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Posts Tagged ‘Minimum Wage’

In another display of selfless masochism, I watched the TrumpBiden debate last night.

The candidates behaved better, for whatever that’s worth, but I was disappointed that there so little time (and even less substance) devoted to economic issues.

One of the few exceptions was the brief tussle regarding the minimum wage. Trump waffled on the issue, so I don’t give him any points, but Biden fully embraced the Bernie Sanders policy of basically doubling the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

This is very bad news for low-skilled workers and very bad news to low-margin businesses.

The economic of this issue are very simple. If a worker generates, say, $9 of revenue per hour, and politicians say that worker can’t be employed for less than $15 per hour, that’s a recipe for unemployment.

Earlier this month, Professor Steven Landsburg on the University of Rochester opined for the Wall Street Journal on Biden’s minimum-wage policy.

It isn’t only that I think Mr. Biden is frequently wrong. It’s that he tends to be wrong in ways that suggest he never cared about being right. He makes no attempt to defend many of his policies with logic or evidence, and he deals with objections by ignoring or misrepresenting them. …Take Mr. Biden’s stance on the federal minimum wage, which he wants to increase to $15 an hour from $7.25. …So why does Mr. Biden want to raise the minimum wage…? He hasn’t said, so I have two guesses, neither of which reflects well on him. Guess No. 1: He’s dissembling about the cost. …The minimum wage…comes directly from employers but indirectly (after firms shrink and prices rise) from consumers. A minimum wage is a stealth tax on eating at McDonald’s or shopping at Walmart. …Mr. Biden should acknowledge the cost of wage hikes and argue for accepting it. Instead he’s silent about the cost, hoping he can foist it on people who won’t realize they’re footing this bill. Guess No. 2: He’s rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies. New York is going to vote for Mr. Biden. The state also has a high cost of living and high wages—so New Yorkers would be largely unaffected by the minimum-wage hike. Alabama is going to vote against Mr. Biden. Alabama has a low cost of living and relatively low wages—so under the Biden plan Alabama firms would shrink, to the benefit of competitors in New York. Alabama workers and consumers would pay a greater price than New Yorkers.

And Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute recently highlighted some of the adverse effects for unskilled workers.

It’s an economic reality that workers compete against other workers, not against employers, for jobs, and higher wages in the labor market. And it’s also true that lower-skilled, limited-experience, less-educated workers compete against higher-skilled, more experienced, more educated workers for jobs. …If the minimum wage is increased…, that will…take away from unskilled workers the one advantage they currently have to compete against skilled workers – the ability to offer to work for a significantly lower wage than what skilled workers can command. …Result of a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour? Demand for skilled workers goes up, demand for unskilled workers goes down, and employment opportunities for unskilled workers are reduced.

Since I recently shared videos with Milton Friedman’s wisdom on both taxes and spending, here’s what he said about the minimum wage.

Let’s share one last bit of evidence. Mark Perry’s article referenced some new research by Jeffrey Clemens, Lisa Kahn, and Jonathan Meer.

Here’s what those scholars found in a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

We investigate whether changes in firms’ skill requirements are channels through which labor markets respond to minimum wage increases. …Data from the American Community Survey show that recent minimum wage changes resulted in increases in the average age and education of the individuals employed in low-wage jobs. Data on job vacancy postings show that the prevalence of a high school diploma requirement increases at the same time. The shift in skill requirements begins within the first quarter of a minimum wage hike. Further, it results from both within-firm shifts in postings and across-firms shifts towards firms that sought more-skilled workers at baseline. Given the poor labor market outcomes of individuals without high school diplomas, these findings have substantial policy relevance. This possibility was recognized well over a century ago by Smith (1907), who noted that the “enactment of a minimum wage involves the possibility of creating a class prevented by the State from obtaining employment.” Further, negative effects may be exacerbated for minority groups in the presence of labor market discrimination.

So why do politicians push for higher minimum wages, when all the evidence suggests that vulnerable workers bear the heaviest cost?

Part of the answer is that they don’t understand economics and don’t care about evidence.

But there’s also a more reprehensible answer, which is that they do understand, but they want to curry favor with union bosses, and those union bosses push for higher minimum wages as a way of reducing competition from lower-skilled workers.

P.S. Here’s my CNBC debate with Joe Biden’s top economic advisor on this issue.

P.P.S. Here’s a rather frustrating discussion I had on the minimum wage with Yahoo Finance.

P.P.P.S. But if you’re pressed for time, don’t listen to me pontificate. Instead, watch this video.

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As I discuss in this recent interview, a higher minimum wage is a terrible idea if we care about facts and evidence (and also want to help poor people).

In the interview, I mentioned that minimum wage mandates aren’t good news for workers who lose their jobs.

One of them, Simone Barron, wrote in the Wall Street Journal about her unfortunate experience after the minimum wage was increased in Seattle.

This city’s minimum wage is rising to $16.39 an hour on Jan. 1. Instead of receiving a bigger paycheck, I’m left without any pay at all… That’s because the restaurant where I’ve worked for six years is closing as a consequence of the city’s harmful minimum-wage experiment. …When rent is too high, labor costs too much, and customers don’t want to pay $40 for a roast-chicken entree, the only way for many operators to ease the pain is to close. So now, after six years working at Mr. Douglas’s restaurant Tanakasan, I need to find a new work home. My first thought was to go back to Sitka & Spruce, a restaurant where I had once worked. …As it turns out, I can’t return to Sitka & Spruce. Its James Beard Award-winning owner, Matt Dillon, is closing Sitka after 14 years, defeated by the one-two punch of rising rents and labor costs. …I often hear people in Seattle lament that it’s becoming “more corporate.” The truth is that the city has made it nearly impossible for many small businesses to survive. …I’ve started applying for other open positions around town. I landed an interview at a restaurant called Super Bueno, owned by another established chef, Ethan Stowell. Before I could even confirm the interview, Mr. Stowell announced that he will close down Super Bueno at the end of the year.

Just in case you’re tempted to dismiss Ms. Barron’s story as a mere anecdote, let’s now look at some broader evidence.

There’s a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that measures the impact of minimum wage mandates. The results are not encouraging.

Using intertemporal variation in whether a state’s minimum wage is bound by the federal rate and credit-score data for approximately 15.2 million establishments for the period 1989–2013, we find that increases in the federal minimum wage worsen the financial health of small businesses in the affected states. Small, young, labor-intensive, minimum-wage sensitive establishments located in the states bound to the federal minimum wage and those located in competitive and low-income areas experience higher financial stress. Increases in the minimum wage also lead to lower bank credit, higher loan defaults, lower employment, a lower entry and a higher exit rate for small businesses. …Our results document some potential costs of a one-size-fits-all nationwide minimum wage, and we highlight how it can have an adverse effect on the financial health of some small businesses.

But not everybody cares about evidence.

The New York Times just opined in favor of the Bernie Sanders approach on the topic.

Over the past five years, a wave of increases in state and local minimum-wage standards has pushed the average effective minimum wage in the United States to the highest level on record. The average worker must be paid at least $11.80 an hour… Millions of workers are being left behind because 21 states still use the federal standard, $7.25 an hour… House Democrats passed legislation in July that would gradually increase the federal standard, to $15 an hour in 2025…the legislation also would require automatic adjustments in the minimum wage to keep pace with wage growth in the broader economy. …For most companies, the bill is relatively small, and it can be defrayed by giving less money to shareholders, or by raising prices. …The American economy is generating plenty of jobs; the problem is in the paychecks. The solution is a $15 federal minimum wage.

Interestingly, the editorial actually acknowledged that a one-size-fits-all $15 mandate would backfire.

It is possible that a national $15 standard would produce the kinds of damage critics have long predicted; the Congressional Budget Office puts the potential increase in unemployment…3.7 million people… Workers may be most vulnerable in areas where prevailing wages are relatively low. In California, for example, the minimum wage for large employers (more than 25 workers) will rise to $13 an hour on Wednesday. That is unlikely to cause problems in San Francisco — but the new minimum is quite close to the median hourly wage of $15.23 in the Visalia metropolitan area in the Central Valley. The federal minimum would apply to metropolitan areas like Daphne, Ala., and Sumter, S.C., where the median worker earned less than $15 an hour in 2018. One simple corrective, proposed by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, would be to include exemptions from the $15 standard for low-wage metropolitan areas and rural areas.

In other words, the NYT endorsed a $15 federal minimum wage, and then concluded by admitting it would be very bad if there actually was a $15 federal minimum wage.

This is why I prefer this editorial from the New York Times.

…there’s a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market. …An increase in the minimum wage…would increase employers’ incentives to evade the law, expanding the underground economy. More important, it would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired. …Those at greatest risk from a higher minimum would be young, poor workers, who already face formidable barriers to getting and keeping jobs. …The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable – and fundamentally flawed. It’s time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little.

Sadly, that editorial was from 1987, back when the newspaper had a more rational perspective.

In those days, the New York Times also favored the flat tax.

Today, the publication is almost a parody of “woke” emotion since many reporters and editors push a statist agenda, presumably because (their perceptions of) good intentions matter more than good results.

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Two months ago, I pointed out that San Francisco’s housing crisis was a “learnable moment” because some folks on the left actually now understand the negative consequences of government intervention.

Now I’m wondering if we might actually have a learnable moment on the issue of minimum wages for Crazy Bernie.

The Vermont socialist is experiencing something akin to what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or business owner. He’s having to generate revenue for his campaign and figure out the best way to allocate the funds.

And – surprise, surprise – he doesn’t want to pay above-market wages. Which makes him a giant hypocrite since he wants to use government coercion to impose higher minimum wages on the private sector.

Professor Art Carden highlights three things that Bernie should learn from this experience.

Bernie Sanders is having trouble with his unionized–and apparently underpaid–labor force. …the Sanders campaign “will limit the amount of time his organizers can work to guarantee that no one is making less than $15 per hour.” …I see three takeaways. First, …this is pretty much exactly what that story predicts. Firms don’t wish to hire as much labor as workers wish to supply at what is apparently an above-market wage. …Second, a $15 per hour national minimum wage will not be a free lunch, even for the people we claim we want to help. …there are a lot of hidden costs to higher minimum wages, like less-generous fringe benefits and stricter scheduling. A higher minimum wage will…also create a lot of losers: according to the Congressional Budget Office’s median estimate, “…1.3 million other workers would become jobless.” Third, this whole episode should make you more skeptical of socialism, even watered-down “democratic socialism.” …Sanders and his staff are struggling to manage an ideologically homogeneous group of people with similar worldviews…and a very well-defined end goal of “elect Bernie Sanders to the presidency.” Suffice it to say this does not make me confident that they can be trusted to organize something as complex and mind-bogglingly diverse as the US economy

So will this episode teach Crazy Bernie a lesson about the downside of minimum-wage laws?

Will his clueless volunteers now understand there are tradeoffs in the real world and that government can’t make people richer by waving a magic wand?

I won’t hold my breath, but it would be nice.

In the meantime, here’s a great video on the topic by John Stossel.

This confirms all the other research (see here, here, here, and here) we’ve seen on the negative impact of Seattle’s destructive new law.

Let’s close with an amusing Branco cartoon

P.S. Another Democratic presidential candidate also is a big hypocrite.

P.P.S. Actually, there are at least three hypocrites running for the Democratic nomination.

P.P.P.S. Here’s another video reviewing the evidence about Seattle’s job-killing increase in the minimum wage.

