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Struck a Nerve

Here’s a letter to a correspondent (whom I do not know):

Ms. Caroline Fielder

Dear Ms. Fielder:

Quoting the e-mail you sent to me in response to my new video on the dangers of the minimum wage: “I heard that economists with George Mason privilege the rich and are enemies of poor and dispossessed people. But I did not know just how much you hate the poor until I saw your horrible video.”

I’ve only two things to say in reply.  First, if you believe that I and my colleagues “privilege the rich and are enemies of the poor,” you obviously aren’t familiar with my or my colleagues’ work (despite your having “heard” about it).  Second, please consider that people can disagree over the efficacy of means without disagreeing over the desirability of ends.  I share what I presume to be your wish that the poorest workers amongst us be paid more, but I do not share your faith that a government declaration that they be paid more will achieve this end.  I believe that it will in fact have the opposite effect for many workers.

Were I to treat you as you as you uncharitably treat me, I would ask why you, through your support for the minimum wage, wish to “privilege the rich” by increasing the poorest people’s difficulties of finding and keeping jobs.  Why do you willingly join the “enemies of poor and dispossessed people” with your applause for legislation that strips these people of the ability to bargain for employment by offering to work at wages below the government-set minimum?  Why do you “despise” the “humanitarians in our midst” who call for an end to this legislation that inflicts such pain on the poor?  Why do you “long to see poor people kept poor” and without economic opportunity?

In fact, though, I have no reason to question the sincerity of your wish that poor people be made better off.  And you, please note, have no reason to question the sincerity of my wish for the very same.

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