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Minimum wage hikes are a much worse idea now

Summary:
For one thing, the marginal product of labor is much lower, at least for a good while.  But there is a deeper problem.  Under the status quo ex ante, minimum hike proponents argued that the highest wages would be taken out of, say, the economic rents of restaurants. But now those rents are largely gone!  Especially for the small restaurants.  The result will be that, if the minimum wage is raised, more laborers are laid off.  At the very least there should be no minimum wage, or a much lower minimum wage, for small businesses. A further effect is that higher contagion risk (extending into the future too, now that pandemics are salient) may encourage more employers to automate, including in kitchens, theme parks, etc.  A higher elasticity of automation also militates against a minimum wage

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For one thing, the marginal product of labor is much lower, at least for a good while.  But there is a deeper problem.  Under the status quo ex ante, minimum hike proponents argued that the highest wages would be taken out of, say, the economic rents of restaurants.

But now those rents are largely gone!  Especially for the small restaurants.  The result will be that, if the minimum wage is raised, more laborers are laid off.  At the very least there should be no minimum wage, or a much lower minimum wage, for small businesses.

A further effect is that higher contagion risk (extending into the future too, now that pandemics are salient) may encourage more employers to automate, including in kitchens, theme parks, etc.  A higher elasticity of automation also militates against a minimum wage increase, because capital-for-labor substitution is now more likely, again indicating larger negative employment effects.

In essence, most of the previous empirical literature on this topic has to be significantly downgraded in relevance.  Whatever you thought of them to begin with, the pieces by Dube and the like just don’t apply any more.

Most likely, we should lower current minimum wages.  And that is all the more true, the more you have been worrying about coronavirus risk and Trump’s poor performance in response.

These are all very simple points, I am tempted to say they are “not even Econ 101.”

And note that in the very early stages of a lock down you might want a much higher minimum wage, precisely to keep people away from work, if somehow you cannot keep the customers away.  The much higher minimum wage would force the employer to decide which are the truly important workers, and send the other into non-infectious activities, as Brian Slesinsky suggested to me.

This is all related to my earlier post The Meaning of Death, from an economist’s point of view.

The post Minimum wage hikes are a much worse idea now appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Tyler Cowen
Tyler Cowen is an American economist, academic, and writer. He occupies the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University and is co-author, with Alex Tabarrok, of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution. Cowen and Tabarrok have also ventured into online education by starting Marginal Revolution University. He currently writes the "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times, and he also writes for such publications as The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Newsweek, and the Wilson Quarterly.

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