Bryan Caplan  

Feeling vs. the Minimum Wage

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James M. Buchanan, RIP... Further Notes on James Buchana...
Last week, I argued that some ideas are inherently hard to sell to people with "Feeling" personalities:
If you're trying to sell libertarianism to Feeling people, "hard head, soft heart" ideas are more persuasive than "hard head, hard heart" ideas.  But the libertarian remains at an inherent disadvantage against intellectual rivals pedaling "soft head, soft heart" ideas.
Several critics replied that this is just a failure of imagination on my part.  If you can make an idea appealing to Thinking people, you can make it appealing to Feeling people.  Just skillfully repackage the product, and you're done.

I'm skeptical, but I'd love to be proven wrong.  So I propose a simple challenge to pave the way to my refutation: Tell me how to sell the abolition of the minimum wage to the typical Feeling American. 

Please don't give me any "hard heads, soft hearts" answers.  Give me "soft heads, soft hearts" answers.  You're trying to persuade Oprah Winfrey, not Data from Star Trek after he gets his emotion chip.

Feel free to critique and improve on each others' responses in the comments.  I'll post the best candidates in the near future.



COMMENTS (60 to date)
Tyler writes:

Hey professor Caplan, I think you're absolutely right. My motto about liberals, while may be rude, but I find it to be true:

Feel too much, think too little.

I just don't think there's much that can be said to convince someone that feels too much. They are going to have their bias and no rational conversation will convince, and no empirical evidence will change their mind.

Cole writes:

I kind of agree with your overall sentiment about some ideas having an inherent 'soft head' bias, but I'll give it a shot anyways.

1. Racist apartheid south Africa used minimum wages to stop black people from getting jobs.

2. I can pay people whatever I want, its my business. Get your own business and pay them more if you think that is the right thing to do. (requires you to own a business).

3. The government is in bed with corporations to drive small businesses into the ground.

4. Young people have no work ethic these days, they should get paid less than minimum wage and learn to work instead of just living off of their parents money.

Peter writes:

As a small business owner, I would love to be able to hire a young person or two to do menial tasks. 7.25 an hour is just too much to pay a person to sweep the floor and take out the trash. Instead, those are additional duties for other employees, or just as often, I do them myself. My resistance to hiring low hour part time help is also due to the amount of paperwork required by labor laws. The first jobs for kids that many of us adults experienced are quickly and quietly disappearing because of the minimum wage. Young people are the victims of a cruel law.

Eli writes:

You know Oprah, I wish I could in good conscience support the minimum wage, I really do. But do you know what happens when people don't comply? A lot of times it's imprisonment. Sometimes its a fine but if they don't pay something has to happen, and its not going to be pretty.

And many won't comply, for many reasons; maybe they're small businesses who can't afford it, or maybe they're just that darned greedy. But either way, is that something you want to destroy somebody's life over? Greed? Such a basic human impulse, that we all have by the way, and you want to bring out the guns over that?

That's the problem with humanity, with history, is we're too quick to pull out the guns. Over and over again it has lead to tragedy after tragedy. And after what we've been through recently, I think maybe we should put them away for a while and see what happens.

Of course I believe that employers should provide their workers a basic standard of living. I would, and I think you would Oprah. I think that every decent human being would if they were making the kind of money some of these CEOs make. But I cannot take the leap from that to actually putting a human being in a jail cell with rapists and murderers.

Maybe the ends justify the means. And I know that in my brain, they do. But there's just something in my heart that says, these are people too, no matter how greedy they are. There has to be a better way.

Bill writes:

I think the most effective way to tell the story is to focus, not on the employer, but on the potential employee. An inexperienced, low skill, low productivity person, seeking to earn income and gain experience, is prevented from offering to work for less than the legal minimum.

Pete writes:

I agree with Bill, first you should focus on the poor potential employee who cannot get a job due to the minimum wage. Then explain that although the goal of providing people a livable income is noble, the minimum wage law is not the best way to achieve that goal. Then you would transition to talking about a negative income tax or the EITC as a way of showing that a livable income can be achieved without the damage to the poor person who cannot get a job as a result of the minimum wage.
Maybe this is too "hard head" for what you looking for.

Andy Hallman writes:

In order for an idea to appeal to someone with a soft heart, the victims have to be tangible, not statistical.

We can be fairly certain the minimum wage prevents some people from working, but since we don't know who exactly, we have nobody to feature in our sob story.

If we didn't have any integrity, we could stoop to using ad hominem attacks. We can talk about how the minimum wage and other labor regulations were initially proposed to limit labor participation of minorities, to get people to think of them as laws written by racists. And who would support a law written by racists?

@Eli: "But do you know what happens when people don't comply [with the minimum wage]? A lot of times it's imprisonment."

Really? I find this very hard to believe. I think the purpose of this exercise is to figure out how to sell ideas given the facts as they really are and not what they could be in a dystopia.

Jane Doe writes:

I think you can skillfully repackage the product, but emphasis on the skillfully part. I identify with the left, but I'll admit that I had very little understanding of economics when I was younger. Libertarians and right-wing economists are extremely bad ambassadors to the Feeling people. For some of the best research on this, see Dan Kahan's Cultural Cognition Project (maybe you're already familiar).

