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Carson Did Not ‘Flub’ His Recent Answer to a Question About the Minimum Wage

Here’s a letter to two careless, or negligently uninformed, AP reporters:

Messrs. Christopher Rugaber and Josh Boak, Reporters
Associated Press

Messrs. Rugaber and Boak:

Reporting on last-night’s GOP presidential debate, you assert that Ben Carson “flubbed” or “botched” with “funny numbers” his answer to a question about the effects of raising the minimum wage.  On this matter, though, it is you, not Dr. Carson, whose facts are wrong.

When asked about raising the minimum wage, Dr. Carson replied (as you report) “Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases.”  You then proceed to note, first, that several recent increases in the minimum wage were followed by no increase in the overall unemployment rate, and, second, that “[e]conomic research has found that when states raise their minimum wages higher than neighboring states, they don’t typically fare any worse than their neighbors.”

Dr. Carson’s only “flub” here is offering at the front of his reply a sentence that, standing alone, is worded carelessly.  Yet had you reported the full text of Dr. Carson’s reply you would have noted that he emphasized the minimum-wage’s destruction of job opportunities for young blacks and other low-skilled workers. He’s correct to do so.  The argument against the minimum wage is not that it increases the overall rate of unemployment; rather, it’s that it destroys jobs for many low-skilled workers (often by increasing the relative attractiveness to firms of hiring workers who are more skilled than are the workers who are priced out of jobs by the minimum wage).

Also, it’s simply untrue that economic research shows clearly that states that raise their minimum wages higher than neighboring states do not suffer higher rates of unemployment of low-skilled workers.  While some research reaches this conclusion, a great deal of other research reaches the contrary conclusion.  Therefore, your accusation that Dr. Carson’s argument lacks empirical foundation is, at best, recklessly misleading, for it wrongly implies that economists are agreed on the bizarre proposition that employers fail to respond to hikes in labor costs by further economizing on their use of labor.

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