Bryan Caplan  

Can 600 Economists Be Wrong About the Minimum Wage?

What I Learned at the Tower Re... A Middle-Class World...

Gary Becker has some interesting thoughts about the economics profession's beliefs about the minimum wage:

A recent petition by over 600 economists, including 5 Nobel Laureates in Economics, advocated a phased-in rise in the federal minimum wage to a much higher $7.25 per hour from the present $5.15 per hour. This petition received much attention, and the number of economists signing is impressive (and depressing). Still, the American Economic Association has over 20,000 members, and I suspect that a clear majority of these members would have refused to sign that petition if they had been asked. They believe, as I do, that the negative effects of a higher minimum wage would outweigh any positive effects. That is one reason I would surmise why only a fraction of the 35 living economists who received the Nobel Prize signed on to the petition--I believe all were asked to sign.

I'd say "near-majority" rather than "clear majority," even if there were no option to abstain. But that's still pretty amazing, since probably 98% of economists favored the minimum wage when they were teen-agers. (As far as I know, no one has ever polled the public about whether the minimum wage should be abolished. But since 80% or so favor raising it, it's hard to believe that more than 1-2% wants to get rid of it entirely).

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

Reminds me of the 500 economists that signed that silly Open Borders immigration manifesto of Alex Tabarrok's. Almost all the big names and all the economists who actually know anything about immigration wouldn't touch it. But it still got a lot of adulatory press.

Bill Kruse writes:

Becker is "depressed" about this, as well he should be. It represents (1) the triumph of politics over economics and (2) an endless support for militantly anti-economics types who want to take this a lot further. These are living wage advocates who follow the Barbara Ehrenreich theory of wage determination--wages vary inversely, both cross-sectionally and over time, with the greed of employers. Period.

It's likely that the Card-Krueger study of the early '90s is most influential here. However, as David Neumark has pointed out in his recent summary of minimum wage issues for the Show Me Institute, both amateurish questionnaire design and narrow industry focus make Card/Krueger's results not very meaningful. In retrospect, it's amazing (shameful?) that this paper was approved for publication by the AER. Yet all the politicos and politically driven economists are running with it.

Looking at the 600 who signed, a lot of them are labor union economists or affiliated with union-supported think tanks, particularly the Economic Policy Institute itself. The rest, I guess, are just more interested in politics. It's significant that Card and Krueger didn't sign. So, I think Becker is right in maintaining that the vast majority of economists would not have signed. Still, the impact is depressing and long-lasting.

Given that they got 600 signatures in support of the minimum wage, what's next? Economists for rent control? Gas rationing? Market socialism? Do you think Arrow, Stiglitz and Klein would sign up?

Woostock writes:

I'd bet more than 1-2% of the voting population wants to get rid of it entirely. Probably closer to 5-10%. Majority of business owners and people who have studied economics or business.

Alcibiades writes:

I'd peg it at 5-10% as well. Even among those who do not pay heed to economics, there is still the "pick yourself up by your bootstraps/you've got to earn it" Americana crowd.

gbridgman writes:

So 600 economist say no problem and hundreds other say don't do it.

You got a green button and a red one. One blows up the world, one does nothing. Which do you push?

And if you said 'neither' then that's why we like gridlock in government

Ron writes:

The argument against minimum wages ignores a simple fact about businesses: with thousands of potential topics on which to focus, they only treat a few as "design requirements." Laws and regulations are design requirements along with profit and, often, things like mission statement or market focus. If the minimum wage is higher, they simply adjust to that fact. Part of the adjustment may temporarily be a substitute of capital for labor, but businesses, labor markets, and education systems eventually adjust - at a higher rate of income. Unemployment simply hasn't steadily gone up since labor laws were imposed more than a century ago.

Patrick Garrett writes:

Honestly i dont see y we need to raise the minimum wage at all. minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage it was intended to be a starting wage for first time workers!! soooooo if you want to make more money then you should get off you lazy ass and go make more money by getting a better education!!

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top