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A couple of years ago, I praised federalism in part because state and local governments would be less likely to adopt bad policy (such as higher minimum wages) if they understood that jobs and investment could simply migrate to jurisdictions that didn’t adopt bad policy.

But “less likely” isn’t the same as “never.” Some state and local politicians can’t resist the temptation to raise taxes, even though that means workers “vote with their feetfor places with lower tax burdens.

And some state and local politicians continue to mandate higher minimum wages (see here, here, here, and here), even though that means workers have fewer job opportunities.

Today, we’re going to look at some fresh evidence from Emeryville, California.

The local newspaper has an impressively detailed look at what’s happened to the town’s labor market.

Representatives from the Mills College Lokey School presented data from its recent ‘business conditions’ survey to our City Council on Tuesday. The study confirmed what restaurant owners warned when the ordinance was hastily passed in 2015. They are struggling, rapidly raising menu prices and increasingly looking to leave. …It’s getting harder to find small food service businesses that were around in 2015 when the MWO was passed. Emeryville institution Bucci’s, Commonwealth, Farley’s, Scarlet City … all gone. In fact, nearly all the brick & mortar businesses that comprised the short-lived Little City Emeryville small business advocacy group have moved, folded or sold. …The survey also identified that “the restaurant industry is clearly struggling.” Specifically, small, independent, non-franchise establishments are having the most difficulty.

Here’s some of the survey data on the negative effect.

Here’s some specific information on how restaurants have been adversely impacted.

…nearly all the new businesses that have opened have embraced the counter service model that requires fewer employees. Paradita Eatery, whose original plan was for a full service sit-down restaurant, cited Emeryville’s wage ordinance specifically for ‘pivoting’ to a counter service model. Counter service models require fewer employees to offset higher labor costs. …The only full service restaurant that has opened since the Minimum Wage was passed was 612One Asian Fusion which folded after just two years in business.

One of the reasons for the economic damage is that Emeryville has gone further and faster in the wrong direction.

The local law is more onerous than the state law and more onerous than other nearby communities.

But it’s not just workers who are suffering.

Consumers are adversely impacted as well.

One commenter, who identified herself as a resident, questioned why the survey did not include consumer data noting her dining frequency was altered by the drastic price increases she’s observed. …She noted that she used to frequent her local Doyle Street Cafe 2-3 times per month but last year went only twice. …Once franchise owner noted that the price increases they’ve been forced to pass along have ironically had the biggest impact on vulnerable communities that are more price-sensitive. “Our largest decrease in guests are folks over 50. Obviously our elderly, disabled, and folks on fixed incomes are unable increase their income to compensate for the price increases.”

Let’s close with a new video from Johan Norberg, which looks at the impact of minimum wage increases in San Diego.

P.S. If local communities are allowed to mandate minimum wages higher than the state level or federal, shouldn’t they also have the freedom to allow minimum wages that are lower than the state level or federal level?

P.P.S. A number of European nations have no mandated minimum wage. As explained in this video, that’s an approach we should copy.

P.P.P.S. If you want some minimum-wage themed humor, you can enjoy cartoons herehereherehere, and here.

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Time for a confession.

I don’t particularly enjoy writing columns about the minimum wage because it’s such a slam-dunk issue. Simply stated, it is cruel and illogical when politicians mandate wage levels that are higher than the productivity of low-skilled workers.

Yet, at the risk of being repetitive, I periodically share evidence showing that higher minimum wages lead to more unemployment (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

The issue also is disturbing because I’ve had several friends on the left privately admit that they understand that jobs are lost when the minimum wage goes up, but they think that’s okay because it’s a good political issue for their side.

How utterly immoral. And racist, at least in outcome if not intent.

Today, though, I’m actually excited to write about the topic because I have a new angle.

As reported by the New York Times, a bunch of millionaire celebrities are trying to convince the governor of New York to raise the minimum wage for restaurant staff.

…a group of Hollywood actresses waving the banner of the Time’s Up movement have been pressing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to apply New York’s minimum wage to workers who earn tips, arguing that it would make waitresses less vulnerable to sexual harassment. Among the celebrities weighing in are Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Williams, Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer. …advocates like Ms. Jayaraman and celebrity activists are focused on state-by-state battles. Last week, Hillary Clinton wrote to Mr. Cuomo and other leaders in Albany, calling on them to eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers. …a letter sent to Mr. Cuomo by Hollywood celebrities including Ms. Poehler, Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman…urged the governor to eliminate the lower minimum wage for servers.

Do the workers appreciate this display of “solidarity” from the Hollywood crowd?

Not exactly.

Waitresses and other servers are resisting the proposal, saying they can make more money from tips and do not need celebrities to help protect them from harassment. …In New York City, many servers at busy restaurants and bars earn more than enough in tips to push their hourly wage well above the $15 minimum. …Raising wages for tipped workers, many waitresses say, could threaten an economic lifesaver if it forces restaurants to change tipping policies or, worse, puts them out of business.

The best part of the story is that the supposed beneficiaries clearly have a much better understanding of economics than the virtue-signaling celebrities.

…“The resounding message from servers in New York to these actresses in Hollywood is to just leave us alone,” said Maggie Raczynski, a bartender at an Outback Steakhouse in upstate New York. “These celebrities have literally no idea. I feel like they need to butt out.” …D. Sweeney, a former actor who said he made a “very comfortable living” as a bartender in New York, was adamant about his opposition to the proposed change. …Raising restaurant labor costs any further, he said, could trigger several changes in the business model that would hurt workers more than they would help. “Immigrant support staff will be the first to be fired,” he said. …The servers fired back in a letter to the actresses, saying, “Thank you for your concern. But we don’t need your help and we’re not asking to be saved.” In an interview this week, Ms. Raczynski said her employer had already trimmed staff to offset the steady rise in wages that Mr. Cuomo championed a few years ago.

This is a heartwarming story.

The fact that restaurant owners are opposed to intervention is not surprising, but it’s great to see that restaurant workers are savvy enough to realize that they’ll get hurt if politicians increase the minimum wage.

Reminds me of the great story from Seattle when employers and workers both protested against additional tax hikes on companies.

To paraphrase an evil man, “workers and capitalists of the world unite!”

Let’s close by recycling this video tutorial on the minimum wage.

P.S. Switzerland doesn’t have a minimum wage, and Swiss voters very much prefer that outcome.

P.P.S. You can enjoy additional cartoons on the minimum wage by clicking here and here.

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How many times can you say the same thing over and over and over again?

When it comes to the minimum wage, we may never know the answer.

No matter how often new research is produced showing that low-skilled workers are hurt when politicians cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, politicians persist in pushing for bad policy.

Many state already have increased minimum wages, and the “Fight for $15” crowd wants a nationwide increase.

So let’s explain, for the umpteenth time, why this is misguided.

We have lots of data and anecdotes to review, so let’s begin with some scholarly research from Europe.

Here are some results from a study in Denmark, where the minimum wage increases when workers reach age 18, at which point many of them lose their jobs (h/t: Marginal Revolution).

This paper estimates the long-run impact of youth minimum wages on youth employment by exploiting a large discontinuity in Danish minimum wage rules at age 18 and using monthly payroll records for the Danish population. …On average, the hourly wage rate jumps up by 40 percent when individuals turn eighteen years old. Employment (extensive margin) falls by 33 percent and total labor input (extensive and intensive margin) decreases by around 45 percent, leaving the aggregate wage payment nearly unchanged. Data on flows into and out of employment show that the drop in employment is driven almost entirely by job loss when individuals turn 18 years old. We estimate that the relevant elasticity for evaluating the effect on youth employment of changes in their minimum wage is about -0.8.

Here’s the most relevant chart from the study. A rather remarkable drop in employment, as you can see.

Speaking of academic research, a new report from the European Central Bank confirms that higher minimum wages have a negative impact on both employment and consumer costs.

Rises in the minimum wage determine not only the bottom part of the earnings distribution but also labour costs in general, and this could potentially cause headcount reductions. …We address this topic using a unique firm-level cross-country survey dataset compiled from a survey… Firms in eight Central and Eastern European (CEE8) countries, namely Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovenia, were asked about the particular adjustment strategies they had chosen following a specific instance of a rise in the minimum wage… The most popular adjustment channels are the increase in product prices…employment effects are realised mostly through reduced hiring, rather than direct layoffs.

This chart from the study is actually somewhat encouraging since it shows that employers bend over backwards to try to save jobs.

Now let’s look at real-world examples from the United States.

A landmark restaurant in Boston is closing, in part because the minimum wage was increased.

One of Boston’s most historic restaurants is closing its doors…Durgin-Park in Faneuil Hall…disappointed customers are trying to get in their final meals. …”This is another passing of a great institution,” said Berg. Rachelle Mazzone is Durgin-Park’s bartender and says dozens of long-time workers were told the restaurant would be closing next weekend. She was told it’s no longer profitable. …According to Ark Restaurants CEO Michael Weinstein, the restaurant wasn’t profitable anymore. He says…increase in minimum wage and health care costs…were all factors in the restaurant’s downfall. …Since 1827, the business attracted faithful diners and tourists to its Faneuil Hall location, winning several culinary awards.

An increase in the minimum wage may have been the straw to break the camel’s back for three restaurants in New York.

The rising minimum wage is getting at least part of the blame for the abrupt closure of three St. Lawrence County restaurants. …About 60 people have lost their jobs. “The minimum wage increase has been a big burden on our business. At one point we were up to 100 employees and the minimum wage has just increased every year since I opened in 2009. It’s been harder and harder to do business in New York state every year,” said Marc Morley, owner of the restaurants. …Morley said he told the restaurant managers to notify the workers. “They held all the contact information for all their individual employees,” he said. “It was an abrupt decision on our end. It wasn’t something we were planning on doing. We just got to the point where the businesses weren’t profitable and we were losing money every week.”

Here are some results from a study on the higher minimum wage in Minnesota.

Beginning in 2014, the state of Minnesota began a series of minimum wage increases. …While the effects of minimum wages changes remains a controversial topic, comparing relative outcomes in Wisconsin and Minnesota suggests that the minimum wage increases led to employment losses in Minnesota, particularly in the restaurant industry and youth demographic most affected by the changes. …Following the minimum wage increases limited service restaurant employment fell by 4% in Minnesota relative to Wisconsin. Further, youth employment fell by 9% in Minnesota following the minimum wage increases, while it increased by 10.6% in Wisconsin over the same time period. In addition, part of the increased wage costs employers faced have been passed on to consumers through higher prices. The relative price of restaurant food in the Minneapolis metro area had fallen by 2% in the four years preceding the minimum wage hikes, but it has risen by 6% in the four years since.

This chart from the study shows the impact on employment levels. The gap between the two lines is a measure of the foregone jobs in Minnesota.

As I’ve noted before, some groups are more victimized than others.

Here are excerpts from an article by Black Entertainment Television.

…economists William Even from Miami University and David Macpherson from Trinity University report that when a state, or the federal government, increases the minimum wage, Black teens are more likely to be laid off. The duo analyzed 600,000 data points… The report focused on 16-to 24-year-old males without a high school diploma and found that for each 10 percent increase in the federal or state minimum wage employment for young Black males decreased 6.5 percent. By contrast, after the same wage boost, employment for white and Hispanic males fell respectively just 2.5 percent and 1.2 percent. The real hit for Black teens occurred, however, in the 21 states that had the federal minimum wage increase in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The findings reveal that while 13,200 Black young adults lost their jobs as a direct result of the recession nearly 40 percent more, a total of 18,500, were fired because of the rise in the federal minimum wage.

Now let’s look at a video on the Seattle minimum-wage hike.