When I want to help my Feeling friends learn economics I hand them Economic Without Illusions by Joseph Heath. He's a philosopher that identifies with the left and thus he's able to present some arguments to the Feeling people that they would normally reject. Unfortunately libertarians may be uniquely poor at presenting arguments in this skillful way due to lack of empathy (see Jon Haidt's relatively new paper and my personal experience interacting with libertarians).

Luke J writes:

Want to convince Oprah? You don't want an argument, you want a narrative; you need a great story.

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Chris Koresko writes:

First, understand where support for minimum wages laws comes from. Most people who support minimum wage laws imagine that they're forcing employers to pay their employees at least a certain amount and thereby keeping the employees from being exploited. They imagine people trying to raise families on minimum-wage jobs, and that raising the minimum would make those peoples' lives easier.

Instead, describe the law as a ban on hiring anyone who can't earn at least the minimum. Point to cases in which people would like to work, and businesses would like to hire them, but the laws make that difficult or impossible. Point out that young people are missing out on valuable work experience and the chance to earn a little money. Point out how these laws keep old people from supplementing their Social Security and can make their lives much harder. Talk about people you know who have been hurt by these laws. Talk about people who get forced into no-benefit part-time work or lose their jobs completely because of these laws.

As Cole points out, minimum wage laws have a shameful history. Bring this up. Point out that their early advocates were open about their racist motivations. Ask whether the change in the sales pitch for those laws means they no longer hurt racial minorities.

Daniel Levine writes:

I may be a bit too much of a "hard head, soft heart" type to have the best ear for this.

It strikes me that you've got three "narrative" targets you need to hit if you really wanted to convince someone to not support a minimum wage.

First, you need to convince them that this isn't just a covert way to help businesses post higher profits. Most people are going to be skeptical of claims that imply that there are all of these businesses that will literally have to fold if they need to pay their workers a minimum wage (I'm pretty skeptical, heck). And if the businesses would still be viable at higher wages, with narrower profit margins, you're likely to get a reaction along the lines of "well, they *could* pay a higher wage, they just don't *want* to."

Second, people are going to have the intuition that a very low wage isn't fair recompense for difficult jobs. It's pretty easy to get someone outraged if you talk up how tough it is, e.g., to be a coal miner and then bring up how low the minimum wage is (coal miners don't make minimum wage typically, I know, this is part of how to get at this).

Third, you're going to need to convince people - as pointed out above - that giving up on the minimum wage isn't giving up on the worst off. You probably need to paint some attractive alternative picture to give them moral cover. If the options seem to be living wage+higher unemployment vs. low unemployment+working people in poverty, many folks will choose the former.

I actually think that one of the better strategies might be focusing on how it's only a pretty narrow slice of people who actually make the minimum wage. So, if you care about the poor, raising the minimum wage doesn't actually help most of them. Those poor we care about are mostly making above minimum wage (and even above most proposed increased wages) and still have trouble making ends meet, or they're not making a wage at all.

If you do that, you can paint a really attractive picture of some alternative, like (cribbing from above again) the EITC, or if you want to go more radical, something like a basic income or guaranteed minimum income that's *not* tied to employment. That clearly targets the third problem.

It's not great on the second, because you're completely detaching people's ability to live decent lives from their employment. But you can maybe finesse it by talking about, sure, OK, many people are working tough, unpleasant jobs and making a pittance, but they're going home to minimally decent lives because of some other form of support. So we're not treating them as an overall society like their hard work isn't worth adequate recompense, we're just not doing it through their wage.

The first, you can hit if you propose paying for the alternate solution with some sort of tax on businesses or the rich.

For bonus points, if you want to bring in the people with hard-leftist leanings, you can point out that minimum wage is just a sort of weird second-rate compromise with capitalism anyway.

(This turned out to be longer than I planned when I started writing it. Oh well.)

Matt writes:

You need a three prong approach, that like Luke J says is a narrative.

First, you find a couple of inner city black teenagers that can't find a job and tell their story. Then, you find some 20 something inner city black people to talk about how they can't find a good job because of a lack of work experience. Maybe, just maybe, you could do the same thing with some (probably legal) immigrants.

Second, you tell the story of Peter from above. It might also be necessary if he was in the first few years of his business and struggling to make it survive (i.e. I only took home 25k the first two years of my business. I've depleted all my savings etc.). Again, I think it would be really helpful if this story was mostly full of racial minorities or some other disenfranchised group.

Third, you take economists from big name schools, like Harvard, MIT, etc., who cannot only explain why min. wage laws hurt these people, but hopefully can paint the picture that min. wage laws are really just a way the white man keeps the minorities down. Maybe include that one audio clip from JFK.

This might not be the most honest narrative but narratives are rarely honest. Of course, the more poor people you can get to complain about the min wage laws the better, but I have a feeling that they may be hard to find.

The whole goal would be to shift the blame for poor wages from businessmen to white people (or "the man," or the establishment or whatever). The trick is to make it seem like the shift of blame is being fueled by the intellectual elite and disenfranchised folk. Then all you would need is a handful of influential liberals (and one could only hope that a few would be politicians) to come to your side and repeat your narrative.

Side question: are there any European countries that have better min. wage laws than the US?

