Scott Sumner  

A correction on a previous post on Luddite theories

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In a previous post I argued:

Andy Puzder was one of the few Trump appointees that I sort of liked (I say "sort of", because even he had ethical issues.) He was pro-immigration and anti-minimum wage. But in the end even many conservatives opposed him so he withdrew his name from consideration for Labor Secretary.

Reihan Salam was one of the conservative opponents of Andy Puzder:

"Puzder has also been an influential critic of minimum-wage hikes and overtime regulations, warning that such measures would force employers to replace low-wage workers with machines. He seems animated by the Luddite conviction that productivity-boosting automation is necessarily a bad thing, despite the fact that rising productivity levels are essential to wage growth."
This has things exactly backwards. People who subscribe to the lump of labor fallacy (there are a fixed number of jobs) are exactly the people who favor these four bad public policies: 1. Restrictions on automation 2. Higher minimum wage rates 3. Protectionism 4. Lower levels of immigration

People suffering from this fallacy think there are a fixed number of jobs, which allows the government to arbitrarily raise the minimum wage without hurting employment. This view also suggests that there is only so much to be produced, and if more is produced overseas, or by immigrants, or by robots, then less will be produced by American born workers.


Reihan Salam pointed out that this mischaracterized his views--especially the phrase "this has things exactly backwards". I wrongly left the impression that he was a believer in the Luddite fallacy, which was not my intention (nor do I believe that). Instead, what I had intended to do is defend Pudzer against the charge that opposing higher minimum wages and simultaneously pointing to the risk of jobs being replaced by machines was a form of Luddism. And then my second point was that some people who are Luddites (but not Salam) do favor policies like higher minimum wages, protectionism, reductions in immigration, etc.

I recognize that people can favor less immigration of low-skilled workers for non-Luddite reasons.

In trying to cover all these bases, I left the impression that I was criticizing Salam all though the post, whereas I actually meant to only criticize the specific passage I quoted. I apologize for that.


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COMMENTS (2 to date)
Lat writes:

Posts like these are why I value the writers at EconLog. It's very easy to find writers that are overconfident and never wrong in their own mind, but some of us appreciate and trust the humbler economist.

Justin writes:

Nancy MacLean could learn a lesson here.

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