Friday, July 28, 2006

Boudreaux on the Minimum Wage

GMU econ prof Donald Boudreaux writes about the minimum wage. His bottom line:

We don't know exactly how, or exactly by how much, employers as a group respond to higher minimum wages -- but the theoretical case that they do respond in ways unfavorable to low-skilled employees is too powerful to dismiss.
This sounds right to me.

But Boudreaux's arguments will not convince a hard-core egalitarian. Suppose these unfavorable responses are small in magnitude. Isn't it possible that the minimum wage on net helps poor families because the direct effect of higher wages more than offsets the adverse response from employers? Since Boudreaux is making a theoretical argument, he has to admit that it is possible. The minimum-wage debate will not be resolved with an appeal to theory alone.

In the end, there is no good substitute for an appeal to facts. What the facts show is that the minimum wage is poorly targeted as an anti-poverty program. Moreover, while the evidence is controversial, some studies find significant long-term adverse effects. As a result, most economists prefer more efficient and better targeted anti-poverty tools, such as the EITC, which has grown significantly over the past few decades.