Tom West writes:

You want to start with minimum wage? Crikey, even most economists seem to acknowledge this is one case where reality seems unwilling to clearly conform to Econ 101. (It may or may not, but unless one automatically discounts any study that doesn't conform to your model, the evidence is mixed at best.)

Given the number of studies that indicate that minimum wage (at the levels it currently stands at) has no real effect on unemployment (and the occasional study that suggest it may even have a positive effect on emloyment!), this is simply the wrong area to tackle with 'thinking people'.

The danger here is confirming exactly the suspicion that some already have about market economists. "The model is right, it's reality that is wrong."

Now, if one wants to attack it from a *moral* standpoint, that's something else, but if it's from the consequentialist side, one really needs an issue that at least a strong majority of economists are in agreement.

bobroberts17e1 writes:

@Luke J

My first job was at non-profit for folks with handicaps, working on a contract with an aircraft company in town for aircraft insulation. 90% of the parts were rectangular, and were very easy to assemble. The assembly process is difficult and expensive to mechanize, but was very easy to do by hand. You would basically take two pieces of foil with heat activated glue on the bottom, and then sandwich a piece of fiberglass insulation between the two layers. We used cheap household irons that got donated to activate the glue and seal the edges. Real easy, real simple.

It was the perfect work for people with mental disabilities or poor motor skills. These handicapped folks loved it because they were building a part of an airplane, and because the aircraft company paid a little extra for certain quality metrics. We had pictures of the airplanes the insulation went into all over the walls, and if we had 100% on time delivery for year, they’d let us tour the plant, which everybody got really excited for. They really took pride in their work.

Now the aircraft company also loved working with us because by law, we could pay the handicapped employees per piece, not by the hour. The company was able to get reasonable fixed costs on their insulation, and the handicapped employees got meaningful work that they could take pride in.

In fact, the company said that we did the best work out of everyone they’d dealt with, especially compared to the private companies they had tried to contract with. The reason? The work wasn’t worth $6.55 per hour, the minimum wage at the time. The contractors had huge incentive to hurry up the work and do a poor job because they were required to pay employees the minimum wage, and wanted to make a profit.

We, on the other hand, had folks who were prevented from finding work by the minimum wage law. These handicapped people aren’t able to do work that is worth the minimum wage rate, but they still wanted the pride that comes with a job, and they wanted it badly. They weren’t going to go hungry or live in poverty or anything, but doing meaningful, necessary work gives a person a sense of accomplishment and value of oneself that you can’t find anywhere else. Whenever we had overtime or an expedited order, every one of them would volunteer to work extra.

Think of all the people, disabled or not, who want a job where they can do meaningful work and earn a wage, but don’t have skills or ability worth the minimum wage rate. The government essentially prices these people out of the labor market to “protect” them, when in reality they are keeping them from participating in one of the major activities that can instill a sense of self esteem. A job at less than the minimum wage is better than being told by employer after employer when looking for work, “you’re not worth minimum wage”.

coyote writes:

Bobby is a black teen in Chicago. Since he has just 9 years old, the only way he could support his family and survive in his neighborhood was to join a gang and deal drugs.

After his recent arrest, Bobby wants to go straight, to escape the cycle of crime and violence into which he has become trapped. But no one will hire him without experience. He needs a history showing he can do simple things, like show up reliably to work on time, cooperate with other employees, and interact well with customers.

Bobby would be willing to work for free to gain this experience, to get a toe-hold on the simple skills many of us take for granted. Be he can't. he is barred by law. He cannot legally be offered a job for less than $8.25 an hour, a wage he could one day earn but right now lacks the basic skills to justify.

The minimum wage raises the first rung on the ladder of success higher than Bobby can possibly reach. This is not an accident. Early proponents of the minimum wage in the early 20th century supported it precisely because it protected white workers from competition from blacks attempting to enter the work force. The minimum wage began as, and still is, a tool of oppression,preventing young men like Bobby from gaining access to good employment.

Today, the unemployment among black teens has risen to nearly 40%. This is because the government has been working for years to help older white workers with political clout keep men like Bobby out of the workforce, and the minimum wage is their most powerful tool for doing so.

Jim Rose writes:

Ask questions. What do you think are the consequences of a minimum wage rise? Never lecture!

Ask them to put themselves in the place of a small business owner face a minimum wage rise

Lecturing is a gift as they counter-punch rather than explain their own position in their own words.

Chris H writes:

Not messing around on this challenge eh? Why not go all out though and try to find "feeling-friendly" responses to the problems of Head Start programs or food stamps. As far as the stereotypical feeler would go we might as well wear signs saying "puppies were made to be kicked!"

But I like a good challenge, I just think a lot of response so far have gone a bit too analytical for our target audience. Remember, "soft hearts, soft heads." Explaining how people can have trouble finding work because of the minimum wage probably winds up in the "soft heart, hard head" category to be honest. The "soft head" category would probably reject that on the basis of "well employers should just have lower profits!" Instead focus on actions that happen rather than possibilities that didn't happen. The narrative angle isn't bad but here's how I'd conceive of it.

