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Minimum-Wage Legislation Came From a Bad Place

Here’s a letter to the New York Post:


John Thorpe’s case for repealing the Davis-Bacon Act is persuasive (“Ditch this Jim Crow-era mandate that hurts minorities most,” May 31). But he errs when he writes that “unlike minimum-wage laws, prevailing-wage mandates didn’t even come from good intentions.”

In fact, minimum-wage statutes were just as ill-intentioned as was Davis-Bacon’s prevailing-wage mandate. As Princeton economist Thomas Leonard reports about early 20th-century progressives who lobbied for minimum wages,

By pushing the cost of unskilled labor above its value, a minimum wage worked on two eugenic fronts. It deterred immigrants and other inferiors from entering the labor force, and it idled inferior workers already employed. The minimum wage detected the inferior employee, whether immigrant, female or disabled so that he or she could be scientifically dealt with.*

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

* Thomas Leonard, Illiberal Reformers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), page 151.

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