Now that we’ve dug through lots of data and research on why it would be bad news for workers if the minimum wage went up, it would be appropriate to make the obvious point that higher wages would be a desirable outcome.

And as Andy Puzder explained in the Wall Street Journal, that is why there is no substitute for economic growth.

The formula is simple: When the economy accelerates, employers compete for employees and wages increase. I experienced this during my 17 years as CEO of a national quick-service restaurant chain. The stronger the economy, the harder it was to get good employees. Conversely, when growth is weak, as it was during most of the Obama presidency, employees compete for jobs and wages stagnate. …The left’s proposed solution to wage stagnation has been for government to mandate increased wages by more than doubling the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour. That causes employers to eliminate jobs and reduce hours to offset their increased costs. To increase wages without these unintended consequences, you need economic growth. …With regulatory relief, tax cuts and the increased business that comes from economic growth, employers now have the resources to bid up wages. …the competition for employees and the associated wage increases will continue—if government stays out of the way.

I basically said the same thing at the end of this interview from a few years ago.

Let’s close with some minimum wage-related humor.

Our resident philoso-raptor makes a return appearance (previous appearances here and here) to ask a question that even Hillary Clinton answered correctly.

And it’s always fun to mock the social justice warriors.

It takes a special person (h/t: Libertarian Reddit) to parade their ignorance so boldly.

Last but not least is this amusing cartoon strip that showed up in my inbox.

Reminds me of the superb crayon cartoon, which basically captures the first two-thirds of Mitchell’s Law.

P.S. This video is a great summary of why minimum wage laws should be eliminated.

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Politicians can interfere with the laws of supply and demand (and they do, with distressing regularity), but they can’t repeal them.

The minimum wage issue is a tragic example. If lawmakers pass a law mandating wages of $10 per hour, that is going to have a very bad effect on low-skilled workers who can only generate, say, $8 of revenue per hour.

You don’t need to be a libertarian to realize this is a problem.

Catherine Rampell leans to the left, but she warned last year in the Washington Post about the danger of “helping” workers to the unemployment line.

…the left needs to think harder about the unintended consequences of…benevolent-seeming proposals. In isolation, each of these policies has the potential to make workers more costly to hire. Cumulatively, they almost certainly do. Which means that, unless carefully designed, a lefty “pro-labor” platform might actually encourage firms to hire less labor… It’s easier, or perhaps more politically convenient, to assume that “pro-worker” policies never hurt the workers they’re intended to help. Take the proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour… raising wages in Seattle to $13 has produced sharp cuts in hours, leaving low-wage workers with smaller paychecks. And that’s in a high-cost city. Imagine what would happen if Congress raised the minimum wage to $15 nationwide. …Why wouldn’t you want to improve the living standards of as many people as possible? The answer: You won’t actually be helping them if making their labor much more expensive, much too quickly, results in their getting fired.

By the way, while I’m glad Ms. Rampell recognizes how big increases in the minimum wage will have an adverse impact, I think she is rather naive to believe that there are “carefully designed” options that wouldn’t be harmful.

Or does she have a cutoff point for acceptable casualties? Maybe she thinks that an increase in the minimum wage is bad if it throws 500,000 people into unemployment, but a small increase that leads to 200,000 fewer jobs is acceptable?

In any event, the voters of DC apparently didn’t read her column and they voted earlier this year to restrict the freedom of employers and employees in the restaurant sector to engage in voluntary exchange.

But then something interesting happened. Workers and owners united together and urged DC’s government to reverse the referendum.

The Wall Street Journal opined on this development.

…last week Washington, D.C.’s Democratic city councillors moved to overturn a mandatory minimum wage for tipped workers after bartenders, waiters and restaurant managers served up a lesson in economics. …The wage hike was billed as a way to give workers financial stability… But tipped workers realized the policy came with serious unintended consequences. …workers pushed for repeal. Though restaurants pay a $3.89 hourly wage to tipped workers, “we choose these jobs because we make far more than the standard minimum wage” from tips, bartender Valerie Graham told the City Council. …“Increasing the base wage for tipped workers who already make well above minimum wage threatens those who do not make tips,” such as cooks, dishwashers and table bussers, Rose’s Luxury bartender Chelsea Silber told the City Council. …Repeal requires a second council vote, but Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser says she agrees. Congratulations on the revolt of the restaurant masses.

Let’s review another example.

There’s now a mandate for a higher minimum wage in New York. Ellie Bufkin explains some of the consequences in a column for the Federalist.

This minimum wage spike has forced several New York City businesses to shutter their doors and will claim many more victims soon. Businesses must meet the $15 wage by the end of 2018, the culmination of mandatory increment increases that began in 2016. …For many businesses, this egregious law is not just an inconvenience, it is simply unaffordable. The most recent victim is long-time staple, The Coffee Shop… In explaining his decision to close following 28 years of high-volume business, owner Charles Milite told the New York Post, “The times have changed in our industry. The rents are very high and now the minimum wage is going up and we have a huge number of employees.” …Of all affected businesses, restaurants are at the greatest risk of losing their ability to operate under the strain of crushing financial demands. They run at the highest day-to-day operational costs of any business, partly because they must employ more people to run efficiently. …Eventually, minimum wage laws and other prohibitive regulations will cause the world-renowned restaurant life in cities like New York, DC, and San Francisco to cease to exist.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think restaurants will “cease to exist” because of mandates for higher minimum wages.

But there will definitely be fewer establishments with fewer workers.

Why? Because business aren’t charities. They hire workers to increase profits, so it’s unavoidable that we get bad results when government mandates result in some workers costing more than the revenue they generate.

Which is what we’re now seeing in Seattle.

I’ll close by recycling this debate clip from a few years ago. I made the point that faster growth is the right way to boost wages.

And I also gave a plug for federalism. If some states want to throw low-skilled workers out of jobs, I think that will be an awful outcome. But it won’t be as bad as a nationwide scheme to increase unemployment (especially for minorities).

P.S. As is so often the case, the “sensible Swiss” have the right perspective.

P.P.S. Here’s a video making the case against government wage mandates. And here’s another interview I did on the topic.

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I want higher wages.

Indeed, that’s a big reason why I favor better tax policy. I want low rates and less double taxation so we get more entrepreneurship and investment, which then will lead to higher productivity and more compensation for workers.

With this in mind, let’s look at some good news from a story in the New York Times.

Amazon said on Tuesday that it would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for its United States employees, a rare acknowledgment that it was feeling squeezed by…a tight labor market. The raises apply for part-time workers and those hired through temporary agencies. …The new wages will apply to more than 250,000 Amazon employees, including those at the grocery chain Whole Foods, as well as the more than 100,000 seasonal employees it plans to hire for the holiday season.

This is an encouraging development. My support for pro-market policies is partly driven by philosophy (freedom to engage in voluntary exchange, etc), but also motivated by a desire to help people become more prosperous.

It’s too soon to say for sure, but perhaps we’re seeing evidence that last year’s tax reform is paying dividends. Of course, it’s also possible that we’re in a bubble that’s about to pop, but let’s hope that’s not the case.

In any event, there’s also some bad news in the story. Amazon’s decision may not simply be a business decision. It also might be a way of appeasing the crowd in Washington.

The company now employs about 575,000 people worldwide, up more than 50 percent in the past year…the pay of those workers has become a growing issue for activists… “I think they saw the writing on the wall…,” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in an interview after the announcement. …Mr. Sanders and labor organizers have criticized the wages and conditions of Amazon’s work force. …As recently as last month Amazon was resisting the pressure.

The most nauseating aspect of this is that Amazon’s boss issued a groveling tweet to Crazy Bernie.

Since I’ve shared the good news and bad news, now let’s look at the ugly news.

Having decided to boost wages for his workers, Bezos now want to impose higher costs on smaller companies that compete against Amazon.

The company said it would also lobby Washington to raise the federal minimum wage, which has been set at $7.25 for almost a decade.

This is a classic example of cronyism. A big company is using the coercive power of government to unfairly tilt the playing field.

The Wall Street Journal opined about this oleaginous development.

Jeff Bezos…the Amazon CEO showed he also has impeccable political timing. His decision to raise Amazon’s minimum wage to $15 an hour will buy the tech company some political insurance… Mr. Bezos also announced that Amazon will now lobby Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour. If Amazon is already paying $15, it’s no competitive sweat for Mr. Bezos to look virtuous for the media and politicians.

The WSJ also commented on the implicit extortion.

Speaking of government, Amazon’s wage increase may also buy some insurance against a looming assault from Congress. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist and likely presidential candidate in 2020, has introduced the Stop Bezos Act that would tax Amazon to finance government transfer payments like food stamps. …Mr. Bezos also wants to hold off the federal antitrust cops, but that may cost more than $15 an hour. Politics aside, Amazon’s wage increase wouldn’t be possible if the U.S. economy hadn’t risen out of its eight-year Obama doldrums. As always, the best way to raise living standards is faster growth, not political coercion.

Amen.

Sadly, this is not the first time Amazon has climbed into bed with politicians. It is currently seeking special handouts from state and local governments for a new headquarters complex.

P.S. If you want to understand why government-imposed mandates for higher minimum wages are misguided, there’s very powerful evidence from Seattle. Simply stated, workers lose jobs and income.

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When I debate my leftist friends on the minimum wage, it’s often a strange experience. When other people are listening or watching, they’ll adopt a very extreme position and basically claim that politicians have the power to dramatically boost take-home pay by simply mandating higher levels of pay. And somehow there won’t be any noticeable negative impact on employment and labor markets, even though businesses only create jobs if they expect some net profit.

But when we talk privately, they have a more nuanced argument. They’ll confess that higher minimum wages will cause some low-skilled workers to become unemployed, but then justify that outcome using either or both of these arguments.

  • Amoral utilitarianism – A large number of people will get pay raises and only a small handful will lose their jobs, and this is okay if policy is based on some notion of greatest good for the greatest number. In other words, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
  • Keynesian stimulus – Some people will lose their jobs, but the income gains for those who keep their jobs will boost “aggregate demand” and thus provide a boost for the economy. Sort of like they also claim giving people unemployment benefits will somehow generate more economic activity.

I’ve always rejected the first argument because I believe in the individual right of contract. The government should not prevent an employer and employee from engaging in voluntary exchange.

And I’ve always rejected the second argument because there can’t be any net “stimulus” since any additional income for workers is automatically offset by less income for employers.

So who is right?

Well, the real world just kicked advocates of higher minimum wages in the teeth. Or maybe even someplace even more painful. A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research looks at the impact of the $11 and $13 minimum wages in the city of Seattle and finds very bad results.

Let’s start by simply citing what the local government did.

This paper, using rich administrative data on employment, earnings and hours in Washington State, re-examines this prediction in the context of Seattle’s minimum wage increases from $9.47 to $11/hour in April 2015 and to $13/hour in January 2016.

And here’s a table from the study, showing details on the minimum-wage mandate.

And what’s been happening as a result of this intervention in the labor market?

Unsurprisingly, the jump to $13 has been much more damaging that the jump to $11.

…conclusion: employment losses associated with Seattle’s mandated wage increases are in fact large enough to have resulted in net reductions in payroll expenses – and total employee earnings – in the low-wage job market. …We show that the impact of Seattle’s minimum wage increase on wage levels is much smaller than the statutory increase, reflecting the fact that most affected low-wage workers were already earning more than the statutory minimum at baseline. Our estimates imply, then, that conventionally calculated elasticities are substantially underestimated. Our preferred estimates suggest that the rise from $9.47 to $11 produced disemployment effects that approximately offset wage effects, with elasticity estimates around -1. The subsequent increase to as much as $13 yielded more substantial disemployment effects, with net elasticity estimates closer to -3.