Start with a small business owner (I'd suggest use a woman if possible simply because a lot of society tends to view women as more vulnerable...is it an appeal based on sexism? Yes, but this thought experiment is trying to focus on what might work rather than what might help us all sleep better at night). Show the home she lives in is very modest and have her talking about how little money she makes. If she's got kids even better. Then show one of her employees and how important the job is to him/her (this one maybe can be more flexible in gender). Also show how well the two work together and the atmosphere of camraderie in the establishment. Then have the minimum wage rise come into play. Show the business owner desperately trying to cut other costs to save her employee's job but failing to find enough. Have the devastated employer come up to the employee and choking out the words giving the bad news.

The major keys here, show that the minimum wage impacts smaller businesses, show a direct consequence of the minimum wage (even if the bigger effect might be not hiring people in the first place), and show the emotional pathos felt by everyone involved in such a layoff. Finish off by telling Oprah how this is happening all across the country all while pleading to raise money for the ex-employee until he can find some new work.

I'm not sure even that will work but it's the best I can think of right now. Alternatively maybe it's too much just trying to tug on the heart strings and people will tend to go "I'm feeling manipulated here!"

Pedro Albuquerque writes:

Minimum wage is the dog that bites the hand that feeds it. If you really believe that the employee should be helped, the last person on earth that should be punished with a transfer tax is the employer. Even a brain-dead zombie should be able to embrace this truth in its huge but deadly heart.

saifedean writes:

I'd put it this way:

The minimum wage will not raise the wages of the poorest; but it will instead make it illegal to hire them, and in the process destroy their ability to learn a profession, develop work ethic and build a career that becomes financially rewarding once they have the expertise.

All professions, even the highly paid ones like doctors, engineers and lawyers involve putting in large amounts of work with very little pay at the early stages of an individual's career. Med school graduates slave away for ungodly hours in hospitals as interns and may earn less, per hour of work, than the minimum wage. Yet millions still try to get into med school and to get this low-pay internship, because the experience gained from it is far more valuable than the pay, and allows the doctor to earn a lot more in the future. Imposing the minimum wage takes away this valuable learning-on-the-job opportunity from those who have the least employable skills, kicking away the ladder that would allow them to advance economically.

john hare writes:

Soundbite.
Minimum wage makes educational employment impossible. Learning a job is like going to school and with minimum wage you aren't letting those poor kids go to school. Why are you denying Americans the working education opportunities and giving them to the Chinese.

ed writes:

I agree with Jim Rose that asking questions rather than lecturing might be a good approach.

Ask them how high they think the minimum wage should be? If they give a number, ask them why not higher? Once they admit there are trade offs, then they are prepared to think about the downsides of minimum wage.

ssh writes:

You could say the minimum wage is racist??? I don't makes any sense but it feels pretty bad.

Gene writes:

"You are a small businesses owner. You currently do everything in your business and after paying all the bills you gross $20 per hour. You are tired of doing everything and want to hire a teenager to sweep the floors for you (your least productive daily activity). Suppose doing this allows you to increase your productivity and you now make $25 per hour. You could hire a worker for $5.00 per hour and make your life easier and earn the same income. But minimum wage is $7.50 per hour. If you hire the kid you will be worse off by $2.50. Some kid will be worse off by $5.00 (but he wont know why). Society will be worse off by ???"

Ben Southwood writes:

Responses from bobroberts17e1, Matt and coyote are pretty impressive, I think they'd work very well as documentaries playing on "soft head, soft heart" type people.

One point worth making is that minimum wages could raise wage rates of some low earners, as well as putting others out of work, and so the case does become slightly more nuanced and more difficult to make.

Let's say Andrea earned $6/h in a free market. Since we are out of equilibrium, her wage is not equal to her productivity, which is, let's say, $8/h. Now, it's true that in the long run her wage will appreciate to $8/h, a minimum wage of $7.50/h now would add thousands to her yearly pay packet until that happens – the firm wouldn't fire Andrea with the introduction of the minimum wage because $7.50/h is still cheaper than she's worth to the firm.

Have I gone wrong somewhere?

This doesn't mean the policy is on balance misguided, but it does make the question less open-and-shut.

Thomas Boyle writes:

"I don't think it should be illegal to employ poor people."

Follow with narrative about your cousin who comes from modest circumstances and who, bless his heart, isn't very capable but would love to be useful...

Thomas Boyle writes:

"When we declared war on poverty, I didn't think it meant we were declaring war on poor people. My god, now it's illegal to employ them? We throw poor people under the bus so politicians can claim average pay is higher? Really?"

Thomas Boyle writes:

"When we said we wanted a more educated workforce, I didn't think the plan was to make it illegal to employ people who haven't been able to get an education. That's awful."

Thomas Boyle writes:

- So, is it just me, or is this like shooting fish in a barrel?

The problem with libertarians is that they tend to empathize with the employer, with the suppliers of capital.

Minimum wage limits an employer's opportunities, yes. But not nearly as much as it limits the employee's.

Think like someone a liberal would care about, and as "how do I feel about this law?"

KPres writes:

It's probably easier to sell a feeling person on reason than it is to sell them on economics. Explain to them that their emotions, far from being some spiritual link to the Almighty or Buddha or whatever, are just a primitive evolutionary holdover we inherited millions of years ago from our reptilian ancestors; that the "feelings" they experience are nothing more than the changes in blood pressure, adrenaline, etc. that come unbidden in the fight/flight/f--- survival response; that emotionalism, rather than being merely a different but equal personality type, is an inferior and error prone method of information acquisition that's more likely to create havoc and suffering when applied on a general basis, and that the best approach is too see emotions as events that happen TO you, to be controlled and governed by your reasoning faculty, rather than attaching them to your sense of self the way many people do.

