage mean skyrocketing prices and make Seattle more vulnerable to a downturn in our Amazon-fueled local economy? Or will the Emerald City thrive even more as an estimated quarter of the local workforce has more money to spend at local businesses?
Time will tell, as the $15 wage is slated to be phased in by 2021. Meanwhile, all America will be watching.
BTW: The next Civic Cocktail will be in early October. Check out Seattle CityClub for event listings and other ways to get involved in our community. All Civic Cocktail discussions are filmed and available on the Seattle Channel.