What the Heck is a “Prevailing Wage,” and Why Does it Boil Frogs? By Bill Bergman

2 March 2012 Boiling Frogs

Getting Out the Vote, at Public Expense

Prevailing wage laws govern worker compensation on government-funded construction projects. They direct that workers be paid “prevailing wages.” This may not sound like such an evil thing, but these laws end up boosting construction costs significantly, and restrict opportunity for many construction workers.

There are competing views about the value of these laws from “good government” organizations. But at the end of the day, prevailing wage laws look like good examples how the well-connected few use government to serve their own ends, at the expense of the many.

State and federal government finances have gotten to the point where people are arguing how close to Greece the United States has become. Prevailing wage laws have been part of the gas in the burner under our Boiling Pot. Fortunately, there are some good groups working for the repeal of these laws.

Words and Deeds

Public policy often turns into wordsmithing.  Words are chosen, words are applied, and words can “gain currency” and become commonly used.

Public policy advocates frequently use words artfully and strategically.  This tendency can evolve into a form of lying, even in lawmaking.  For example, titles to statutes are often rife with creative spin, including legislation like the PATRIOT Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and FDICIA (the “FDIC Improvement Act“).

So what does the word “prevailing” mean, when discussing prevailing wage laws?

First, let’s go to the dictionary.  You have to be careful here because of the distinctions between the noun and adjective forms for “prevailing” and the verb “prevail.”

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is an authoritative source. In the context we are looking at, “prevailing” is an adjective, describing the noun “wage.”  The OED entry for the adjective includes two senses.  Here is the first sense:

Read the analysis here @ Boiling Frogs Post: 012/03/02/what-the-heck-is-a-prevailing-wage-and-why-does-it-boil-frogs/

Sibel Edmonds


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