Then show them supply and demand curves and get them on the lookout for their application in their daily lives. Once they begin to see that nearly everything in human interaction is governed by them, including what they previously thought was driven by love or compassion, converting them on the minimum wage will be a snap.

Eli writes:

@ Andy Hallman

"'But do you know what happens when people don't comply [with the minimum wage]? A lot of times it's imprisonment.'

Really? I find this very hard to believe. I think the purpose of this exercise is to figure out how to sell ideas given the facts as they really are and not what they could be in a dystopia."

Not hard to believe at all. Here are the penalties for compliance with the minimum wage

http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/minwage.htm#Penalites

"Willful violators may be prosecuted criminally and fined up to $10,000. A second conviction may result in imprisonment."

Besides, I'm utilizing a soft head. If it sounds right, it's right.

Thomas Boyle writes:

Correction: as "how do I feel about the unintended consequences of this law?"

Obviously, many people a liberal would care about will actually support the law. Many of them are feel-ers, too. What libertarians add to the picture is following up by asking, how do you feel about the actual, unintended consequences of the law?

Sam Thomsen writes:

This image seems to convey the reality.

Ladder of opportunity

[url revised for credit to cartoonist Henry Payne--Econlib Ed.]

Daniel writes:

Would it be cheating to sell an abolition of the minimum wage coupled with some combination of an expanded EITC and a negative income tax that has the effect of ensuring that no working person earns a net wage smaller than the current minimum wage?

Matthew Gerke writes:

As others have said, maybe minimum wage isn't the best test case, since reasonable economists differ on what exactly the effect of the minimum wage is. Perhaps a better case study would be rent control, which pretty much every economist agrees is a bad idea. I also think the wooly-headed argument is easier to make here: show Oprah some rich yuppies in New York in rent-controlled apartments, show her some poor people who can't find rent-controlled apartments, show her some really broken down rent-controlled apartments that the owner won't bother fixing, show her some builders willing to build low-cost apartments, show her the contrast between low-rent apartments in cities with rent control and cities without rent control. That would be a nice, emotional, half-hour special. Maybe we could make Oprah cry.

Chops writes:

I got to teach Econ 101 last year as a college professor. Maybe flattering myself, but in the classroom, (I think) I nailed the soft-soft approach to the minimum wage. Now, we don't often have the time to show the buyer's and seller's surplus in a Supply/Demand diagram in real life. But with those concepts under their belts, my students were floored by the fact that a minimum wage puts the employer in control. With a surplus of labor, the employer isn't hiring the person who needs the job most - they're hiring the person who they like most: probably a college-bound white suburban kid whose parents will wake him up and drive him to work. An employer who gets to discriminate among many job applicants is less likely to hire a recovering drug addict who is trying to straighten out, or a single mother, or a kid from an ethnic group whom he disrespects.

The soundbite: "Minimum wages create an unnatural imbalance in the low-skill labor market, which gives the upper hand to employers. They can easily discriminate by age, race, family, or sex, and they can fire and replace workers at very low cost. Employees, on the other hand, fear losing their jobs and have to please the boss.

Low-skill jobs are never going to be fun, but at least the market wage creates a relationship between employer and employee which is more like the one you and I (high-skill folks) are used to."

Andy Hallman writes:

@Eli

"Willful violators may be prosecuted criminally and fined up to $10,000. A second conviction may result in imprisonment."

Oh, I wasn't doubting the law, I was doubting how often it was enforced and particularly how often it led to imprisonment. I was objecting to your phrase, "a lot of times it's imprisonment," since this seems makes it sound like it's a frequent occurrence, which is what I'm doubting.

I agree the fines can be very stiff, though. Here are a few cases of employers who were fined for failing to pay overtime (not quite the same as minimum wage laws):

http://www.accountingweb.com/topic/human-resources/employers-paying-penalty-wage-and-hour-violations

Russ Nelson writes:

The purpose of the minimum wage is to allow racist white folks to compete with hard working black folk. Still want to defend the minimum wage?

K Webb writes:
First, you find a couple of inner city black teenagers that can't find a job and tell their story. Then, you find some 20 something inner city black people to talk about how they can't find a good job because of a lack of work experience. Maybe, just maybe, you could do the same thing with some (probably legal) immigrants.

Find some people from the rural south. There aren't many jobs in cities that start at minimum wage, and the schools in the delta regions of Arkansas and Mississippi are just as bad as inner city schools.

Alan writes:

coyote had a good attempt.

The problem is, when dealing with soft-headed people it doesn't matter if you convince them or not. In twenty minutes they will have forgotten the argument and reverted to their former beliefs.

