The question of raising the minimum wage keeps getting pushed at the federal level, as well as across many states. If we are to educate the populace on the pitfalls of arbitrary “minimum wage” hikes, we must be sure to argue the inherent flaws of suggestion that minimum wage hikes help some people and therefore are good for everyone.
This was illustrated recently on an episode of CNBC’s “On the Money” with Becky Quick. On one side was Dan Mitchell of CATO, who has done admirable work on fiscal policy and economics over there for many years. Opposite him was Jared Bernstein, a former Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden. Mitchell’s appearance on the show, however, was a bit of a disappointment on the issue of minimum wage.
There were two major points he seemed to miss. The first was in regard to the effect of a minimum wage hike on workers. Mitchell pointed out, correctly, that 500,000 people would lose their jobs, to which his opponent, Jared Bernstein, countered that 24 million people would gain more money (“get out of poverty” per the CBO), and therefore, quantitatively, people would benefit in a 50-1 ratio. But that is wrong!
Those 24 million, though they may benefit from a raise, will really one see a few cents more an hour. Those that lose their jobs, will lose not only $7.50 an hour in comparison, but also the opportunity to learn working skills and actually have a job from which they can advance in the workforce. Even if Bernstein’s figures were perfectly accurate – which they were not – having 24 million people earn a few more cents per hour versus the entire loss of jobs and livelihood do not make raising the minimum wage worthwhile.
But that point is secondary. The primary issue – and the one that Mitchell (as well as all of us who understand the economics of minimum wage) seem to be unable counter to the Jared Bernsteins of the world – relates to the economic cost of a minimum wage. He needed to explain to Mr. Bernstein that the apparent extra money going to those getting the higher minimum wage is, in fact, detrimental to the economy as a whole, and therefore ultimately to even those people it was intended to help.
Economics 1a would explain (looking for “what is unseen” ) that the extra money going to those benefiting must be coming from somewhere (though providing no extra result). It is coming from either a) lower wages paid to other employees, b) lower profits to the business, which lowers rate of return directly reducing new investments in that business and reducing the likelihood that new businesses will be started, or c) higher prices to the consumer, which (Economics 1a again) shows will reduce total sales volume, and therefore GDP as a whole..
Though Mitchell did successfully argue the merits of how minimum wages certainly shouldn’t be a federal law, but rather a state consideration, he missed entirely the ability to counter the false argument concerning the minimum wage altogether. If we don’t oppose and expose the core flaws, we will certainly continue to lose in the public square on the issue of minimum wage.