Here’s a chart from the study looking at the impact on hours worked.

If you want a healthy labor market, it’s not good to be below the line.

And here’s some of the explanatory text.

…Because the estimated magnitude of employment losses exceeds the magnitude of wage gains in the second phase-in period, we would expect a decline in total payroll for jobs paying under $13 per hour relative to baseline. Indeed, we observe this decline in first-differences when comparing “peak” calendar quarters, as shown in Table 3 above. …point estimates suggest payroll declines of 4.0% to 7.6% (averaging 5.8%) during the second phase-in period. This implies that the minimum wage increase to $13 from the baseline level of $9.47 reduced income paid to low-wage employees of single-location Seattle businesses by roughly $120 million on an annual basis. …Our preferred estimates suggest that the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance caused hours worked by low-skilled workers (i.e., those earning under $19 per hour) to fall by 9.4% during the three quarters when the minimum wage was $13 per hour, resulting in a loss of 3.5 million hours worked per calendar quarter. Alternative estimates show the number of low-wage jobs declined by 6.8%, which represents a loss of more than 5,000 jobs.

But the biggest takeaway from the report is that hours dropped so much that the average low-wage worker wound up with less income

The reduction in hours would cost the average employee $179 per month, while the wage increase would recoup only $54 of this loss, leaving a net loss of $125 per month (6.6%), which is sizable for a low-wage worker.

Here’s the relevant chart.

Once again, it’s not good to be below the line.

This data is remarkable because it shows that higher minimum wages are a bad idea, even according to the metrics of our friends on the left.

  • The amoral utlitarianism argument doesn’t apply because it’s no longer possible to claim that income gains for those keeping jobs will more than offset income losses for those who become unemployed.
  • The Keynesian aggregate-demand argument doesn’t apply because it’s no longer possible to assert macroeconomic benefits based on the assumption of a net increase in “spending power” in the economy.

Let’s close with a couple of observations from others who have looked at the new study.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute (and formerly Chief Economist at the Department of Labor) highlights the most relevant findings.

Raising the pay floor has led to net losses in payroll expenses and worker incomes for low-wage workers. …When hourly wages rose from $11 to $13 in 2016, hours of work and earnings for low-wage workers were reduced by 9 percent for the first three calendar quarters, resulting in 3.5 million fewer hours worked for each calendar quarter.  The number of jobs declined by 7 percent, with the result that 5,000 jobs were lost. …The evidence shows that in Seattle, low-wage workers got less money in their pockets, rather than more.

Some proponents of intervention and mandates may want to dismiss Diana’s analysis since of her reputation as a market-friendly scholar.

But even Ben Casselman and Kathryn Casteel of FiveThirtyEight basically reach the same conclusion.

As cities across the country pushed their minimum wages to untested heights in recent years, some economists began to ask: How high is too high? Seattle, with its highest-in-the-country minimum wage, may have hit that limit. …New research released Monday by a team of economists at the University of Washington suggests the wage hike may have come at a significant cost: The increase led to steep declines in employment for low-wage workers, and a drop in hours for those who kept their jobs. Crucially, the negative impact of lost jobs and hours more than offset the benefits of higher wages — on average, low-wage workers earned $125 per month less because of the higher wage.

I’m amused to find more evidence that left-leaning economists admit that higher minimum wages cause damage, albeit never on the record.

Even some liberal economists have expressed concern, often privately, that employers might respond differently to a minimum wage of $12 or $15, which would affect a far broader swath of workers.

I’m wondering how they can look at themselves in the mirror. It seems very immoral (in other words, beyond amoral) to publicly defend a policy that you privately admit is bad.

I understand that this type of dishonesty happens all the time in the political world (for example, some Republicans are now supporting Trump’s plans for infrastructure boondoggles and parental leave when they would have been strongly opposed if the same policies had been proposed by Obama).

But what’s the point of being a tenured academic if you can’t at least be honest?

Though maybe there’s some sort of cognitive dissonance at play, where they feel the rules of honesty don’t apply in the political world. For instance, both Paul Krugman and Larry Summers have acknowledged in their academic work that unemployment benefits lead to more unemployment. But they pretend that’s not the case when commenting on the policy debate.

But I’m digressing. Let’s close by recycling this video on minimum wages from the Center for Prosperity.

P.S. If you want some minimum-wage themed humor, you can enjoy cartoons here, here, here, here, and here.

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The real world is like a cold shower for our friends on the left. Everywhere they look, there is evidence that jurisdictions with free markets and small government outperform places with big welfare states and lots of intervention.

That’s true when comparing nations. And it’s also true when comparing states. That must be a source of endless frustration an disappointment for statists.

Speaking of disappointed statists, the real world has led to more bad news. The left-wing Mayor of Baltimore campaigned in favor of a $15 minimum wage, but then decided to veto legislation to impose that mandate. The Wall Street Journal opines on this development.

Mayor Catherine Pugh, a Democrat, has rejected a bill that would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. She did so even though she had campaigned in favor of raising the minimum wage, which shows that economic reality can be a powerful educator. She explained her change of heart by noting that raising the rate above the $8.75 an hour minimum that prevails in the rest of Maryland would send jobs and tax revenue out of Baltimore to surrounding counties. The increase would also have raised the city’s payroll costs by $116 million over the next four years when she’s already coping with a deficit of $130 million in the education budget.

The key thing to notice is that the Mayor recognized that the real-world impact of bad legislation is that economic activity would shrink in the city and expand outside the city.

Writing for Reason, Eric Boehm also points out that the Mayor was constrained by the fact neighboring jurisdictions weren’t making the same mistake.

Pugh said the bill would not be in the best interest of Baltimore’s 76,000 unemployed workers and would drive businesses out of the city to the surrounding counties. …Indeed. Raising the minimum wage would not solve Baltimore’s economic troubles, and would likely only add to them. While support for a $15 minimum wage has become something of a litmus test for progressive politicians, the true test of any politician should be whether he or she is willing to set aside campaign trail rhetoric that flies in the face of economic reality. Signing the bill would have made progressive pols and activists happy—one Baltimore city councilman called Pugh’s decision “beyond disappointing” and a minimum wage activist group said it would remind voters of Pugh’s “broken promise”—but there’s no honor in following through on a promise to do more damage to an already struggling city’s economy. Pugh’s decision to veto a $15 minimum wage bill isn’t disappointing in the least. More politicians should learn from her example of valuing economic reality over populist rhetoric.

The Mayor’s veto is good news, though it remains to be seen whether city legislators will muster enough votes for an override.

Regardless of what happens, notice that the Mayor didn’t do the right thing because she believed in economic liberty and freedom of contract. She also didn’t do the right thing because she recognized that higher minimum wage mandates would lead to more joblessness.

Instead, she felt compelled to do the right thing because of jurisdictional competition. She was forced to acknowledge that bad policy in her city would explicitly backfire since economic activity is mobile. She had to admit that there are no magic boats.

And this underscores why federalism and decentralization are vital features of a good system. Governments are more likely to do bad things when the costs can be imposed on an entire nation (or, even better from their perspective, the entire world). But when bad policy is localized, it becomes very hard to disguise the costs of bad policy.

And, as today’s column illustrates, decentralization stopped the Mayor of Baltimore from a bad policy that would hurt poorly skilled workers. Just as federalism stopped Vermont politicians from imposing a destructive single-payer health system.

Let’s close by circling back to the minimum wage.

Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Andy Puzder makes a very timely point about automation.

Entry-level jobs matter—and you don’t have to take my word for it. In a speech last week on workforce development in low-income communities, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said that “it is crucial for younger workers to establish a solid connection to employment early in their work lives.” Unfortunately, government policies are destroying entry-level jobs by giving businesses an incentive to automate at an accelerated pace. In a survey released last month, the publication Nation’s Restaurant News asked 319 restaurant operators to name their biggest challenge for 2017. Nearly a quarter of them, 24%, said rising minimum wages. …The trend toward automation is particularly pronounced in areas where the local minimum wage is high.

Need more evidence?

By the way, even the normally left-leaning World Bank has research on the damaging impact of minimum wage mandates.

This paper uses a search-and-matching model to examine the effects of labor regulations that influence the cost of formal labor (notably minimum wages and payroll taxes) on labor market outcomes… The results indicate that these regulations, especially minimum wage policy, contribute to higher unemployment rates and constraint formalization…, especially for youth and women.

The research was about the labor market in Morocco, but the laws of supply and demand are universal.

As I’ve repeatedly stated, when you mandate that workers get paid more than what they’re worth, that’s a recipe for unemployment. And as the World Bank points out, it’s the more vulnerable members of society who pay the highest price.

In an ideal world, there should be no minimum wage mandates. But since that’s not an immediately practical goal, the best way of protecting low-skilled workers is to make sure Washington does not impose a nationwide increase. That won’t stop every state and local government from imposing destructive policies that cause unemployment, but the pressure of jurisdictional competition will

And when those bad policies do occur, that will simply give us more evidence against intervention. Which brings us back to where we started. The real world is a laboratory that shows statism is a bad idea.

P.S. In honor of Equal Pay Day, I can’t resist sharing this tidbit from the Washington Free Beacon.

Oh, you also won’t be surprised to learn that there was also a big pay gap in Hillary Clinton’s Senate office, as well as Obama’s White House. In reality, of course, the market punishes genuine discrimination and the pay gap is basically nonexistent when comparing workers with similar education, experience, and work patterns.

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While economists are famous for their disagreements (and their incompetent forecasts), there is universal consensus in the profession that demand curves slope downward. That may be meaningless jargon to non-economists, but it simply means that people buy less of something when it becomes more expensive.

And this is why it makes no sense to impose minimum wage requirements, or to increase mandated wages where such laws already exist.

If you don’t understand this, just do a thought experiment and imagine what would happen if the minimum wage was $100 per hour. The answer is terrible unemployment, of course, which means it’s a very bad idea.

So why, then, is it okay to throw a “modest” number of people into the unemployment line with a “small” increase in the minimum wage?

Yet some politicians can’t resist pushing such policies because it makes them seem like Santa Claus to low-information voters. Vote for me, they assert, because I’ll get you a pay raise!

All of this sounds good, and it may even be the final result for some workers. But there’s overwhelming evidence that you get more unemployment when politicians boost the minimum wage.

There are no “magic boats.” In the real world, businesses only hire workers when they expect that additional employees will generate more than enough revenue to offset their costs. So when politicians artificially increase the cost of hiring workers, there will be some workers (particularly those with low skills) who become redundant.

And that’s exactly what we’re seeing in cities that have chosen to mandate higher minimum wages.

The Wall Street Journal opines on Seattle’s numbers.

Seattle’s increase last year seems to be reducing employment. That’s the finding of a new report by researchers at the University of Washington. The study compared nine months of 2015 in Seattle, where the wage is ticking up gradually and hit $13 an hour in January, with similar areas elsewhere in Washington. …The researchers found that the ordinance decreased the low-wage employment rate by about one-percentage point. …The ordinance “modestly held back” employment of low-wage earners, and hours worked “lagged behind” regional trends, on average four hours each quarter (or 19 minutes a week). Many such individuals moved to take jobs outside the city at “an elevated rate compared to historical patterns,” says the report. …None of this will surprise anyone who understands that increasing the cost of something will reduce the demand for it. Then again, that concept seems to elude both major presidential candidates, who have floated national minimum-wage increases.