Phil writes:

Tell the story that David Henderson told in The Joy of Freedom about Homework in Vermont. See page 79.

jure writes:

Well, you Bryan certainly are in the circle of libetarians who are able to sell libertarianism to the emotional people. I learned a lot of arguments from you. That gives us a nice view about the marketing tactic:

- For example: Your argument for free trade is far from traditional boredom of Ricardian competitive advantage. You presented the story about the magic machine that turns wheat into cars. This is great tactic, cause everyone can understand it + everyone agrees with the premise. And they will be embarassed if they don't agree with conclusions- cause they are logical

- YOU made me think about marketing libertarianism, when i heard that you often explain economics with human relationships examples. Like for the labour laws. You gave brilliant comparison with government and coercion of marriage. If government passes law that everyone that engages in date- must marry this person- result will be everyone will be afraid of dates. It is common for emotional people that they get distracted if you do not present the topic in illustrative ways. And they get sense that yo are explaining to them something abstract.

We learn from that: Libertarians must STOP using the economics profession language. Stop making arguments with opportunity costs, adam smiths, milton friedmans, government failures... After all Gary Beckeer said that economics is nothng more than common sense. That means that libertarians actually DO HAVE advantage over socialists, cause socialist ideas are anti-common sense. No one actually believes in the abolition of his own property. No one actually believes that you should raise your kids to be supported by the government. Everyone dreams about being self-dependent and successful. Every argument that you make must follow the basic premise about which everyone agrees on. That means try to explain government regulation of business with everyday stories about government regulation of human relations and sexual behavior. Try to show emotional people some history cases of regimes that they do not like. Show those progressives the parallels between Vatican church regulation of sexual life and regulation of market- and present them the unintended consequences.

For me, watching Milton Friedman in free to choose: Power of the market, changed my life. Watching the interview of julian simon prc forum changed my thinking completely. All those libertarian argument are very emotional- cause they are presented in such a way, by people able to do it.

Another importat thing for libertarian argumentation is teaching emotionalists to think beyond stage one- as is the title of Thomas Sowell's book. Thinking beyond stage one is a fundamental difference between libertarians and emotionalists. Present them the old wisdom of a recently deceased James Buchanan: Economist must allways keep the warm heart and hot head- not the other way around. You must do it gently, but attack their blame center in brains. Tell them and show them with everyday cases, that not being able to curb your emotions in so important decisions that affect everyone- is fundamentaly selfish and uncompassionate, because you put your own emotional satisfaction ahead of reality and proof.

yeah those are my insights about libertarian tactic

Floccina writes:

I have this friend who is mentally ill. He would like to work but the meds that he needs to take to keep schizophrenia a bay slow him down and through I have another friend who would like to hire him to do some very menial tasks (like get me that hammer) he cannot at the current minimum wage. So my friend stays lonely and alone in his apartment isolated from the comradeship that he loves. Isn't that sad?

jure writes:

oH no, i wrote my comment so quickly that i made at least 2 crucial mistakes: Its ricardian comparative advantage- not competitive advantage!

Buchanan said, you should keep your heart warm but head COLD. Yeah, i never checked it, sorry.

And now my solution for minimum wage laws:

First ask them if they believe in objective reality, if they belive that reality constrains and affects peoples decisions, and that will and want cannot alter this objective reality. There are freaks, mainly the mystic joga-buddism or. some philosophers that will not agree. But othervise you sound weird if you say that you dont believe in reality.
So, from this premise you continue. Tell them: People before capitalism and in very backward places around the world today have extremely low standard of living. So if you say that you can raise standard of living by simply passing the law that demands higher wage- you implicitly assume that there is no objective reality. Cause that would mean that the only thing that Henderson island (yes David henderson has his own island:) or Vanuatu must do is to pass a law that demands Manhattan level of wages. Tell them that by this kind of reasoning cave man would only need to pass a tribal law that demands from everyone that puts more goods in exchange when they exchange. People who want higher minumum wages therefore demand something that is nonexistent. And tell them that wage rates are unimportant since you dont eat wage- you eat food. So if they really want to show their compassion they must invest their time and intellectual power to think about how to raise level of goods in society- not level of wages.

You can also ask them how is it possible that in every economy there are wages that are much higher than min. wage? How is it possible that some employers pay wages that are much much much higher than min. wage? If they are explaining employers hiring behavior like this- that they want to pay as little as possible- why than MOST OF THE EMPLOYERS actually pay more than min. wage?

If they explain wages as result of the employers will and compassion- ask them why then is american worker much much better paid than cuban worker? Why most of the welfare states in the world have lower wages for workers? And then remind them, See my friend, my comrade, will isnt enough to change reality- you must think about reasons that affect raising wages. Emotionalists are philosophically confused, what means that they have some common sense but it is in a sleep mode. If they answer that americans are more productive or have more freedom- then, just tell them: welcome aboard comrade!

Finch writes:

I suggest lying. The problem is not that soft-headed-soft-hearted people are misunderstanding well-intentioned factual material, it's that they're being mislead by the other guys.

Troy Camplin writes:

Here's how to really address the soft-hearted with "soft" heads:

Below Minimum

His stomach rumbled, but he had to go
To his next stop – it was a little shop
That sold mere flowers, nick-knacks. In the flow
From shop to shop, he wished that he could drop

The wages he could offer – he was sure
He could have had a job by now, the knife
Of hunger would be gone. He would endure
A little less to feed his kids and wife.

He knew he was not worth the pay each place
Could offer him – he had dropped out of school,
He had no skills, and no one would embrace
Him so that he could learn some. Thus, the cruel

Law followed him and kept him unemployed
And ignorant and unemployable –
A cruelty that did more than just annoyed,
Conspiring to keep his skills and talents dull.

