The Wages of Logic

by Don Boudreaux on February 21, 2013

in Myths and Fallacies, Work

In a comment on this post, Mark Monroe objects to my objection to the legislated minimum-wage by asking me how I would ‘solve’ the problem of poverty in the absence of such a wage (and of other welfare-state institutions).

I leave aside here the larger discussion of other welfare-state institutions and focus – as I did in the original post – on the minimum-wage.

Mr. Monroe’s question reveals a logical confusion.  To point out that policy M will not bring about desirable outcome does not require the person who bears the bad news about policy M to offer alternative means of bringing about desirable outcome W.  Put differently, the answer to the question of whether or not policy will bring about desirable outcome does not turn on whether or not there are other policies that can bring about desirable outcome W.  Perhaps W is impossible.  (For the record, I hasten to add, I emphatically do not believe that the goal of further alleviation of poverty is impossible.)

Suppose that sincere and honest Mr. Jones proposes to raise the incomes of the poorest Americans by having each and every American throw a thimble-full of water over his or her left shoulder every Thursday at 3:07pm eastern time.  We all recognize that, regardless of the sincerity with which Mr. Jones clings to the belief that such a ritual will alleviate poverty, his scheme will not bring about the desired goal.

If Mr. Monroe points out that Mr. Jones’s scheme won’t work – if Mr. Monroe reveals Mr. Jones’s scheme to be a poor means to achieve a worthy goal – Mr. Monroe has performed a service, especially to the extent that other people were prepared to accept Mr. Jones’s policy conclusion.  And it would be illegitimate for Mr. Jones to respond to the exposure of his scheme as hokum by demanding that Mr. Monroe offer a better, alternative means of eliminating poverty.

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