By the way, it’s not just Trump and Clinton supporting this destructive policy. Mitt Romney also was on the wrong side back in 2012.

And it goes without saying that Obama has been a demagogue on the issue.

Sigh.

Let’s examine evidence from another city. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute looks at what has been happening in Washington, DC.

Since the DC minimum wage increased in July 2015 to $10.50 an hour, restaurant employment in the city has increased less than 1% (and by 500 jobs), while restaurant jobs in the surrounding suburbs increased 4.2% (and by 7,300 jobs). An even more dramatic effect has taken place since the start of this year – DC restaurant jobs fell by 1,400 jobs (and by 2.7%) in the first six months of 2016 between January and July – that’s the largest loss of District food jobs during a 6-month period in 15 years. Perhaps some of those job losses were related to the $1 an hour minimum wage hike on July 1, bringing the city’s new minimum wage to $11.50 an hour. In contrast, restaurant employment outside the city grew at a 1.6% rate in the suburbs (and by 2,900 jobs) during the January to July period. …While it might take several more years to assess the full impact, the preliminary evidence so far suggests that DC’s minimum wage law is having a negative effect on staffing levels at the city’s restaurants. At the same time that suburban restaurants have increased employment levels by nearly 3,000 new positions since January, restaurants in the District have shed jobs in five out of the last six months, with a total loss of 1,400 jobs during that period (an average of nearly 8 jobs lost every day). The last time DC experienced restaurant job losses in five out of six consecutive months was 25 years ago in 1991, and the last time 1,400 jobs were lost over any six-month period was 15 years ago during the 2001 recession.

Here’s a chart looking at how restaurant employment in DC and the suburbs used to be closely correlated, but how there’s been a divergence since the city hiked the minimum wage.

As Mark noted, we’ll know even more as time passes, but the net result so far is predictably negative.

For additional background info, this video is a succinct explanation of why minimum-wage mandates are such a bad idea.

Let’s close with something rather amusing. It turns out that the State Department, during Hillary Clinton’s tenure, actually understood that higher minimum wages destroy jobs. Indeed, her people were even willing to fight against such job-killing measures.

But in Haiti rather than America, as Politifact reports.

Memos from 2008 and 2009 obtained by Wikileaks strongly suggest…that the State Department helped block the proposed minimum wage increase. The memos show that U.S. Embassy officials in Haiti clearly opposed the wage hike and met multiple times with factory owners who directly lobbied against it to the Haitian president. …media outlets assessed the cables and found, among many other revelations, that the “U.S. Embassy in Haiti worked closely with factory owners contracted by Levi’s, Hanes, and Fruit of the Loom to aggressively block a paltry minimum wage increase” for workers in apparel factories. …Deputy Chief of Mission David Lindwall put it most bluntly, when he said the minimum wage law “did not take economic reality into account but that appealed to the unemployed and underpaid masses.” …The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, continued to lament the hike… USAID studies found that a 200 gourdes minimum wage “would make the sector economically unviable and consequently force factories to shut down.”

Hmmm…., I wonder if some of those textile companies made contributions to the Clinton Foundation?

P.S. People in Switzerland obviously understand this issue, overwhelmingly voting against a minimum-wage mandate in 2014.

P.P.S. As Walter Williams has explained, minimum wage laws are especially harmful for blacks.

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Every so often, I see visuals that do a great job of illustrating various economic principles.

This Wizard-of-Id parody contains a lot of insight about labor economics. As does this Chuck Asay cartoon and this Robert Gorrell cartoon.

If you want to understand Keynesian economics, this Scott Stantis cartoon is a gem, as is the house-on-fire image in this post.

Regarding tax policy, the philoso-raptor explains supply-side economics and Paul Bunyan helps to illustrate why double taxation is so destructive.

You can also get clear messages about why a welfare state is economically destructive in this classic from Chuck Asay, as well as these home-made cartoons on riding the wagon vs pulling the wagon.

Regarding the minimum wage, I think Henry Payne effectively shows – in this cartoon and this cartoon – how mandating above-market wages is very bad news for those with limited skills. But this cartoon strip from Red Panels deserves special praise because it shows both what some people think and what actually happens.

Amen. I’ve always been mystified why some people don’t understand that jobs are only created when an employee is expected to generate net revenue.

In other words, there are no “magic boats.” Especially in the long run, companies will shed workers that hurt the bottom line.

P.S. Here are some of my favorites images that don’t involve economic principles.

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As you can see from this interview, I get rather frustrated by the minimum wage debate. I’m baffled that some people don’t realize that jobs won’t be created unless it’s profitable to create them.

You would think the negative effects of a higher minimum wage in Seattle would be all the evidence that’s needed, but I’ve noted before that many people decide this issue based on emotion rather than logic.

So even though we have lots of evidence already that wage mandates cause joblessness (especially for minorities), let’s add to our collection.

Here are some excerpts from a Wall Street Journal column by Professor David Neumark from the University of California Irvine.

Economists have written scores of papers on the topic dating back 100 years, and the vast majority of these studies point to job losses for the least-skilled. They are based on fundamental economic reasoning—that when you raise the price of something, in this case labor, less of it will be demanded, or in this case hired. Among the many studies supporting this conclusion is one completed earlier this year by Texas A&M’s Jonathan Meer and MIT’s Jeremy West, which reaffirmed that “the minimum wage reduces job growth over a period of several years”… An extensive survey of decades of minimum-wage research, published by William Wascher of the Federal Reserve Board and me in a 2008 book titled “Minimum Wages,” generally found a 1% or 2% reduction for teenage or very low-skill employment for each 10% minimum-wage increase. …let’s not pretend that a higher minimum wage doesn’t come with costs, and let’s not ignore that some of the low-skill workers the policy is intended to help will bear some of these costs.

The column also exposes some of the methodological flaws in studies that claim high minimum wages don’t lead to job losses, so the entire piece is worth reading.

Since we’re on this topic, here’s a great table prepared by Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute. Is anyone shocked to learn that countries with minimum wage mandates have higher unemployment levels, particularly for young people?

I have two big observations and two minor comments in response to this data.

The first big observation is the caveat that minimum wage mandates are just one piece of the economic puzzle. The numbers if Greece, for instance, are miserable for many reasons. The minimum wage mandate is just another straw on the camel’s back. Moreover, it’s possible for a nation to have a decent-performing economy with a minimum wage (see Luxembourg) and a decrepit economy without one (see Italy). It’s the overall burden of government that matters, which is why the rankings from Economic Freedom of the World are the first place to look when determining if a nation is market-oriented or statist.

That being said, Mark’s data certainly shows a correlation between joblessness and minimum wage mandates. Part of the reason for this link is that higher minimum wages are bad for employment, and part of the reason for the correlation is that governments foolish enough to impose minimum wages are probably foolish enough to impose other bad policies as well.

The second big observation is that I periodically encounter leftists who say a minimum wage is needed because employers have all the leverage and would pay workers starvation wages in the absence of a mandate. To which I always respond by asking them, “Then why don’t employers use that leverage to reduce the wages of the 98 percent of workers who make more than the minimum wage?” That shuts down the conversation very quickly.

But now I’ll also ask these folks, “And why aren’t workers in Austria and Sweden paid starvation wages?” Their responses will be amusing.

For my minor comments, I’ll start by noting that Switzerland is a uniquely sensible nation. Voters recently rejected a minimum wage mandate by an overwhelming 3-1 margin. I fear American voters would not be nearly as sensible if we had a national referendum.

My second minor comment is to share this amusing report about Belgian politicians whining that the lack of a minimum wage in Germany (at least as of 2013) was causing “unfair” competition. Oh, the horror!

Last but not least, let’s recycle this great video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

If you have friends and colleagues who lean left but nonetheless are open-minded, please share this video with them.

And let them know that even Janet Yellen of the Federal Reserve has acknowledged that minimum wage mandates are recipe of joblessness.

P.S. I wrote a few days ago to identify several statist policies that cause inequality. Well, I’ve added to that list because it turns out that red tape also can unjustly line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor. Make sure to check out the updated version of that post.

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It must be fun to be a leftist.

You get to spend other people’s money. But that’s just for starters. Using the power of majoritarianism, you also get to tell the rest of the country what to do, how to behave, and even what to eat.

Best of all, you can be a complete hypocrite. Even if you’re in the public eye, like Hillary Clinton, that’s apparently no obstacle to behaving in one way and then insisting that the rest of us do the opposite.

I’m particularly impressed that statists feel no guilt about dodging taxes while insisting that the rest of us pay more. That’s true even if you’re Barack Obama’s first Treasury Secretary or his current Treasury Secretary.

And it’s definitely true if you’re part of the statist chattering class.

Jillian Kay Melchoir of National Review reveals that the pro-tax crowd at MSNBC must think they’re working at the OECD.

How else to explain that so many of them have unpaid tax bills?

Touré Neblett, co-host of MSNBC’s The Cycle, owes more than $59,000 in taxes, according to public records reviewed by National Review. In September 2013, New York issued a state tax warrant to Neblett and his wife, Rita Nakouzi, for $46,862.68. Six months later, the state issued an additional warrant to the couple for $12,849.87. …MSNBC’s hosts and guests regularly call for higher taxes on the rich, condemning wealthy individuals and corporations who don’t pay their taxes or make use of loopholes. But recent reports, as well as records reviewed by National Review, show that at least four high-profile MSNBC on-air personalities have tax liens or warrants filed against them.

And why is this hypocritical?

Because, as illustrated by this video from Washington Free Beacon, so many of them urge higher taxes on the rest of us and argue that paying taxes is a wonderful experience.

I guess the MSNBC hosts forget to mention that higher taxes are only good for other people, not for themselves.

Now let’s look at another example.

Though I confess I’m merely assuming hypocrisy in this case. It deals with actors, the vast majority of which almost surely would want to impose a higher minimum wage on, say, the fast-food industry.

But, writing for Investor’s Business Daily, Larry Elder points out that these actors in Los Angeles don’t want to be covered by the minimum wage because they understand it means less work for themselves.

In Los Angeles County, the minimum wage is $9 per hour. Theater actors, however, can be paid as little as $7 a performance, and an actor can even work long rehearsal hours with no pay. Three decades ago, L.A. County actors sued their union for an exception to union wages for theaters with 99 seats or fewer seats. Why do these stage actors work for so little? They want to work. By working, they improve their skills, stay sharp and or perhaps have a chance to get spotted by an agent. Some say simply having something to do is better than just sitting around and waiting for a casting agent to call. Actors Equity, the national union, wants to change this. …But then a very Republican thing happened — 66% of the union members voted against a higher minimum wage. Their rationale was simple: A higher minimum wage means fewer plays get performed. Fewer plays mean fewer opportunities for actors and therefore fewer opportunities to gain experience, stay in practice or get discovered. …When it comes to their own lives, these actors understand the law of economics: Artificially raise the cost of a good — in this case the price of an actor in a stage play — and you reduce the demand for actors.

Unfortunately, this episode of economic enlightenment doesn’t have a happy ending.

But the union’s national council ignored this advisory vote and ordered, with some exceptions, a $9 per hour minimum wage.

Mr. Elder also includes a very perceptive quote from a Hollywood celebrity.

Pat Sajak, host of “Wheel of Fortune,” recently offered a different perspective on the minimum wage. “When I had minimum wage jobs,” he tweeted, “my goal was to better myself, not to better the minimum wage.”