He never would be able to compete
With anyone within the working class –
A cruelty by design, so they’d defeat
Him long before he’d see within the glass

A man who could take care of his own kids
And wife with honest labor, so he turned
Within the week to crime – and soon he rids
A person of their life because we spurned

Him with a set of legislation which
Destroyed his dignity. He went to jail –
We threw him, broken, down into a ditch
Because of our unholy, sacred grail.

Roger writes:

How is Timex able to compete with Rolex? Easy, they sell at a lower price. If Rolex wanted to put Timex out of business, they would just establish a regulation which sets a minimum price on watches of $10,000.

Minimum wages work the same way. Lower skilled workers compete with higher skilled workers by asking for a lower wage. A regulated minimum wage disenfranchises lower skilled workers in the same way a minimum price disenfranchises Timex.

Kenny writes:

People are already working 'under the table' and some of them are earning less than the minimum wage. Abolishing the minimum wage will allow some of those people access to legal employment, e.g. legal protections, access to the court system to resolve employment disputes, and freedom from worry about possible punishments.

Having written the above tho, I think minimum wage laws are 'perfect' soft-head-soft-heart policies, as they probably aren't very expensive and, even tho they're not very effective either, they are a convincing signal of caring and empathy that is widely understood. They're good examples of Hanson's politics-isn't-policy concept.

Luke J writes:

@ bobroberts17e1

Good story!

@ Alan

#facepalm

Taeyoung writes:

Not a concrete suggestion here, but I think one might find it instructive to look back at the history of the "dear loaf" as a popular rallying cry against protectionism in Victorian Britain. That wasn't an image that was built up in a year or two for a discrete campaign -- it was prominent in British politics for half a century, extending into the 20th century. The foundations were laid very deep.

Rick Weber writes:

Here's a thought experiment:

There's a little local bookstore run by a little old lady. She doesn't make much money, but she pays the bills and it gives her something to do with her time. All told she's making about $2 an hour. Should she be allowed to continue running her book store? Should she be allowed to sell her book store and continue to work there under identical conditions for $2 an hour?

This would be more compelling if we could find a bunch of little old ladies who want to work part-time in little shops and mom-and-pop businesses who want to hire them. I'm sure they're out there.

Rohan writes:

I don't know. From a feeling perspective, all the stories mentioned so far are vulnerable to casting the company as the villain.

Even the story about the aircraft company can be cast that way. Why didn't the aircraft company pay these individuals the wage they deserved? Isn't the aircraft company taking advantage of them?

Then when you try to explain why that isn't so, you'll trip all over yourself, at least feelings-wise.

I would go with the race card. Maybe try to tie increases in minimum wage with anti-immigrant (especially illegal immigrant) sentiment.

Seth writes:

I like to see if I kind find some cognitive dissonance for them to sort out.

If it were Oprah I was trying to convince, I'd ask if any of her companies used unpaid interns. I'd also ask if she had ever worked for less than the minimum wage to break into her business.

If she answers yes to the first question, I'd ask her why her interns should earn less than minimum wage.

If she answers yes to the second, I'd ask why she was willing to forgo the minimum wage.

jeppen writes:

In my Sweden, we don't have minimum wage laws. Worse, we have union negotiated collective bargaining minimum wage agreements by sector of the economy. So builders have one minimum wage, teachers have one and so on. These minimum wages are fairly universally imposed.

Now, with the European Union, labor with fairly wide ranges of wage demands can move freely. However, the minimum wage agreements are of course a great tool for, for example, Swedish construction companies to collaborate with their employees' union to exclude foreign competition both in terms of companies and in terms of labor. Consumers, taxpayers, and poorer EU citizens suffer.

Bernie writes:

Too easy, I can neither confirm nor deny that this is a true story. I hope this isn't too long.

I was always a little different from all my friends. I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. Ever since I was 5 years old I wanted to be a train engineer. The children’s books Mr. Pufferbill and Benji engine, the model train set I got for my tenth birthday, the folk songs about riding the rails, seeing and hearing the locomotive in the Smithsonian (wow), all reinforced and encouraged this dream. My earliest memory is with my dad sitting in the car stopped at a railroad crossing in North Dakota watching a mile long freight train pass by.

When I graduated high school my friends enrolled at the local community college, but I couldn't stand another minute of school. Paying money to sit in a classroom sounded like a fate worse than death.

I went down to the train yard and tried to apply for an entry level job. I knew it would take me a while to work my way up to where I wanted to be and was willing to do any job just to get started. I was given an application, but the admin told me they weren't hiring and I didn't get phone call. I tried networking. A friend of a friend’s father worked there and I talked to him, unfortunately he said they weren't growing and had a hiring freeze.

I thought trough my options, I was still living at home, all my friends were in classes and no one had any money. The previous summer I had a job flipping burgers, but I had only been given 20 hours a week. It hadn't been bad money for a kid with no bills, but it was a dead end job and I wanted to start my career. I figured if I could start at a low salary I could prove my work ethic, get some experience and get a raise later. This was the late 80's; the minimum wage was $3.35.

