Fidel Castro, the Minimum Wage, and Other Things That Aren’t Remotely Connected
Question: what does Fidel Castro’s death have to do with the minimum wage?
Well, if you’re a normal human being, the correct answer is “nothing.”
But if you’re an economist named Bryan Caplan, the correct answer…well, it’s still “nothing.” But Bryan Caplan will apparently stop at nothing to advance his anti-minimum-wage agenda. As proof, here’s a post he published today on EconLog. It’s titled “How Castro is Like the Minimum Wage,” which is maybe the clickbaitiest headline I’ve ever clicked on.
So how is Fidel Castro like the minimum wage? Caplan says it’s because Castro was “mild” so far as dictators go but it was morally correct for America to fight him as “a symbol of larger evils.” The same is true of the minimum wage, apparently: Caplan says the minimum wage is “something we must stubbornly decry even though there are far greater ills in the world.” Then he quotes from his own blog post from waaaaaaaay back in 2013:
The minimum wage is far from the most harmful regulation on the books. Why then do I make such a big deal about it? Because it is a symbol of larger evils.
From the standpoint of public policy, the minimum wage is a symbol of the view that “feel-good” policies are viable solutions to social ills: “Workers aren’t paid enough? Pass a law so employers have to pay them more. Problem solved.”…
We need to get rid of the minimum wage. But that’s only a first step. Our ultimate goal should be to get rid of the errors that the minimum wage has come to represent.
Ugh. Caplan’s views apparently hadn’t changed at all in the almost four years since first publishing that post, and that’s more than a little weird, considering how much new evidence we’ve seen in the intervening years.
Caplan constructs a hell of a straw man in that passage, and that straw man doesn’t at all represent the reality behind raising the wage. Seattle didn’t go to $15, and Washington state didn’t go to $13.50, because it felt good. We raised the wage because we understand that when more people have more money, we all do better. The minimum wage empowers workers as consumers, and the money they spend circulates throughout the local economy. It’s not about charity, it’s about increasing the customer base and promoting growth for everyone.
When businesses keep their minimum wages artificially low, their employees are basically frozen outside the economy—all they can afford is housing and transportation, if they’re lucky. They’re not able to spend money on goods and services. This is how we wound up with an economy in which low-wage employers are subsidized by government safety-net programs. Funny, isn’t it, that Caplan seems to be rejecting Castro by endorsing an economic system where the government provides food, clothing and shelter to workers?
And further, Caplan admits that the minimum wage is, in his view, a minor issue. A growing body of evidence seems to indicate that raising the minimum wage does not harm an economy—in fact, quite the opposite. High-wage cities and states are thriving while low-wage states like Kansas and Louisiana are suffering. So if Caplan admits that he doesn’t care about the minimum wage that much, why wouldn’t he support a system through which more people broadly do better? To make a point? It’s just like an economist to forget that the numbers they’re arguing over actually describe reality for human beings, but it takes a special kind of human to use a non-related news item to refresh an ancient blog post on a pet issue. Congratulations, Bryan Caplan! You’ve maybe written the dumbest Castro think-piece of the week, which is no mean feat.