Minimum Wage Follies

MINIMUM WAGE FOLLIES….I promised myself I wasn’t going to read George Will’s column today about abolishing the minimum wage, but unfortunately a reader sent me the link and I clicked on it before I knew what it was. Weak man that I am, I then went ahead and plowed through it.

It’s mostly just a data dump of half facts and cherry picked numbers, and the only assertion of any importance comes at the end:

The minimum wage should be the same everywhere: $0. Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities’ prices.

This, in a nutshell, is the core problem with conservative economics: it views workers as commodities. Naturally it follows from this that we should be free to treat workers like commodities, rather than as human beings. (See here for a recent example.)

Most conservatives are careful not to state this belief quite so baldly, but Will must have slipped up this morning. But don’t blame him. He’s just saying out loud what all the rest of them usually say only under their breaths.

POSTSCRIPT: It’s worth noting that Will is mistaken in two different ways. First, as a matter of empirical economics, workers aren’t commodities. Unlike pig iron ingots, they respond to incentives, they can be trained to operate more efficiently, they put their paychecks back into circulation, etc. As Will is undoubtedly aware, there’s an entire branch of economics dedicated to exactly these issues, and it reaches conclusions considerably more complicated than those in the Micro 101 class he took half a century ago.

Second, he’s mistaken in a moral sense. A rich society really has no excuse for not setting bare minimum levels of decency for all human interactions, including those between employer and employee. Virtually everyone in America accepts this today, which is why increasing the minimum wage garners support of 70-80% in most polls. But apparently it’s still a controversial concept in some quarters.