Quit virtue signaling and put your money where your mouth is

In this EconTalk podcast, Russ Roberts discusses several interesting topics with guest Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

In one part of the conversation, they discuss the idea that some folks want to raise minimum wage, but they don’t tip current minimum wage workers more now. Here’s that part of their conversation. Read to the end.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: …the person who advocates a minimum wage, you see, in case there are adverse consequences, will not be paying for it. So it’s much better to let people who have skin in the game decide on whether there should be minimum wage. And if you ask unemployed people making currently $0 whether there should be making a theoretical a theoretical $15 or $25, whatever minimum wage you want to set–if you ask the unemployed, okay–then you should take their answer seriously, because they have skin in the game. Where currently you have intellectuals, who have a job, who just want, because of the virtue signaling or maybe to feel better, maybe to feel, to give themselves that aura of feeling good because they did something good. And so you have a lot of fakes–true fakes or confused people–advocating actions, you know, that feel good to them. Because hey, of course, they think that it improves society, or on the surface it doesn’t[?] improve society. Like, you, I believe that a minimum wage would definitely, is a cause of more employments or robots or jobs going to places where the wages are lower. So, you have to have–see unemployed who should decide, or unemployed, or people who are subjected to these minimum wage or wages close to the minimum who should decide. Not some intellectual at CUNY (City University New York) making $250,000 a year.

Russ Roberts: Well, I think some of them are motivated for good reasons. I like to think they are. So, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least in the short run.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Okay, but let me tell you one thing here. If you think that there should be a minimum wage, then you should pay–people who think there should be minimum wages should voluntarily pay everybody around them the difference between whatever they are getting and that minimum wage. And, when you go to McDonald’s, you should leave a $3 tip or $4 tip to the person. If that’s really what they want to do, they should do it themselves. I’ve discussed in a book that the behavior on the part of people who always have ideas of how things should be but in fact don’t pay for it themselves. Like, they argue about privilege, class privilege, but they themselves privileged; and they don’t pass their wealth to others. They want higher taxes on others but not–they don’t want to give more to charity.

Russ Roberts: I think their defense would be–I don’t find it, I’m not sure I find it compelling, but they’ll argue, ‘Well, I’m willing to chip in as long as other people are forced to, and then I’ll be happy doing it.’ So, that would be their claim.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Yeah, but that’s a weird argument. Virtue should be unconditional. It should not be conditional. In other words, ‘I’m going to save people from drowning only if other people save people from drowning.’ That’s not an argument that I can stand on. I don’t know any ethical system that is based on something like that.


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