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What the World Looks Like to Someone Who Doesn’t Understand Economics

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EconLog commenter Jon (who is not Jon Murphy) read with disapproval this comment by EconLog commenter John hare [2]:

Minimum wage is an attempt to extract by force that which one is unable to earn by right.

Jon responded [3]; his response is reproduced below in full:

Exactly! We have an underclass of people who, left on their own, would be very unlikely to earn a living wage by right (and, of course, the current minimum wage is not a living wage). So what do you suggest we do with these people?

Jon’s defense of the minimum wage is strong evidence that the world does indeed include people who really do believe that government-officials’ stated intentions determine the outcomes of government actions.  Jon writes as though minimum-wage legislation really does improve the lives of the (as he describes them) “underclass of people who, left on their own, would be very unlikely to earn a living wage.”  Judging from this comment (and from some of his other comments at EconLog), Jon doesn’t even bother to consider the possibility that the minimum wage might not raise incomes in the way that he supposes that it does and that its proponents claim it will.

Another error is revealed by Jon’s question, “So what do you suggest we do with these people?”  Even if it were true that the United States has lots of people who “left on their own … would be very unlikely to earn a living wage” – and if it were also true that John hare and every other opponent of the minimum wage can offer no good ‘solution’ for how to improve the economic well-being of such people – it does not follow that the minimum wage is, therefore, a policy that will help to improve the economic well-being of such people.  If Smith advises Jones not to drink a gallon of gasoline by pointing out to 65-year-old Jones that drinking gasoline will, contrary to Jones’s stated belief, not only not turn Jones again into a 25-year-old man but will instead kill him, Jones would be mad – and illogical – to respond by asking rhetorically: ‘So what do you suggest I do to turn myself again into a 25-year-old man?’  Not all problems have solutions, and certainly the failure to offer a solution to a problem does not imply that the proposed solution currently under consideration will work or should be tried.

Jon’s response to John hare also suggests that Jon believes that prices and wages are rather arbitrary numbers the only function of which is to determine  how a fixed-sized economic pie is sliced.  Raising the minimum wage will (apparently in Jon’s view) cut bigger slices for low-skilled workers by cutting smaller slices for business owners and others.  There is in Jon’s comment no evidence whatsoever that he is even aware of (much less that he has a response to) the concern that the minimum wage prices out of jobs the very workers that Jon understandably seeks to help.

Finally, this unawareness on Jon’s part (which, I do not doubt, he shares with the vast majority of minimum-wage supporters) makes it fair to ask Jon the following question: What line of reasoning leads you, Jon, to believe that people who are so unskilled and inept that when “left on their own” they are incapable of earning a “living wage” will continue to be attractive to employers when the government prohibits these unfortunate workers from offering to work at hourly wages below the wages that are currently paid to more skilled and competent workers?

UPDATE: Incoming GMU Econ PhD student Jon Murphy – again, not the “Jon” discussed above – asks wisely in the comments section to this post “I wonder if he [EconLog commenter Jon] is aware that the minimum wage was established precisely to keep such an underclass out of the workforce?”  My guess is that the answer is ‘no.’

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