I refer to the statist case for minimum wage hikes and against anyone who disagrees. They’re invariably based on bad logic and/or the creation of strawmen they think they can easily defeat.

In that regard, consider the idea advanced in Mother Jones that because minimum wage increases in the past haven’t led to economic doom, the argument that they have adverse economic effects is refuted. Don Boudreaux points out that they’re beating up on a straw man because the argument against the minimum wage is not an apocalyptic one, but rather a marginal one — that having a minimum wage and raising it prices some workers out of jobs they’d have otherwise had.

Maybe this kind of “reasoning” appeals to statists because they’re so accustomed to looking at questions in a black versus white way. Here’s Don’s letter:
18 April 2015

Editor, Mother Jones

Dear Editor:

Congratulations! You’ve well and truly slain a straw man by reporting that “[c]onservatives have long portrayed minimum-wage increases as harbingers of economic doom, but their fears simply haven’t played out” (“As Cities Raise Their Minimum Wage, Where’s the Economic Collapse the Right Predicted?” April 16).

No serious opponent of minimum wages has ever predicted that they are “harbingers of economic doom” and “economic collapse.” Not Milton Friedman. Not F.A. Hayek. Not Thomas Sowell. Not my colleague Walter Williams. No credible scholar or pundit has ever made such a prediction about minimum wages at the relatively low levels that these wages are set in the United States. The reason is that only a small percentage of the workforce earns wages at, or just above, the prevailing legislated minimum. Therefore, minimum-wage hikes of the sort that are typical in the U.S. cannot possibly unleash “doom” on the economy.

What minimum-wage hikes do unleash, however, is devastation upon a relatively small number of largely invisible workers – workers who are the least skilled and most disadvantaged. Raising the minimum wage destroys jobs for many of these poor workers while making the jobs of other such workers more onerous. But because these workers are so relatively few in number, their suffering, while very real, is easy to miss when looking at the aggregate data. This fact explains why some – by no means a majority – of minimum-wage studies (particularly those that examine only short spans of time) find no negative employment effects.

Serious opponents of minimum-wage legislation insist that it is unjust to overlook the suffering of people forcibly priced out of work or into jobs less preferable than the ones they would otherwise have – unjust even if the number of affected workers is so small as to be missed by weak empirical studies and too tiny to be classified as “doom.”

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics