President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal statute which provides for the minimum wage, for overtime pay after 40 hours per week, and prohibits oppressive child labor. In proposing this landmark legislation, President Roosevelt famously said:
Our Nation so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population should be able to devise ways and means of insuring to all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling workers' wages or stretching workers' hours.
Enlightened business is learning that competition ought not to cause bad social consequences which inevitably react upon the profits of business itself. All but the hopelessly reactionary will agree that to conserve our primary resources of man power, government must have some control over maximum hours, minimum wages, the evil of child labor and the exploitation of unorganized labor.
It seems ironic that today you'll probably find more "hopelessly reactionary" opponents of workers' rights in the Republican party, as well as among economists, than at any time since the Great Depression, even as history and facts refute them at every turn. The party of Eric Cantor opposes minimum wage increases in spite of studies which show that it doesn't cost jobs, and that increases in pay to workers at this level go right back into the economy in the form of purchases which stimulate demand. Under the FLSA, business must compete on who can do a better job, not who can reduce overhead by screwing their employees the most. And businesses which pay well get better employees with less turnover--see the recent Bloomberg article on Costco (whose CEO, by the way, supports a minimum wage of $10, even more than the $9 figure proposed by the Obama administration).
My experience dealing with employment law in general and the FLSA in particular convinces me that most employers want to do the right thing. Because of this, a lot of people, including those very employers, think laws like the FLSA are outdated. What they don't consider is that if 1 out of 10 employers wants to do the wrong thing, the other 9 will find themselves in a race to the bottom, trying to compete with the worst apples in the barrel. The FLSA doesn't punish the good guys, it protects them, along with their employees, from the scoundrels.