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President Clinton proposes increasing the minimum wage to a "living wage" so Americans can earn enough to support themselves and their families. That is all well and good, but he also is advocating a minimum wage somewhere between the current $4.25 an hour and a high-end proposal of $7 an hour. Thousands of working Americans know -- as the president continues to misunderstand -- that the minimum wage isn't intended to provide a living wage. It is intended to force employers to keep payrolls above an artificial floor, whether or not the marketplace warrants it.

In certain situations, employers offer wages substantially above the federally imposed minimum in order to hire -- and keep -- decent workers. Even fast-food restaurants, long held up as the symbol of a minimum-wage culture, offer wages higher than the minimum, plus benefits, to attract good workers.

The tight employment situation in Cape Girardeau right now is a good demonstration of marketplace forces on wages. Factories are seeking to fill hundreds of production jobs, and they are offering wages well above the minimum to attract applicants. Some would even say they are offering a "living wage."

But one worker's living wage isn't enough for others. So many factors must be considers, such as the number of dependents and whether or not the spouse also works.

The marketplace -- not the federal government -- has always been best at economic policy-making. That is why the minimum wage should be abolished. The notion that the government would somehow improve the lot of workers by raising the minimum wage is sheer folly. Workers who compete for available jobs by providing the best production, the best on-time record and the best suggestions for innovation will always get the best wages. And those wages will be far above the minimum.