When the minimum wage goes to $15 an hour “you kill jobs,” says Andrew Puzder—”businesses close, businesses reduce staff and automate, and businesses reduce the hours of the employees they have.”
But “what you can’t measure, which is really what hurts economic growth…is the number of restaurants that don’t open.”
Puzder is best known as the former head of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of fast fast-food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. When he was named CEO in 2000, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Puzder focused his attention on improving the customer experience, improving the food quality, simplifying the menu, and emphasizing good service. Ten years later, CKE had quadrupled in value.
Puzder is known for his free-market views on labor issues, and in 2010, he co-authored Job Creation: How It Really Works and Why Government Doesn’t Understand It.
Last year, Donald Trump nominated Puzder as U.S. Secretary of Labor, but his confirmation was broadly contested by progressive groups, and he ultimately withdrew.
Puzder was born in 1950 and grew up in a working-class family in northeastern Ohio. He dropped out of Kent State to do what every Cleveland area Baby Boomer kid dreamed of—playing in a rock and roll band.
Reason’s Nick Gillespie sat down with Puzder at FreedomFest 2017, the annual libertarian conference in Las Vegas.
Edited by Ian Keyser. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Justin Monticello. Music by Kai Engel.
This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: Andrew Puzder, thanks for talking to Reason.
Andrew Puzder: Great to be here Nick, thank you.
Gillespie: You were nominated for labor secretary and withdrew your nomination. What happened there?
Puzder: After Betsy DeVos went through such a litigious confirmation process, senators who had voted for her, like Susan Collins, from liberal states, were then inundated with emails, phone calls, they would go home and they had protesters in their offices or at their town halls, people who had never really seen protesters before. Schumer identified me as the target of the left, and so they put on a lot of pressure. The media was horrific, this fake news thing that Trump talks about is so true, and when you’re a nominee for the cabinet you can’t defend yourself on TV. You can’t tweet. I think I sent out a tweet once thanking Jeb Bush for supporting me, and everybody came down on me like I’d done something horrific. You can’t even defend yourself, you’ve got to depend on surrogates.
That went on for a longer period of time than it should have, because while the press said, “Puzder didn’t file his ethics documents, there must be a problem,” the reality is, I was probably the first guy to file. I filed January 3rd, but the Office of Government Ethics wouldn’t respond. For six or seven weeks my document sat there, and the Democrats wouldn’t let the committee, wouldn’t let Lamar Alexander’s committee, schedule a hearing until they got something from OGE on my ethics documents. They’ve let Betsy DeVos go through without that, but me they wouldn’t let go through.
For six weeks the left got to beat up on me, Schumer identified me as their target, as I said, and near the end some of the more liberal Republicans got nervous, and when you don’t have 50 votes you can’t win. I got a call from Vice President Pence telling me that Mitch McConnell told them that they had fallen, I think, a vote or two below 50. We knew we were never going to get more than 50, because there were two who, they didn’t vote for Betsy, they weren’t going to vote for me. I said, “Look, I’ll withdraw. I don’t want the president to have a failure on the Senate floor that has my name attached to it. I should just withdraw.” He said, “Let me see, let me make sure that we don’t have it, because we’d love you to do this, but let me check.” He went and checked and called me back a few hours later and he said, “It’s going to be very, very hard to get to 50,” and I said, “Well I’m not going to tilt at windmills, I’ll just withdraw.” So I withdrew.
Gillespie: Let’s talk about the thesis of your book, which gets at a central issue of the 21st century economy, which is job creation, and more broadly economic growth. How does job creation work, and why doesn’t the government get it?