Beer, Justice|and the Minimum Wage

     The minimum wage-earner in the United States today is no better off than the English working man of 500 years ago, under Henry VIII.
     How do I know this? By the cost of beer.
     Stick with me for a minute. I did a lot of research on this. Way too much, probably.
     Eight hours work at today’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour will bring in $58.
     Knock off 20 percent for taxes, and today’s minimum wage-earner brings in about $46 a day.
     That’s enough to buy 2 cases of beer plus a six-pack, at the widely varying average price of $16 to $24 for what I may be allowed to call drinkable beer.
     A case contains 2¼ gallons of beer. So our minimum wage-earner could buy about 4¾ gallons of beer with his daily paycheck, if he chose to spend it all on beer.
     If he bought his beer in a bar – and who could blame him? – he would not get even 2 gallons for it, according to, which puts the average price of a pint of beer at $3.69 in the United States.
     That’s less than half the beer the unskilled English working man could buy for his daily wage in 1513.
     Citing statutes of Henry VIII, J.A. Froude states in the 1900 edition of his “History of England, from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada” that “Strong beer, such as we now buy for eighteenpence a gallon, was then a penny a gallon, and table-beer less than a halfpenny.”
     Master tradesmen under Henry VIII were paid an average of 5½ cents a day, if we can believe Mr. Froude – and he was, after all, a clergyman.
     Common laborers were paid an average of 4 pence a day – enough to buy 4 gallons of “strong beer” or 8 gallons of “table beer.”
     Strong beer is defined, today, in the United States, as beer with 5 percent or more alcohol content. Strong beer will cost you way more than $16 a case. More like $10 a six-pack, based on my extensive research.
     I call this strong beer “drinkable beer.”
     Today’s minimum wage-earner in the United States, then, can buy only half as much drinkable beer with his daily paycheck as the minimum wage-earner could buy under Henry VIII.
     And let me remind you, or let Froude remind you, that in 1513, in the 4th year of Henry’s reign, “if there was any fault in quality or quantity [of beer], the dealers forfeited four times the amount.”
     Try pulling that one at your local cantina.
     But why limit our philosophical speculations to beer?
     Under Henry VIII, Froude tells us, beef and pork cost half a penny a pound. Butchers sold it cheaper than that to the poor. (Damned socialists …)
     Inflation for slaughtered chicken since then comes to about 72,000 percent.
     Pardon me for declining to carry this calculation to its endpoint, but I doubt that a minimum wage-earner today, even a teetotaler, would smile, or know what else to do, upon seeing 360 lbs. of chicken dumped at his door, in lieu of his daily paycheck.
     Well, there are all sorts of ways to measure all sorts of things. This has been one way to measure … something. I do not believe it’s a frivolous measure.
     Even children under Henry VIII were expected to get a good part of their daily nutrition from beer. One of the oldest laws known to man required mothers to bring their schoolchildren beer for lunch in Egypt, under the Old Empire, if you can believe the Encyclopedia Britannica.
     Today’s Democrats’ occasional feeble cries to increase the minimum wage are met with howls of execration from Republicans, and their bosses in the Chamber of Commerce.
     But come on, dudes: Lower wages than a gardener under Henry VIII?
     I have given up drinking beer.
     But I think the minimum wage-earner in my country deserves beer if he or she wants it. And it’s difficult to see why a few beers should take a bigger slice from a minimum wage-earner in the United States today than it did for a villain under Henry VIII.

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