Minimum Consistency

by Don Boudreaux on March 5, 2013

in Budget Issues, Work

Commenting on this post, Bret Wallach writes:

A bit apples to oranges comparing an across the board change with a change of a single input.

Mr. Wallach’s criticism is fair, although I believe that it’s also fair to reject this criticism.

My point – originally expressed opaquely – is simply this one: if one economic entity (a representative group of low-skilled workers) can with ease be worked harder or smarter by its employer in order for that employer to continue to operate ‘efficiently’ despite a government imposition that initially reduces the spread between that employer’s costs and its revenues, then another economic entity (a representative U.S. government agency, including its employees) should with ease be able to be worked harder and smarter by its overseer in order for that agency to continue to operate ‘efficiently’ despite a government imposition that initially reduces the spread between that agency’s costs and its ‘revenues.’

I do not for a split moment intend to suggest that private firms are comparable or analogous on all margins to government agencies.  They aren’t.  But I do mean to question the consistency of those who, with one breath, assert that employers can and will easily adjust to the imposed higher costs of a legislated minimum wage without there being any resulting ill unintended consequences, while with the next breath they insist that the slightest decline in a government-agency’s budget will necessarily oblige that agency to dramatically scale back and make less ‘efficient’ its operations.

In short, are not government workers equally able as private-sector workers to be worked harder and smarter so that government agencies can easily generate, in response to budget constraints made tighter by Congress, more output per hour?

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