The Minimum Wage Debate

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 16th, 2013

Economics 101

A Fall in Economic Activity follows a Surge in Keynesian Stimulus Spending

The minimum wage argument is a political argument.  Because it’s a partisan one.  Not one based on sound economics.  Such as the classical school of economics that made America the number one economic power in the world.  Thrift.  Savings. Investment.  Free trade.  And a gold standard.  Then you have the politicized school of economics that replaced it.  The Keynesian school.  Which nations around the world accept as sacrosanct.  Because it is the school of economics that says governments should manage the economy.  Thus sanctioning and enabling Big Government.

Keynesian economics is all about consumption.  Consumer spending.  That’s all that matters to them.  And it’s the only thing they look at.  They completely ignore the higher stages of production.  Above the retail level.  They ignore the wholesale level.  The manufacturing level.  The industrial processing level.  And the raw material extraction level.  Which is why Keynesian stimulus fails.  Just putting more money into consumers’ pockets doesn’t affect them.  For they see the other side of that stimulus.  Inflation.  And recession.  And they’re not going to expand or hire more people just because there is a temporary spike in consumer spending.  Because they know once the consumers run through this money they will revert back to their previous purchasing habits.  Well, almost.

Keynesian stimulus is typically created with an expansion of the money supply.  As more dollars chase the same amount of goods prices rise.  And people lose purchasing power.  So they buy less.  Which means following a surge in Keynesian stimulus spending there follows a fall in economic activity.  Which is why the higher stages of production don’t expand or hire people.  Because they know that for them the economy gets worse—not better—after stimulus spending.

A Stronger Economy would help Minimum Wage Workers more than Raising the Minimum Wage

Increasing the minimum wage shares the Keynesian goal of putting more money into consumers’ pockets.  And many of the arguments for increasing the minimum wage mirror those arguments for Keynesian stimulus.  Even to reverse the consequences of previous Keynesian policies (see Everything You Ever Needed to Know About the Minimum Wage by Jordan Weissmann posted 12/16/2013 on The Atlantic).

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which means that depending on the city you’re in, 60 minutes of work will just about buy you a Chipoltle burrito (without guac). By historical standards, it’s fairly low. Thanks to inflation, the minimum wage is worth about $3.26 less, in today’s dollars, than when its real value peaked in 1968.

It’s a Keynesian argument that says putting more money into people’s pockets will increase economic activity.  That’s the rebuttal to the argument that a higher minimum wage will reduce economic activity (by raising prices with higher labor costs).  For they will take those higher wages and spend them in the economy.  More than offsetting the loss in sales due to those higher prices.

The whole concept of Keynesian stimulus is predicated on giving consumers more money to spend.  Like raising the minimum wage.  Either with stimulus money raised by taxes.  From borrowing.  Or printing.  Their favorite.  Which they have done a lot of.  To keep interest rates low to spur housing sales in particular.  But with this monetary expansion comes inflation.  And a loss of purchasing power.  So the Keynesian policies of putting more money into consumers’ pockets to stimulate economic activity has reduced the purchasing power of that money.  Which is why the minimum wage in real dollars keeps falling.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.57 million Americans, or 2.1 percent of the hourly workforce, earned the minimum wage in 2012. More than 60 percent of them either worked in retail or in leisure and hospitality, which is to say hotels and restaurants, including fast-food chains.

…Almost a third of minimum-wage workers are teenagers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some in retail sales get a commission added on to their hourly wage.  Many in the food and leisure industry earn tips in addition to their hourly wage.  So some of those who earn the minimum wage get more than the minimum wage.  Those who don’t are either unskilled entry level workers.  Such as students who are working towards a degree that will get them a higher-paying job.  Those working part-time for an additional paycheck.  Those who work because of the convenience (hours, location, etc.).  Those who have no skills that can get them into a higher-paying job.  Or because these entry-level jobs are the only jobs they can find in a bad economy.

A stronger economy could create better jobs.  And higher wages.  For it is during good economic times that people leave one job for a better job.  And employers pay people more to prevent good employees they’ve already trained from leaving.  So they don’t have to start all over again with a new unskilled worker.  This would be the better approach.  Creating a stronger economy to allow unskilled workers to move up into higher skilled—and higher paying—jobs.  For you can’t have upward mobility if there are no better jobs to move up into.