Kudos to Mr. Sajak. Too bad there are so many politicians (including many Republicans) who don’t understand that higher minimum wages mean fewer jobs for the less vulnerable.

Though, to be fair, maybe supporters do understand the harsh impact and simply don’t care.

P.S. I wrote yesterday about the impact of tax reform on the 2016 election, and I included a postscript about a healthcare issue that has resonance with voters.

Well, Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner makes the case for another healthcare issue that he hopes will motivate Republican primary voters to reject Ohio Governor John Kasich.

…not only did Kasich decide to participate in Obamacare’s fiscally destructive expansion of Medicaid, in doing so he also displayed a toxic mix of cronyism, dishonesty and executive overreach. …despite campaigning on opposition to Obamacare, Kasich crumbled under pressure from hospital lobbyists who supported the measure, and endorsed the expansion. When his legislature opposed him, Kasich bypassed lawmakers and imposed the expansion through a separate panel — an example of executive overreach worthy of Obama. Kasich cloaked his cynical move in the language of Christianity, and, just like a liberal demagogue, he portrayed those with principled objections to spending more taxpayer money on a failing program as being heartless. …Republican voters made a terrible miscalculation when they chose so-called compassionate conservative George W. Bush as their nominee, as he went on as president to push the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society in the form of the Medicare prescription drug plan. …During this presidential primary season, Republican voters will have much better options than they did last time. They don’t have to settle for another champion of big government. By punishing Kasich for expanding Medicaid, conservative primary voters would be sending the message to state-level Republicans everywhere that if they choose to advance big government healthcare solutions, there will be consequences — and they will have no chance of rising to higher office.

It’s not my role to comment on which candidates deserve support, but I definitely agree that Kasich’s Obamacare expansion was very bad policy.

And it’s particularly galling that he made a religious argument for bigger government. I don’t think Libertarian Jesus would be amused.

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A few days ago, we used supply-and-demand curves to illustrate how taxes reduce economic output.

Supply-and-demand curves also can be used to examine the impact of minimum wage laws on the labor market.

Workers understandably will be willing to supply more labor at higher wages.

Employers are just the opposite. They demand more labor when wages are low.

In an unfettered market, the interplay of supply and demand will result in an “equilibrium wage.”

But as you can see from the chart, if politicians impose a minimum-wage mandate above the equilibrium level, there will be unemployment.

Some folks, though, may not be overly impressed by theory. So how about empirical research.

Other folks, though, may prefer real-world examples rather than academic studies.

We’ve already looked at the bad results when the minimum wage was increased in Michigan.

Now we have some more unfortunate evidence from the state of Washington. Seattle Magazine has a story about a bunch of restaurants closing because of an increase in the minimum wage.

The article starts by noting a bunch of eateries are being shut down.

Last month—and particularly last week— Seattle foodies were downcast as the blows kept coming: Queen Anne’s Grub closed February 15. Pioneer Square’s Little Uncle shut down February 25. Shanik’s Meeru Dhalwala announced that it will close March 21. Renée Erickson’s Boat Street Café will shutter May 30… What the #*%&$* is going on?

Hmmm…so what’s changed. It’s not higher food prices. It’s not a change in dining preferences of consumers.

Instead, government intervention is having a predictable effect.

…for Seattle restaurateurs recently, …the impending minimum wage hike to $15 per hour. Starting April 1, all businesses must begin to phase in the wage increase: Small employers have seven years to pay all employees at least $15 hourly; large employers (with 500 or more employees) have three. Since the legislation was announced last summer, The Seattle Times and Eater have reported extensively on restaurant owners’ many concerns about how to compensate for the extra funds that will now be required for labor: They may need to raise menu prices, source poorer ingredients, reduce operating hours, reduce their labor and/or more.

An industry expert tries to explain the new reality of coping with higher costs.

Washington Restaurant Association’s Anton puts it this way: “It’s not a political problem; it’s a math problem.” …he says that if restaurant owners made no changes, the labor cost in quick service restaurants would rise to 42 percent and in full service restaurants to 47 percent. “Everyone is looking at the model right now, asking how do we do math?” he says. “Every operator I’m talking to is in panic mode, trying to figure out what the new world will look like.”

Well, we know what “the new world will look like” for many workers. They’ll be unemployed.

So you can understand why this issue is so frustrating. Politicians posture about helping workers, but they wind up displaying their economic ignorance and real-world innumeracy.

And innocent people pay the price, as shown in the Branco cartoon.

P.S. Walter Williams explains the racist impact of minimum-wage laws.

P.P.S. On a lighter note, here are a couple of additional clever cartoons illustrating the negative impact of minimum-wage mandates.

P.P.P.S. And this video is a must-watch on the issue.

P.P.P.P.S. Shifting to a different topic, I’m not quite sure this guy deserves to be in the Moocher Hall of Fame, but I’m glad he’s going to jail.

Champion golfer Alan Bannister, who played off a handicap of seven, was convicted of benefits fraud after being caught on camera walking around the course on his daily game. He even had a taxpayer-funded mobility car by claiming he was in too much pain to walk. …Inspectors discovered he used his mobility car – intended for people “virtually unable to walk” – to drive to the golf club to play with the “Sunday Swingers” and “The Crazy Gang” players, despite claiming he could barely walk 50 metres at a time. …The court was told Bannister dishonestly claimed £26,090.55 from 2007 until 2012 in Disability Living Allowance.

And while he’s only a borderline case for the Moocher Hall of Fame, he’s a perfect example of eroding social capital.

He’s a dirtbag who decided that it is perfectly okay to scam off taxpayers. When enough of his fellow citizens make the same choice, a society is in deep trouble.

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It’s very frustrating to write about the minimum wage. How often can you make the elementary observation, after all, that you’ll get more unemployment if you try to make businesses pay some workers more than they’re worth?

But it’s my mission to promote economic liberty, so I’ve written on why government-mandated wages can create unemployment by making it unprofitable to hire people with low work skills and/or poor work histories. And I’ve attacked Republicans for going along with these job-killing policies, and also pointed out the racist impact of such intervention.

Heck, just about everything sensible that needs to be said about the topic is contained in this short video narrated by Orphe Divougny

But I guess I’m the Sisyphus of the free-market movement because once again I’m going to try to talk some sense into those who think emotion can trump real-world economics.

Let’s start by citing some new reasearch.

States are allowed to increase minimum wages above the federal level. This creates interesting opportunities to measure what happens to employment when the national minimum wage is increased, since the change presumably doesn’t impact states that already are at or above that level.

Two economists from the University of California at San Diego took advantage of this natural experiment and examined employment changes in states that were “bound” and “unbound” by the law.

…we find that minimum wage increases significantly reduced the employment of low-skilled workers.  By the second year following the $7.25 minimum’s implementation, we estimate that targeted workers’ employment rates had fallen by 6 percentage points (8%) more in ‘bound’ states than in ‘unbound’ states.  …Over the late 2000s the average effective minimum wage rate rose by nearly 30% across the United States.  Our best estimate is that these minimum wage increases reduced the employment of working-age adults by 0.7 percentage points.  This accounts for 14% of the employment rate’s total decline over this time period and amounts to 1.4 million workers.  A disproportionate 45% of the affected workers were young adults (aged 15 to 24).

Gee, what a surprise. Fewer jobs.

But the mandated hike in wages didn’t just reduce employment.

There were also negative effects on income.

We find that binding minimum wage increases reduced low-skilled individuals’ average monthly incomes.  Targeted workers’ average incomes fell by an average of $100 over the first year and by an additional $50 over the following two years. …We provide direct evidence that such losses translate into meaningful reductions in upward economic mobility.  Two years following the minimum wage increases we study, low-skilled workers had become significantly less likely to transition into higher-wage employment in bound states than in unbound states. 

This evidence on income is particularly important because some statists make a rather utilitarian argument that it’s okay for some people to lose jobs because others will benefit.

Jared Bernstein is Exhibit A, as you can see in this debate we had for CNBC.

But let’s not just focus on numbers. There are painful human costs when low-skilled workers are priced out of the labor market.

Here are some excerpts from a column in the Wall Street Journal about a real-world example of people losing their jobs.

It’s well-established in the economic literature, if not in the minds of proponents of these laws, that the result will be job losses. Yet this empirical reality fails to capture the emotional reality of the employees who are let go, or of the business owners who had no choice but to let them go. …Michigan’s minimum wage rose in September to $8.15 an hour from $7.40 (the minimum wage for tipped employees rose 17%, to $3.10 an hour). The wage will rise to $9.25 by January 2018.

Now let’s look at the impact on a non-profit restaurant that helped disadvantaged people.

The staff at Tastes of Life was made up of recovering addicts, recently incarcerated individuals and others who would have a hard time landing a job elsewhere. Mr. Mosley explained that on-the-job offenses for which an employee would have been “gone that day” in a traditional work setting were instead used as training opportunities at Tastes of Life. …Mr. Mosley’s financial goal was to break even and use any excess funds to subsidize Life Challenge participants. After more than two years of operation on Beck Road, 2½ miles from the center of town, Tastes of Life had a steady flow of loyal customers, but rising food costs presented a challenge.Mr. Mosley and Ms. Tucker had planned to print new menus with higher prices to cover the food costs, but the September wage hike complicated those plans, in particular because the increase covered both tipped and non-tipped employees. …“If we had a $10 menu item, it would have to be $14,” Mr. Mosley said. The restaurant’s customer base of seniors on a fixed income and Hillsdale locals made this option a nonstarter. The restaurant also had to find roughly 250 new customers a month, unrealistic in a small town of about 8,300.

So the inevitable happened.

The increased minimum wage, he told me, was “the straw that broke that camel’s back,” forcing him to close his doors and lay off his 12-person staff. …with the higher wage costs, the arrangement was no longer feasible, and Tastes of Life closed on Sept. 28. …Four former employees have been able to leverage their restaurant experience to find new employment, but Mr. Mosley told me that eight are still out of work. …the loss of Tastes of Life cuts deep, because the benefit for Life Challenge participants was both valuable and is not easily attained elsewhere. These unintended consequences of a minimum wage hike aren’t unique to small towns in south-central Michigan. Tragically, they repeat themselves in locales small and large each time legislators heed the populist call to “raise the wage.”

Understanding “unintended consequences” is a key characteristic of a good economist.

Indeed, Bastiat’s wise words about the “seen” and “unseen” help to explain why Krugman makes so many mistakes.

But that’s a topic for another column (actually, a whole series of columns).

Today, the goal is simply to understand that it is pointlessly destructive to make low-skilled labor less affordable.

P.S. Given all the evidence that minimum-wage laws destroy jobs, why do some people persist in supporting such a destructive policy? In this post, I provide six possible reasons.

P.P.S. No wonder I get so frustrated on this topic.

P.P.P.S On the lighter side, here are some good cartoon on the minimum wage from Steve Breen, Lisa Benson and Henry Payne.

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I’m beginning to think that people from some nations are smarter and more rational than others.

That may explain, for instance, why voters in Estonia support fiscal restraint while voters in France foolishly think the gravy train can continue forever.

But I’m not making an argument about genetic ability. Instead, what I’m actually starting to wonder is whether some political cultures yield smarter and more rational decisions.

Switzerland is a good example. In a referendum this past weekend, an overwhelming majority of voters rejected a proposal to impose a minimum wage. Here are some excerpts from a BBC report.

