Crocodile tears are flowing again for low-income people. In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. A debate is shaping up between those who support the proposal and those who favor keeping the wage where it is today. But there are good grounds — for the sake of the poor — to repeal the minimum wage altogether.
Wages are not set by fiat, even in the U.S. economy, which is severely distorted by government privileges. Wages, rather, are determined by supply and demand. If the price of unskilled labor rises, why wouldn’t employers buy less? No employer could long pay a worker more than the value he produced for the firm. That’s why economic theory and empirical observation tell us that an enforced minimum wage destroys jobs, degrades the quality of other jobs, and prevents new jobs from being created.
The victims are the most vulnerable people in society: the unskilled. For the most part, these are young people (many from the middle class) without work experience. Few people over 24 make the minimum wage, and those who do usually move up before long. Young people desperately need that first job to learn skills and work habits, and of course income, but “progressive” politicians, whether they know it or not, favor policies that destroy entry-level jobs. Remember, the minimum-wage law doesn’t create employment; it forbids jobs that pay too little.
Advocates of the minimum wage ought to explain why they believe competition among employers hasn’t already bid up the wages of unskilled workers to reflect their productivity. How can anyone know that a $9 minimum won’t throw people out of work or make low-skilled jobs more onerous? No one can know this because only the market process can generate and disclose such information. Nevertheless, “progressives” are willing to gamble with the lives of people who are vulnerable enough as it is.
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