On one side of the debate, you mostly have traditionalists who believe that increasing the minimum wage kills some jobs for unskilled workers, like teens…

On the other side, you have researchers who believe that increasing the minimum wage doesn’t kill jobs at all and may even give the economy a boost by channeling more pay to low-income workers who are likely to spend it.

The Automotive industry has long fought for tariff protection.  For the high cost of their union labor made their cars costlier than their imported competition.  The legacy costs of an aging workforce (health care for retirees and pensions) required a government bailout to keep General Motors and Chrysler from going belly-up.  And it was this high cost of union labor that caused the Big Three to lose market share.  Shedding jobs—and employees—as they couldn’t sell the cars they were making.

So higher wages raise prices.  And reduce sales.  Leading to layoffs.  And reduced economic activity.  The unions believe this.  That’s why they fight so hard for legislation to protect themselves from lower-priced competition.  You would have to believe that the economic forces that affect one part of the economy would affect another.  And those economic forces say that higher wages kill jobs.  They don’t increase economic activity.  They just help the lucky few who have those high-paying jobs.  While many of their one-time coworkers found themselves out of a job.

When the minimum wage goes up, the theory says, businesses shape up. Managers find ways to make their employees more productive. Turnover slows down, since people are happier with their paychecks, and the unemployed snap up jobs elsewhere in town. Meanwhile, Burger King and McDonald’s can raise their prices a little bit without scaring off customers.

Managers finding ways to make their employees more productive?  Do you know what that means?  It means how they can get more work out of fewer employees.  No worker wants to hear management talk about productivity gains.  For that usually means someone will lose their job.  As the remaining workers can do more with less because of those productivity gains.  So that’s a horrible argument for a higher minimum wage.  Because fewer people will have those bigger paychecks.  Made possible by reducing costs elsewhere.  As in laying off some of their coworkers.

Based on data from 80s and early 90s, Daniel Aaronson estimated that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage drove up the price of McDonald’s burgers, KFC chicken, and Pizza Hut’s pizza-like product by as much as 10 percent. Assuming that holds true today, it means that bringing the minimum wage to $10.10 would tack $1.60 onto the cost of your Big Mac.

McDonald’s will never win the award for having the healthiest food.  And that’s fine.  People don’t go there to eat healthy.  They go there for the value.  As it is one of the few places you can take a family of four out for about $25.  Adding another $1.60 per burger could add another $6.40 to that dinner out.  For a family living paycheck to paycheck that may be just too much for the weekly budget.  Especially with inflation raising the cost of groceries and gasoline.  Thanks to those Keynesian economic policies.

Raising the Minimum Wage will not Result in any of the Lofty Goals the Economic Planners Envision

There is a lot of anger at these minimum wage companies paying their employees so little.  Some of their minimum workers have gone on strike recently to protest their low pay.  As they are apparently not working at these companies because they love the work.  So suffice it to say that no one is yearning to work at these companies.  And that some may outright hate these jobs.  So why in the world would we want to punish them by paying them more?  Removing all ambition to leave the jobs they hate?

If you raise the minimum wage what happens to other jobs that pay what becomes the new higher minimum wage?  Putting their earnings on par with unskilled entry-level jobs?  Jobs that require greater skills than entry-level minimum wage jobs?  Will they continue to work harder for the same wage as unskilled workers?  Will they leave their more difficult jobs for an easier entry-level job?  Will they demand a raise from their employer?  Keynesians would say this is a good thing.  As it will drive wages up.  It may.  But to pay these higher labor costs will require cost cuts elsewhere.  Perhaps by shedding an employee or two.

Raising the minimum wage will not result in any of the lofty goals the economic planners envision.  For if putting more money into consumers’ pockets is all we need to create economic activity then we wouldn’t have had the Great Recession.  The stagflation of the Seventies.  Or the Great Depression.  Keynesian stimulus spending didn’t create new economic activity to prevent any of these.  So why would a rise in the minimum wage be any different?

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