Minimum Wage Mendacity

6451220883_9b5e3a914fWith President Obama’s State of the Union Address and its associated campaign prominently featuring increased minimum wage, tired arguments for raising the minimum wage are being once again retreaded. Unfortunately, they compound failures of logic, measurement and evidence.

It would stimulate the economy. If I pay $1 more than necessary to hire a worker, I get $1 less in services for my money. The increase in the workers’ consumption enabled by that $1 is a transfer from me to them, not a net gain.

It would increase others’ wages as well. Unfortunately, higher minimum wages reduce available jobs, and fewer alternatives don’t create higher wages. Unions and other competitors would see wage hikes, because alternatives become more costly, but other workers get fewer goods and services in exchange for their labor —i.e., decreased real wages.

It would make work more attractive, reducing government dependence. That would require additional jobs became available at a higher wage. However, fewer jobs will be available, so fewer people would be able to work their way out of dependence.

The minimum wage hasn’t “kept up” with inflation since the 1960s. This presumes without justification that the 1960’s minimum wage was economically justified. However, it was a Great Society aberration that coincided with a virtual stop in progress against poverty.

It also ignores that much of employers’ compensation goes to Social Security, Medicare, workmen’s compensation, new Obamacare mandates, etc., rather than as wages. As government- mandated employment costs ballon, the minimum wage substantially understates compensation.

The claim uses the CPI, widely known to overstate inflation, to calculate “real” wages. And the bias was even larger in the past. So going back to the 1960s for comparison mainly introduces a half century of compounded overstatements of inflation to dramatically understate real wage growth.

It would decrease the number of families in poverty. Unfortunately, as labor economist Mark Wilson put it, “evidence from a large number of academic studies suggests that minimum wage increases don’t reduce poverty levels.” One reason is that most minimum wage workers are secondary workers in non-poor households, while very few are heads of households.

Even important businesses endorse raising the minimum wage. Unionized businesses and those who already pay more than the federal minimum gain from raising it, by increasing rivals’ costs. That those employers who would gain at others’ expense endorse a higher minimum wage says nothing about the validity of arguments against it.

A higher minimum wage will pay for itself in higher productivity, lower turnover, employee morale, etc. Every employer who believed that to be true in their circumstances would pay more without needing any mandate. Are those businesses always accused of being too greedy not greedy enough? Further, why do those states with the highest state minimum wages have higher unemployment rates and lower economic growth rates?

Even if some lose their jobs, most low-wage workers will gain from a higher minimum wage. This assumes that other terms of work will remain unchanged, which is false. For those who keep their jobs, fringe benefits, on-the-job training, etc., will fall to offset additional mandated wages. And the increased wages may well be less valuable (as well as taxable) than what is given up, especially on-the-job training that helps people learn their way out of poverty. That is why labor force participation rates fall and quit rates rise when the minimum wage rises, in contrast to what would happen if those workers were made better off.

Supporters of a higher minimum wage claim altruism to help working families as their motive. But it actually harms most of those supposedly be helped, while benefitting supporters by raising costs facing competitors. They may claim, as did the Chairman of Ben & Jerry’s Board, “I support a living wage economically, morally and with deep conviction,” but it is really a self-interested infringement on freedom that is economically stupid and morally abusive.

Photo Credit: Kristina Hoeppner

Comments

  1. One question. You say: “The claim uses the CPI, widely known to overstate inflation, to calculate “real” wages.”

    But I always thought CPI understated inflation. At least that’s what ShadowStats and others claim. The government has an interest in having us believe that inflation is lower than it really is. This is the first time I’ve come across the idea that CPI overstates inflation. Or am I missing something?

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