I got the name of the station master and I wrote a letter explaining my situation. I offered to start at $1.50 an hour, I figured this was close to what I made flipping burgers if I worked a full 40 hours and I had nothing else to do all day. I told him about my love of trains and added my school grades (they weren't bad) and a couple of character references. It was kind of a resume and cover letter jumbled together. A week later he called me and said he was impressed with my dedication. Unfortunately it was illegal to pay less than the minimum wage and they couldn't afford to pay any new hires that much. Based on turnover and retirements they didn't expect to hire anyone for at least two years but if anything changed I would be the first person he’d call.

I had run out of options so I went to the military recruiting office and joined the Navy. The irony is that I made much less than the minimum wage there. Sure the paychecks were bigger ($630 a month) than I would have made at $1.50, but when you go to work one morning and don’t leave until 6 months later the dollars per hour are really low. I did get everything I had wanted from the railroad, I got some training, work experience and a few raises. Unfortunately by the time my enlistment was up I had left home, I had bills and responsibilities. I was making more money and couldn't go back to the railroad starting at the bottom making minimum wage. It worked out alright, I made a career out of the Navy, retired, and thanks to the training I got in the military I've started a new career. Every now and again I still romanticize about what life would have been like if I could have gotten that railroad job.

Gangnam Forever writes:

Just get them to listen to "Mitt Romney Style", especially the lyrics that tell you to "stop snoozin', start hustlin'". It's a guaranteed hit!

JohnC writes:

When it comes to the softies, i suspect the right answers are far less convincing than the right questions. What's are the right questions? Well, for starters, "What do we owe the least fortunate among us?"

For many, the answer is that we, at a minimum, owe them the provision of meaningful work that provides a fair and adequate wage for every working family, a wage sufficient to keep a family well above the poverty line.

If one feels there's a basic economic injustice - that the costs of economic growth are generally borne by those least able to afford them and that the majority of the benefits of economic growth go to those who need them least - then he may find that minimum wage legislation - viz. wealth transfer - is a fair strategy to keep a family well above the poverty line.

And it may well be: To be sure, sometimes minimum wage laws will cause unemployment and therefore hurt the people they are supposed to help; but most of the minimum-wage workers will keep their jobs and will have have higher earnings.

But that prompts a deeper question: Is the trade-off worth it? Is it fair to have legislation that gives 8 people an extra $10 a day if it means workers 9 and 10 go unemployed? In short, do we want to redistribute from the really poor to the slightly-less-poor? Is the extra $50 a week for most of the workers worth the disruption to the lives of those who are laid-off or who have their salaries cut?

Ken P writes:

I don't buy the soft head part. It's about being emotionally distracted and also occurs with conservatives concerned about terrorism.

For example, Obama says "if gun control stops just one gun death..." and liberals agree because they are locked into that view emotionally. Consideration will not be given to guns stopping crimes anymore than a conservative will consider the possibility that our drones are creating more terrorists than we kill.

But... Storytelling may be the best shot.

============ My attempt ===>

You know it's actually hard to go in Wal Mart. You see these people trying to earn a living for their families. Last time I was there, I remember the checkout girl was super nice. I think her name tag said Shelly. She seemed a little off kilter and was missing some teeth, but real friendly. She had a picture of her family by the register.

I know she could get her teeth fixed with a better wage and her kids could have more things they want. I would like to see her make more money and Wal Mart could be forced to pay more just by raising the minimum wage.

But if we re-visit that same store with a $12 minimum wage (Instead of $7.25), we wouldn't see Shelly. No, at that wage, there would be fewer jobs overall and at that wage a Wal Mart would be able to choose from more workers (those willing to work for $12.50/hr)... maybe some college frat boy who knows??

And... they would have to raise prices, which would be no big deal to someone like me nowadays. I'm much more likely to shop at Costco. But I remember how tight things were for me and my family when I was in my 20s and working in a gas station. One thing that really helped us get by was Wal Mart's low prices. The thing to always remember is that when you change ONE THING, that's not the only thing you change.

Pointing out that in some instances minimum wage policies were implemented in malice towards minorities and immigrants: http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/pboettke/workshop/Spring_06/JEP_Retrospectives.pdf

tends to resonate with softies...

TeVin Page writes:

Its not the difference between Feeling and Thinking, its the difference between Understanding or Not. People wonder why Liberals usually have these outlooks on life, its mostly in part because they are personally dealing with that situation. I think its pretty safe to say there aren't many republicans on Welfare. Those who do not understand are not in the position to understand, you could never imagine what it is like living in low income housing. So please do not think Liberals have these tendencies because we are a bunch of softies. Republicans are too busy trying to get richer while some people are simply trying to survive. Why are some people so self centered?
As far as welfare goes, it works and it doesn't People become slaves to that system becoming dependent on it. There is little effort to help these people get off of welfare, so they sit in their likely low income housing and collect checks. There should be more effort to help those people get off and become dependent on themself. I feel great knowing that my tax dollars are going to hungry, cold, and forgotten individuals I walk past on the street. I don't need it so I don't collect, but if I did, believe I'd be the first one in line to get the help I need to get back on my feet.
People have this mentality that people on welfare are collecting free money, no I have seen first hand how government help truly helps. Going to get something to eat with a bunch of my friends one may pull out an EBT card, although some may think it is funny, without that card he would not be eating. He does not take it for granted, because it is not his fault he is in that situation.

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