Swiss voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to introduce what would have been the highest minimum wage in the world in a referendum. Under the plan, employers would have had to pay workers a minimum 22 Swiss francs (about $25; £15; 18 euros) an hour. …critics argued that it would raise production costs and increase unemployment. The minimum wage proposal was rejected by 76% of voters. Supporters had argued it would “protect equitable pay” but the Swiss Business Federation said it would harm low-paid workers in particular. …unions are angry that Switzerland – one of the richest countries in the world – does not have a minimum pay level while neighbouring France and Germany do.

Every single Swiss Canton voted against the minimum wage.

That means the French-speaking cantons voted no, even though the French-speaking people in France routinely support politicians who favor bad policy.

That means the German-speaking cantons voted no, even though the German-speaking people in Germany routinely support politicians who favor bad policy.

And it means that the Italian-speaking canton voted no, even though the Italian-speaking people in Italy routinely support politicians who favor bad policy.

So why is it that the same people, genetically speaking, make smart decisions in Switzerland and dumb decisions elsewhere?

I don’t have an answer, but here’s some more evidence. As you can see from these passages in a New York Times story, the Swiss have a lot more common sense than their neighbors.

“A fixed salary has never been a good way to fight the problem,” said Johann Schneider-Ammann, the economic minister. “If the initiative had been accepted, it would have led to workplace losses, especially in rural areas where less-qualified people have a harder time finding jobs. The best remedy against poverty is work.” …“Switzerland, especially in popular votes, has never had a tradition of approving state intervention in the labor markets,” said Daniel Kubler, a professor of political science at the University of Zurich. “A majority of Swiss has always thought, and still seems to think, that liberal economic principles are the basis of their model of success.”

Even the non-Swiss in Switzerland are rational. Check out this blurb from a story which appeared before the vote in USA Today.

…some who would be eligible for the higher wage worry that it may do more harm than good. Luisa Almeida is an immigrant from Portugal who works in Switzerland as a housekeeper and nanny. Almeida’s earnings of $3,250 a month are below the proposed minimum wage but still much more than she’d make in Portugal. Since she is not a Swiss citizen, she cannot vote but if she could, “I would vote ‘no’,” she says. “If my employer had to pay me more money, he wouldn’t be able to keep me on and I’d lose the job.”

Heck, I’m wondering if Ms. Almeida would be willing to come to Washington and educate Barack Obama. Minimum Wage BensonShe obviously has enough smarts to figure out the indirect negative impact of government intervention, so her counsel would be very valuable in DC.

But if Ms. Almeida isn’t available, we have another foreigner who already has provided advice on the issue of minimum wages. Here’s Orphe Divougny, originally from Gabon, with a common-sense explanation of why it doesn’t make sense to hurt low-skilled workers.

By the way, this isn’t the first time the Swiss have demonstrated common sense when asked to vote of key economic policy issues.

In 2001, 85 percent of voters approved a plan to cap the growth of government spending.

In 2010, 59 percent of voters rejected an Obama-style class-warfare tax plan.

No wonder there are many reasons why Switzerland ranks above the United States.

P.S. I wrote earlier this month about Pfizer’s potential merger that would allow the company to reduce its onerous tax burden to the IRS by redomiciling in the United Kingdom.

Well, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe has weighed in on the issue and I can’t resist sharing this excerpt.

…the outrage isn’t the wish of an American corporation to lower its tax bill. It is a US tax code so punitive and counterproductive that it can drive a company like Pfizer, which was launched in Brooklyn in 1849, to turn itself into a foreign corporation. The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. That puts American companies at a serious competitive disadvantage, since their rivals elsewhere are able to channel more of their profits into new investment, hiring, and productivity. What’s worse, ours is the only country that enforces a system of “worldwide” taxation, which means that American firms have to pay tax to the IRS not only on income earned in the United States but on their foreign earnings as well. Other nations content themselves with “territorial” taxation — they only tax income earned within their national borders. US corporations like Pfizer that have significant earnings overseas are thus taxed on those earnings twice: first by the government of the country where the money was earned, and then by the IRS.

Amen, amen, and amen.

Our tax system imposes a very punitive corporate tax rate.

It then augments the damage with worldwide taxation.

And the system is riddled with onerous rules that cause America to rank a lowly 94th out of 100 nations for business “tax attractiveness.”

In other words, when greedy politicians complain about Pfizer’s possible inversion, it’s a classic case of blaming the victim.

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Like John Stossel and Thomas Sowell, I’m not a big fan of the Federal Reserve.

It’s not just that I’m a libertarian who fantasizes about the denationalization of money.

I also think the Fed hasn’t done a good job, even by its own metrics. There’s very little doubt, for instance, that easy-money policies last decade played a major role in creating the housing bubble and causing the financial crisis.

Yes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac played a big role, but it was the Fed that provided the excess liquidity that the GSEs used to subsidize the subprime lending orgy.

But I’m not writing today about possible alternatives to the Fed or big-picture issues dealing with monetary policy.

Instead, I want to highlight three rather positive signs about the Janet Yellen, the new Chair of the Fed’s Board of Governors.

1. Unlike a normal political animal and typical bureaucratic empire builder, she didn’t assert powers that she doesn’t have. She was asked at a congressional hearing about bitcoin and she forthrightly stated that the Federal Reserve has no legislative authority to mess with the online currency.

The Federal Reserve has no authority to supervise or regulate Bitcoin, chair Janet Yellen told Congress on Thursday. …On Wednesday, Manchin wrote to the Fed, Treasury and other regulators warning that the currency was “disruptive to our economy” and calling for its regulation. “Bitcoin is a payment innovation that’s taking place outside the banking industry. To the best of my knowledge there’s no intersection at all, in any way, between Bitcoin and banks that the Federal Reserve has the ability to supervise and regulate. So the Fed doesn’t have authority to supervise or regulate Bitcoin in anyway,” said Yellen.

This is very refreshing. A government official who is willing to be bound by the rule of law.

President Obama, by contrast, is now infamous for his radical and unilateral rewrites of his failed healthcare law.

Eighteen of them for those keeping count at home.

But it’s not just Obamacare.

Because of my interest in tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy, I’m upset that his Treasury Department pushed through a regulation that overturns – rather than enforces – laws about protecting American banks from tax inquiries by foreign governments.

But let’s not wander into other issues. Today’s post is about positive signs from Janet Yellen.

2. And here’s another one.

Political Cartoons by Gary VarvelThe Fed Chair poured cold water on the left’s fantasy view that higher minimum wage mandates don’t kill jobs.

The new Federal Reserve chairman, Janet Yellen, seemed to offer some support for the CBO’s recent conclusion that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as President Obama and Senate Democrats propose, would cost a significant number of jobs. The CBO projected that the proposal would mean 500,000 fewer jobs by the end of 2016, a conclusion the White House took issue with. Yellen said the CBO “is as qualified as anyone to evaluate the literature” about the employment effects of the minimum wage (some of which argues there would be little to no jobs losses, and some of which suggests there would be significant job losses), and that she “wouldn’t want to argue with their assessment.”

In the cautious-speak world of Fed officials, this is a very strong statement.

Congratulations to Yellen for putting intellectual honesty above partisan loyalty.

3. Most important of all, Yellen also affirmed that she plans on continuing the “taper,” which is the buzzword for winding down the Fed’s easy-money policy.

…she reiterated that it would take a “significant change” to the economy’s prospects for the Fed to put plans to wind down its bond-buying program on hold. …After more than five years of ultra easy monetary policy in the wake of the 2007-2009 recession, the Fed is taking the first small steps towards a more normal footing. It trimmed its bond buying by $10 billion in each of the past two months, and it expects to raise interest rates some time next year as long as the economy continues to improve. Yellen reiterated her concerns about possible asset price bubbles, and suggested the Fed would move to a more qualitative description of when it plans to finally raise rates. …Yellen acknowledged that such low borrowing costs “can give rise to behavior that poses threats to financial stability.”

And she even acknowledged that easy money can cause bubbles.

A refreshing change from some previous Fed Governors.

Now let’s give a caveat. None of this suggests Yellen is a closet libertarian.

She is perceived as being on the left of the spectrum, and it’s worth noting that many hardcore statists in the Democratic Party urged her selection over Larry Summers because he was (incorrectly) seen as somehow being too moderate.

Moreover, I suspect she will say many things in the coming years that will add to my collection of gray hair.

All that being said, I’m glad Obama picked her over Summers. By all accounts, Yellen is honest and will focus her attention on monetary policy.

Summers, by contrast, is a far more political animal and would have used the position of Fed Chair to aggressively push for more statism in areas outside of monetary policy.

P.S. Private financial institutions also played a role in the housing bubble and financial crisis, which is why those entities should have been allowed to go bankrupt instead of benefiting from the corrupt TARP bailout.

P.P.S. Since this post mentions bitcoin and since I sometimes get asked about the online currency, I’ll take this opportunity to say that I hope that it is ultimately successful so that we have alternatives to government monetary monopolies. That being said, I wouldn’t put my (rather inadequate) life savings in bitcoin.

P.P.P.S. If you want an amusing video mocking the Fed, here’s the famous “Ben Bernank” video. And if you want a serious takedown of the Fed, here’s George Selgin’s scholarly but accessible analysis.

P.P.P.P.S. On a completely unrelated topic, if you’re a fan of “House of Cards,” I invite you to pay close attention at about the 30:00 mark of Episode 5, Season 2. If you don’t blink, you may notice an unexpected cameo appearance. Maybe this person has a future acting career if he ever succeeds in restoring limited government and needs to find something new to occupy his time. After all, if President Obama has a future on the silver screen, why not others?

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If I banged my head against the wall every time politicians advocated bad policy in Washington – which is a tempting impulse, I would have been institutionalized because of brain damage a long time ago.

But it’s difficult to maintain my self control when I think about minimum wage laws.

All sentient human beings should know higher minimum wage laws will mean more unemployment. Just ask them, for instance, what would happen if the minimum wage was raised to $100 per hour. Once they admit that would lead to massive job losses, they’ve accepted the principle and it’s simply an empirical issue of figuring out how many jobs are lost when the minimum wage is $75, $50, $20, $10, $6, etc.

At the risk of stating the obvious, businesses seek to make money and they won’t hire somebody who can only produce $6 of value per hour if the government says that person has to be paid $7.25.

But there are those who nonetheless push for higher minimum wage requirements. I’ve previously provided six potential reasons why a person would support such a policy, three of which are because of cynicism and three of which are because of naiveté.

I strongly suspect Obama and his team are pushing for a higher minimum wage for the first reason, but it’s hard to even care. All that really matters is that people will suffer if the President succeeds.

And I’m not making a partisan point. Mitt Romney and George W. Bush had the same mentality.

Now, perhaps, you understand why this issue is so frustrating.

So let’s try to maintain our sanity by mocking these feckless and uncaring politicians.

Here are a couple of good cartoons on the topic, beginning with a clever contribution from Lisa Benson.

Political Cartoons by Lisa Benson

This Steve Breen cartoon makes the same point, showing how the poor are disadvantaged.

Political Cartoons by Steve Breen

I also would recommend this video if you want to learn more about the minimum wage, and if you want to understand why this issue gets me very frustrated, check out this interview.

It’s especially perverse that politicians are pushing these policies when, as Walter Williams has explained, blacks and other minorities are among the biggest victims.

Last but not least, I’m a libertarian, which means that I’m motivated by morality as well as economic efficiency.

So I get equally upset that politicians think they should have the right to block a labor contract between consenting adults.

What gives them the right to tell other people that they can’t engage in non-coercive, non-violent exchange?

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I’m not a big fan of the German government. Angela Merkel has a disturbing desire to impose fiscal and political union on the European continent. And even the supposedly free market Free Democratic Party seems perfectly comfortable with a gradual descent into statism.

