Minimum Wage and a Delayed Diagnosis


In his novel, The Betrothed, Alessandro Manzoni thus summarizes the botched handling of the plague’s entry into Milan — which arrived within living memory of a prior wave of the disease — in the early Seventeenth Century:

In the beginning, then, there had been no plague, no pestilence, none at all, not on any account.  The very words had been forbidden.

Next came the talk of ‘pestilent fever’ — the idea being admitted indirectly, in adjectival form.

Then it was ‘not a real pestilence’ — that is to say, it was a pestilence, but only in a certain sense; not a true pestilence, but something for which it was difficult to find another name.

Last of all, it became a pestilence without any doubt or argument — but now a new idea was attached to it, the idea of poisoning and witchcraft, and this corrupted and confused the sense conveyed by the dreaded word which could now no longer be suppressed.

In the chapter that this summary brings to a close, Manzoni describes a civic society reluctant to acknowledge a problem, given all of the difficulties that had braced the region recently, such as famine, leading to bread riots, and the ongoing Thirty Years War.  The plague episode (as I suspect Manzoni intended) becomes a fitting representation of a flaw in bureaucratic government.  Those in charge want to believe that which will make their lives easier and avoid rousing the anxieties of the dangerous masses.  As a problem becomes undeniable, it is only natural that those who should have led the way in spotting and addressing the threat early on would look for ways to excuse their insufficiency and to redirect blame.

This process only increases the amount of suffering.

Many policies, large and small, that our progressive government pushes on Rhode Island and the United States with the promise that they will improve life fall under this pattern, but the one that catches my attention this morning is the minimum wage.  Writes The American Interest, having demonstrated some of the mounting evidence that minimum wage increases kill jobs:

It may be that minimum wage boosters will ultimately be forced to the argument enunciated by Robert Reich, a sharp thinker and a sometime TAI contributor: Yes, dramatic minimum wage hikes might risk destroying large numbers of jobs, but that is a sacrifice worth making so that all workers can be safely out of poverty without government assistance. But that position still doesn’t fly: Severing low-skilled workers’ connection to the labor market—where they could ideally attain the skills they need to earn a higher-paying job—is cruel, even if it is undertaken with the best of intentions.

In the beginning, the assertion is that the minimum wage doesn’t kill jobs; in fact, we’re told that it might even grow them.  Next, the explanation goes, while some jobs may disappear, the effects are so minor that one might even suggest such people are better off coming under government care or taking the opportunity to live with their parents and become better educated.  Then what little job losses there are must be seen as worth the exchange, to help most workers.  Last of all, the harm of the minimum wage could not have been foreseen, and it might have been avoided altogether if only (with the metaphorical “poisoning and witchcraft”) greedy business owners hadn’t acted in the entirely reasonable way that minimum wage opponents had always predicted they would.

This process will only increase the amount of suffering.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    It is hard to imagine something more inflationary than “minimum wage” increases. You simply increase the supply of money by fiat (in the hands of those who retain jobs) without increasing the supply of goods and services.

    I have met Robert Reich several times. He is not particularly impressive in person. I thought his wife’s suit against Harvard for discrimination was bogus.

  • Mike678

    I’m more concerned with the public acceptance that government can tell private business what it has to pay it’s employees. I understand environmental rules and so forth–that mitigates the external impact of potentially harmful processes. But telling them what they need to pay? Let’s ignore supply and demand. Let’s ignore productivity. Let’s ignore that If I pay the bottom rung more I can less afford to also raise the other scales a similar amount (see Walmart). The road to hell is paved by shallow thinking progressives…