Russ Roberts on the minimum wage

Russ Roberts had some good recent posts about the minimum wage on Cafe Hayek. The paragraphs below are from his post about his follow-up thoughts to a debate he participated in to abolish the minimum wage:

Everyone, on the left and the right, agree that employers are eager to save costs and will substitute machines for workers or outsource production if those changes are profitable. Why will artificially higher wages created by minimum wage legislation not lead to similar substitutions?

No joke. But, of course, proponents of minimum wage will cite ’empirical evidence’ that shows that raising the minimum wage has no effect on jobs or employment. And, of course, they never consider that these studies may not tell the whole story or have limitations.

They also seem to forget basic econ where we are taught that if a price floor is well below the going-market rate, it won’t have much affect on supply. In other words, if the minimum wage is well below the going market labor rate, then it won’t have much effect on jobs. For example, if I set a minimum wage at $0.50/hour, most people would intuitively know that’s so low, it doesn’t  effect anyone — employees or employers.

So, while minimum wage studies are often heralded as empirical support for raising the minimum wage, they are much more likely to be empirical support for that basic econ understanding of a price floor.

Next (emphasis mine):

The weird part of the debate over the magnitude of the employment effects, is that when someone uses the reductio ad absurdum of a minimum wage increase to say $50 or $100 an hour, everyone understands that won’t work because it would destroy the labor market. So where do those disemployment effects kick in? If the minimum wage is small enough so that it doesn’t cause job losses, then it can’t be having much of an effect boosting wages.

Yes. Where do the disemployment effects kick in? Great question and I never hear anybody ask it or answer. It’s similar to the ‘rich must pay their fair share’ tax debate where the answer is always ‘more’.

It occurred to me after reading this paragraph that the same people who cite empirical evidence that changes in the minimum wage don’t affect jobs (that price floors below the going market rate don’t change supply), don’t seem interested in asking about empirical evidence that raising the minimum wage actually increases wages.

I suppose they assume that if it doesn’t change the number of a jobs and a few people are marking more now, then wages must go up.  But, that assumes a lot. For example, it assumes other things don’t change — like the number of hours worked and the value of fringe benefits like employee discounts — to name a couple.



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