Minimum Wages and Minimal Logic

Those mischievous economists at the Congressional Budget Office are back in the news, this time with a report suggesting that raising the minimum wage would also raise the unemployment rate.
The notion that raising the cost of something such as unskilled labor might also reduce the demand for it will seem reasonable enough to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics, but it has provoked an outcry among those with a more sophisticated view of these things. There apparently are studies out there by some experts or another suggesting that raising the cost of something doesn’t affect the demand for it and that people will gladly continue paying a higher price for something long after the cost has exceed its actual economic value, no matter how many centuries of economic history sense suggest otherwise, and we are told that it would be downright anti-science to argue with an expert’s study. Advocates for an increase in the minimum wage also note that the CBO has concluded that minimum wage workers would make more money if the minimum wage were increased, which will also seem reasonable enough to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics, and argue that so far as social justice and all the jazz goes the lost jobs would be offset by the gains those lucky enough to keep their swelled wages.
Neither argument is convincing. The president and any economists supporting his call for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour clearly haven’t spent much time lately in the drive-thru lane of a fast-food restaurant, where they surely would have encountered uncouth and innumerate workers whose feeble efforts could not possibly provide a profitable return on that exorbitant amount, and we don’t doubt there are far more of them than the 500,000 or that the CBO has estimated will get the axe. There’s also the distinct possibility that a few million more over-paid workers will demand a bump up above the minimum and find that they are no longer worth the cost. Despite our dissatisfaction with these workers’ performances we are not so insouciant about their fates as the more high-minded activists seem to be, and we don’t share the view that they’re better of unemployed at $10.10 an hour rather than employed at the current rates.
This is a most unfashionable point of view, however, and it remains to be seen if it will prevail. The last time the CBO raised such a fuss was when it reported that more than a million people will be induced to leave the labor force rather than relinquish their Obamacare subsidies, and presidential and bien-pensant opinion concluded that they’d all better off and free to pursue careers in the arts. As much as we’re looking forward to the artistic renaissance that will surely flower from all those fast-food workers laid off to make room burger-flipping robots, it doesn’t seem likely to spur an economic revival any time soon.

— Bud Norman


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