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Witch Doctors, Cancer, and the Minimum Wage

Today’s Wall Street Journal published this letter of mine:

There are heaps of bad arguments for raising the minimum wage. Perhaps the worst, offered by Joel Schipper (“Prices Versus Wages: A False Dichotomy,” Letters to the Editor, Aug. 12), is that a minimum-wage increase is justified if a full-time worker earning the current minimum wage cannot afford to live “in a city such as Chicago.”

Mr. Schipper’s argument implies that incomes can be raised by dictate, to whatever level is necessary to live in some locale. If this notion is correct, why settle for enabling workers to live only in the likes of Chicago? Why not raise the minimum wage so that everyone can afford to live in, say, Nantucket, Hyannis Port or Beverly Hills, within walking distance of Rodeo Drive?

Already my e-mailbox has brought me seven responses — three from friends noting agreement with my letter and four from strangers.  Two strangers agree; two disagree — each vehemently.  Each of these disagreements accuses me not of faulty reasoning but of hard-heartedness: “How would YOU like to live on a job paying just $5.15 [per hour]?” one correspondent asks.

Well, obviously I wouldn’t like to make less than I earn now, which is substantially more per hour than $5.15.  But this fact is utterly irrelevant to the argument (contrary to what some of my correspondents and many others who weigh in on the minimum-wage debate believe).

Suppose a witch doctor insists that he can cure cancer merely by doing a dance.  If someone who is skeptical of this claim expresses his or her skepticism, does the skeptic lose credibility if he or she isn’t a cancer victim?  Would a believer in the witch-doctor’s supernatural powers score intellectual points by rhetorically asking the skeptic “How would YOU like to have cancer?!”  Does the obvious benefit, the great goodness, of curing cancer patients of their disease increase the likelihood that the witch-doctor’s dance will actually cure these patients of their cancers?

Minimum-wage legislation might or might not be a good means of helping low-skilled workers.  I believe it to be a very poor means.  But even if I’m mistaken, the fact that I earn a wage well above the legislated minimum wage, and the fact that I prefer to earn more rather than less, is irrelevant to the debate.

Why do so many people who weigh in on this issue make such fantastically illogical “arguments” in favor of raising the minimum wage?