by Don Boudreaux on December 26, 2014

in Hubris and humility, Seen and Unseen, Work

Valued Cafe commenter Chris Lawnsby reacts to this post with this comment:

Regardless of whether your argument is correct– and let’s just grant that it is– it’s in my opinion unfair to call your intellectual adversaries “shameful.”

They believe that their position on minimum-wage legislation best helps the world. You believe that it’s YOUR position that best helps the world. If their advocacy of minimum-wage legislation seems shameful to you, then symmetry dictates that your position should seem shameful to them.

Unless their MOTIVES are actually different from yours, their arguments and remedies can only be incorrect– not shameful.

With respect, I disagree.

It is not shameful to advocate a policy with which I disagree.  Disagreement in and of itself isn’t remotely shameful.  Quite the opposite.

But it is shameful to advocate a policy on the basis of an assumption that (1) if it is mistaken, you know will cause that policy to generate results exactly the opposite of the good results that you hope that the policy will generate, and (2) if it is not mistaken, implies the existence of exploitable profit opportunities that you can, but mysteriously refuse, to exploit yourself – profit opportunities that you yourself should somehow be able to take advantage of, both for your own private gain and for the good of the people whose welfare you claim to be championing, but the pursuit of which you stubbornly refuse to undertake or to otherwise stake any of your own money on.  It’s shameful, therefore, to gamble with the well-being of low-skilled workers on the basis of an assumption that, if not mistaken, you ought to be able somehow to profit from by staking your own skin but on which you nevertheless refuse to gamble anything of your own.  Instead, you shamefully remain content only to gamble with the livelihoods of strangers while keeping your own skin safe from testing whether or not your assumption is correct.

What’s shameful is to insist that such profit opportunities exist (for such opportunities are implied by the assumption on which you base your advocacy of the minimum wage) – and that these opportunities exist with such certainty and longevity to justify government action – yet you yourself are somehow to be excused from staking any money or resources of your own on market bets that such opportunities are real.  What’s shameful is that you arrogantly pose as someone to be trusted to advocate unleashing the awesome power of the state, but that you simultaneously plead that you are too inexperienced, too unknowledgeable, too unskilled, or too cloistered to engage personally in the market in ways that would exploit the profit opportunities that are implied in your argument for why some workers’ wages are currently too low.  (If you are unwilling to act on your own, with some of your own resources at stake, to bring about outcome X, you are not to be trusted to demand that other people – and only other people – risk their resources and livelihoods, and only their resources and livelihoods, on your assessments about the current state of the world as you attempt to bring about outcome X.)

What’s shameful is that you bet on the merits of a policy only with the welfare of strangers and not with any real resources of your own, even though the very reason that you publicly offer for supporting the policy is that the market is filled with huge profit opportunities for those who would better employ low-skilled workers.


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