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Maybe Mr. Collins’s Argument Would Be Excusable Had It Been Made Before 1871

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Brian Collins asks “Do you truly believe that absent any increase in the minimum wage that Wendy’s or any other business will suspend efforts to develop and implement new forms of automation that promise to reduce staff levels?” (Letters, August 18).

The answer is ‘no.’  Contrary to Mr. Collins’s implication, however, this fact does nothing to excuse raising the minimum wage.

Even in a world in which market forces naturally promote automation, raising the minimum wage has two pernicious effects.  First, it causes the rate of automation to be faster than it would be if the minimum wage were not raised.  That is, raising the minimum wage results in automation being introduced at a rate that is too fast given the size of the low-skilled labor force.  Second, raising the minimum wage destroys incentives for entrepreneurs and businesses to find ways to profitably employ workers whose limited skills prevent them from producing hourly outputs valued at least as high as the minimum wage.  The first effect throws some low-skilled workers out of jobs that they would otherwise retain, while the second effect ensures that no one has incentives to find ways to profitably employ these and other low-skilled workers.

If it is inhumane to outlaw the profitable employment of those workers whose skills are the least valuable, then the minimum wage is deeply inhumane.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

If the government instituted a minimum wage of $100 per hour and, therefore, made unlawful the profitable employment of all those people whose skills are too meager to enable them to produce at least $100 worth of output per hour, there would be a national uproar – and rightly so.  Yet when the government implements such a policy but in a way that outlaws the profitable employment only of people whose skill-sets are among the lowest, relatively few people object and many people – especially “Progressives” – applaud the policy as humane.  How sad.  And how especially sad that many economists today, who above all should know better, lend their authority to such an inhumane policy.


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