Here's Reason magazine on The Davis-Bacon Act, one of the most vile pieces of legislation ever signed into law. Until the last week, anyway.
The Davis-Bacon Act essentially gave us the minimum wage, mostly as a way to keep minorities from competing with the white majority for certain jobs.
To make matters worse, the Davis-Bacon Act has explicitly racist origins. It was introduced in response to the presence of Southern black construction workers on a Long Island, N.Y.. veterans hospital project. This "cheap" and "bootleg" labor was denounced by Rep. Robert L. Bacon, New York Republican, who introduced the legislation. American Federation of Labor (AFL) president William Green eagerly testified in support of the law before the U.S. Senate, claiming that "colored labor is being brought in to demoralize wage rates."
Emil Preiss, business manager of the New York branch of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (a powerful AFL affiliate that banned black workers from its ranks) told the House of Representatives that Algernon Blair's crew of black workers were "an undesirable element of people." The bill's co-sponsor, Republican Sen. James Davis of Pennsylvania, was an outspoken racist who had argued in 1925 that Congress must restrict immigration in order "to dry up the sources of hereditary poisoning."
The result was that black workers, who were largely unskilled and therefore counted on being able to compete by working for lower wages, essentially were banned from the upcoming New Deal construction spree. Davis-Bacon nullified their competitive advantage just when they needed it most.
Politicians do silly things when times get tough. And when times aren't tough. Here's some more from Reason:
More recently, the Obama administration extended Davis-Bacon via the American Recovery and Reinvestment of Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus bill. According to an All-Agency Memorandum issued by the Department of Labor, Davis-Bacon now applies to all "projects funded directly by or assisted in whole or in part by and through the Federal Government."
In sum, we have a law that drives up the costs of federal projects, hurts unskilled workers, unfairly advantages organized labor, and has explicitly racist roots. It's time for Davis-Bacon to go.
But we're too humane to do it any other way.