No wonder I mocked the Washington Post for labeling Germany a “fiscally conservative” nation.

But everything’s relative in the world of public policy. Compared to some basket cases in Europe, Germany is a laissez-faire paradise.

Here’s a fascinating report from an English-language news site in Europe.

Two Belgian government ministers have complained…that..Belgian companies are facing unfair competition. The two Belgian cabinet ministers were in Hannover (Germany) on Monday. They decided on their visit after often hearing in Belgium that it was cheaper to get Belgian cattle processed in Germany than at home.

So what is the unfair competition from Germany? Are there special tariffs or trade barriers that are artificially raising costs on Belgian products?

Nope, the Belgians are complaining that Germany doesn’t have a minimum wage and that regulations are not sufficiently onerous. Oh, the horror.

The Belgian ministers say that the most striking thing is that this can happen legally because there is no general minimum wage in Germany: “The company is not violating any regulations, because there are no regulations and that must stop” Mr Vande Lanotte told the VRT. The Belgians insist Belgian companies are the subject of unfair competition. Economy Minister Vande Lanotte says that in principle everybody should be treated in the same way: “Belgian companies cannot compete with their German competitors and this has ramifications.”

Gasp, there “are no regulations.” What sort of vicious dog-eat-dog system are the Germans running?!?

The answer, of course, is that Germany has lots of red tape.

More statist than France?!?

But apparently not as much intervention as Belgium. And you’ll notice that the “principle” that “everybody should be treated the same way” is really a stalking horse for the argument that there should be regulatory harmonization.

But the harmonization always means that everyone has to impose more onerous rules. Belgium doesn’t harmonize with Germany’s comparatively market-oriented policy. Instead, Germany is supposed to harmonize with the more statist and interventionist model of the Belgians.

In this sense, regulatory harmonization is like tax harmonization. It always means a heavier burden of government, not a lighter burden. Low-tax jurisdictions are badgered and harassed to make their tax systems worse so that fiscal hell-holes such as France don’t face “unfair competition.”

In an ideal world, the Germans would tell the Belgians to go jump in a lake.

But thanks to the never-ending pressure for regulation, harmonization, and centralization in Europe, it’s not that simple. The Brussels bureaucrats may decide to force Germany to adopt bad policy.

Mr Vande Lanotte intends to raise the issue of the absence of a minimum wage in many German sectors with the European Commission.

P.S. Germany also is better than the United States, at least on the issue of minimum wage mandates. Germany doesn’t have a minimum wage law. Obama, meanwhile, wants to saw off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder by pushing the U.S. minimum wage requirement even higher.

P.P.S. This story helps to explain why I want Belgium to split apart. If it became two nations, one Dutch and one French, I suspect we’d get better policy because they would then compete with each other instead of nagging Germany to become more statist.

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Should the federal government make life more difficult for low-skilled workers?

I hope everyone will emphatically say “NO!”

Heck, most people understandably will think you’re crazy for even asking such a preposterous question.

Minimum Wage Cartoon 2But some of those people will also think that it’s a good idea for politicians in Washington to make low-skilled workers less attractive to employers by raising the minimum wage.

I often ask such people whether they are more likely to buy a Big Mac if McDonald’s raises the price by 24 percent. They say they are less likely.

I then ask them if they are more likely to buy a car if GM increases the price of a Buick by 24 percent. They say less likely, of course.

But they seem to have a blind spot when I ask them whether employers will be more likely or less likely to hire low-skilled workers when the government increases the cost of those workers by 24 percent.

I explain further in this interview for Yahoo! Finance.

The interviewer, by the way, seems to be economically illiterate.

He apparently believes that we can reduce inequality by pricing poor people out of the job market. He also blames companies for sitting on piles of cash, presumably unaware that firms only will invest if there are profitable opportunities.

Minimum Wage CartoonAt one point, I delicately state that one of his questions “betrays a certain lack of historical knowledge,” which is a polite way of saying “you’re either lying or you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Ultimately, I try to help him understand by comparing fast-growing economies such Hong Kong and Singapore, which have relatively low burdens of government, with slow-growth economies such as France and Italy, where politicians ostensibly seek to “help” people with various forms of intervention.

I’m not sure I made any progress, so feel free to suggest other ways of convincing skeptics that freedom is better than statism.

Anyway, for those who want more information, this video explains the underlying economics of the minimum wage. We also have plenty of evidence (see here and here) that unemployment rose following the most recent hike in the minimum wage.

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The unemployment rate has been stuck above 8 percent ever since Obama pushed through his ill-fated stimulus scheme to increase the burden of government spending.

This high level of joblessness presumably reduces Obama’s chances of getting reelected, so you would think that Democrats would be very leery of proposals that increase the cost of job creation.

Yet they’ve relentlessly pushed to subsidize unemployment, even though Paul Krugman and Larry Summers have acknowledged that unemployment insurance reduces the incentive to find a job.

Now there’s talk of pushing for a higher minimum wage. Here are some details from a report in The Hill.

Advocates pushing for a minimum wage increase are looking to turn it into an election-year issue as the campaign season heats up this fall. Such a hike is expected to be included in the Democrats’ 2012 platform — which will be presented to delegates at the party’s convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week — a member of the drafting committee told The Hill. …In the eyes of labor unions, consumer advocates and liberal Democrats, the strategy is a no-brainer in an election season that’s featured the birth of the Occupy Wall St. movement, questions about Mitt Romney’s financial practices and a highly partisan debate over which class of workers deserve an extended tax break next year. …A minimum wage hike is not without political risks, however, as Republicans and business groups are warning that such a move would burden small businesses amid an employment crisis when Congress is urging them to hire.

Regarding the last sentence in the excerpt, I agree that a minimum wage hike entails risk, but I fear those risks are to the economy rather than to politicians. Much to my dismay, a majority of voters generally support this misguided policy.

In my attempts to educate these misguided souls, I try to figure out why they favor certain policies. In the case of the minimum wage, this is my rough-draft list of why some people support this perverse form of government intervention.

1. They understand low-income people will suffer if the minimum wage is increased, but that is acceptable collateral damage in the quest for political power.

2. They understand low-income people will suffer in the short run, but they rationalize this harm because there will be more redistribution in the long run if they obtain political power.

3. They understand low-income people will suffer, but that is an acceptable price to pay since it means unions will have more negotiating leverage once low-income workers are priced out of the market.

4. They think low-income people will benefit because the economy is a fixed pie and a mandate to pay more to low-income workers will merely result in less income for the rich.

5. They think low-income people will benefit because of the magic of Keynesian economics – i.e., beneficiaries will have more income, which will then get spent, thus stimulating the economy.

6. They are impervious to evidence and instead are motivated solely by a sense that there should be a minimum income in a “fair” and “compassionate” society.

It’s quite possible, of course, for someone to support higher minimum wages for more than just one reason. Indeed, I suspect  supporters of the minimum wage can be divided into two groups. The politicians and union bosses tend to believe in higher minimum wages for reasons 1, 2, and 3, while ordinary people are likely to support intervention for reasons 4, 5, and 6.

But regardless of what they believe, they’re wrong. This Cato study has all the evidence you could possibly want. But if you don’t have time to read the paper, this video is well worth a few minutes of your time.

Walter Williams also has weighed in on this issue, noting specifically the negative impact of higher minimum wages on minorities.

Sadly, this is one of those issues where it might not make a difference which party wins in November. Romney already has said he favors not only an increase in the minimum wage, but also indexing, which means automatic increases in the future.

P.S. Here’s a very good cartoon showing the impact of raising the minimum wage.

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Earlier this week, I explained why Mitt Romney is a Republican version of Barack Obama. His transgressions include being open to a value-added tax, a less-than-stellar record on healthcare, weakness on Social Security reform, an anemic list of proposed budget savings, and support for reprehensible ethanol subsidies.

Now we can add something else to the list. He wants to cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder and hurt low-skilled workers.

Here are a couple of passages from a report in the Oregonian.

Mitt Romney…continues to be a supporter of indexing the minimum wage for inflation. Oregon and Washington were among the first states to index their own minimum wages to inflation — nine states now do so — and it’s a favorite of liberals… Romney campaigned in favor of indexing the minimum wage when he ran for governor in 2002.  However, ABC News noted in 2007 that he wasn’t sure he supported indexing the federalminimum wage (which is lower than the minimum wage in several states).  In this new video, you could quibble that he doesn’t explicitly say he’s talking about the federal minimum — but that sure seems to be the tenor of his comments.

In other words, Romney is willing to condemn lower-skilled workers to unemployment, in hopes that he will gain some sort of short-term political advantage. In this regard, he will be just like Bush.

For a good explanation of why the government should not try to dictate wages, here’s a video narrated by one of my former interns.

It’s also worth noting that the minimum wage imposes disproportionate damage on the African-American community, as Walter Williams has explained.

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My Cato colleague, Mark Calabria, recently explained how the minimum wage destroys jobs, and I’ve written on several occasions why government-mandated wages can create unemployment by making it unprofitable to hire people with low work skills and/or poor work histories. And I’ve attacked Republicans for going along with these job-killing policies, and also pointed out the racist impact of such intervention.

But this cartoon may be a more effective argument for getting government out of the business of interfering with market forces. It’s simple, direct, and gets the point across. I’m not sure that always happens with my writing.

My former intern, Orphe Divougny, also did a very good job in explaining why politicians shouldn’t interfere with the right of workers and employers to enter into labor contracts.

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Ever wonder why unions care so much about the minimum wage when almost all union members get paid above that level? The answer is simply, but sleazy. As Walter Williams explains, they want to protect their high-pay status by increasing the cost of lower-skilled workers. For all intents and purposes, they are pricing poor people out of the job market:

Labor unions are the major supporters of increases in the minimum wage. Even though the overwhelming majority of their members earn multiples of the minimum wage, they spend millions upon millions lobbying for minimum wage increases. They do it because higher minimum wages protect their members from competition with low-skill, low-wage workers. Most other minimum wage supporters are decent people with a concern for low-wage workers, but their actions suffer from a misguided vision of how the world operates.

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In addition to being in favor of more spending, increased regulation, bailouts, and protectionism, President Bush also saddled the economy with a big minimum wage increase. A new study shows that this pernicious policy has destroyed more than 500,000 part-time jobs. One of the most interesting insights in the report is that the economy (prior to Bush’s awful law) had reached a point where the minimum wage wasn’t doing much damage because the competitive wage for entry-level work had risen about the government-mandated minimum. But by boosting the required wage by 14, 12, and 11 percent over three years, that is no longer the case. As a result, hundreds of thousand of people have been priced out of the job market.

Economic theory is clear in its understanding of the minimum wage – it unambiguously reduces the demand for labor, but only if the minimum wage is above the market wage for unskilled entry level labor. In practice, the minimum wage has been far beneath the going wage for unskilled, entry level workers. Increasing the minimum wage at these levels would have no effect on employment or wages. As a consequence, research findings have ranged from zero to modest job losses as the minimum wage increases. Unfortunately, the latest round of minimum wage increases, which occurred in late July 2007, 2008 and 2009, occurred from the peak through the trough of the recession. These increases were, at 14, 12 and 11 percent respectively, the largest since 1978 and the largest three-year percentage change since 1950. …the minimum wage increase accounts for roughly 550,000 fewer part-time jobs now than would otherwise be the case without the most recent three minimum wage increases. …Abandoning the minimum wage would have little or no adverse economic effects. Indeed, it would most likely boost employment.

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