Forbes, Fox, and AEI: The Axis of Idiocy

Axis of EvilOf course this is how these things work. First Professor Mark “Connect the Dot” Perry of the American Enterprise Institute puts forth a stupid theory about some left-wing conspiracy to cover up the disemployment effects of a $15 minimum wage by gradually phasing it in, then Tim “Superfluous Adjective” Worstall echoes the meme at Forbes.com, calling it an “excellent logical point” (as opposed to one of those “awful logical points” or something). Next, no doubt, we’ll be hearing this new conventional wisdom from the mouths of Fox News and other propaganda outlets.

It’s just like making sausage. Only with more offal.

Perry and Worstall ask, “if an increased minimum wage is such a good idea then why delay implementing it?” Their conclusion: because $15 advocates know it will destroy jobs, and we’re just trying to hide the impact within years of data. Because, I presume, we’re evil!

Okay. Maybe. I suppose it’s possible that the real mission of $15 advocates is to put millions of Americans out of work. Last time I looked in the mirror I wasn’t twirling a cartoon villain mustache, but I’m pretty sure I could grow one if I wanted to.

Or—and perhaps I’m reaching here—we might want to consider the following alternative hypotheses for why we are phasing in the $15 minimum wage:

  1. Um… we always do it this way.
  2. Because, politics!
  3. We didn’t want to kill jobs.

The first hypothesis should be the easiest to understand as it is backed up by 80 years of historical fact: minimum wage phase-ins have always been the norm. Nothing new here. Simple as that. This minimum wage hike is being implemented no differently than most others.

The second hypothesis should also be pretty obvious to anybody who has observed the political process up close. Seattle’s two-tiered excruciatingly long phase-in is the result of our excruciatingly consensus-obsessed political process. A lot of minimum wage advocates wanted an immediate jump to $15 (they even adopted the name 15 Now!), but, no, we had to extract a compromise between labor and business leaders, because that’s how we do things here in Seattle. (Remember, this is the city that is still debating how to replace an earthquake-damaged highway 14 years after the trembler.) San Francisco is less process-obsessed, and so they implemented a more sensible straight-up three-year phase-in.

But given their blind faith in “the time-tested, irrefutable, ironclad economic laws of supply and demand,” the third hypothesis is likely the most difficult for the free market theocrats to wrap their minds around: perhaps some $15 advocates believe that an immediate hike would have been too disruptive, while a phase-in gives business owners enough time to adjust their models to the new reality? Because, you know, humans are adaptable.

Which brings me to where I think Perry and Worstall really go wrong—they may be very familiar with neo-classical economic theory, but they don’t seem to have much experience with actual human beings. To repeat: humans are adaptable. We’re innovative. We’re resilient. Just because we might start with a low-wage business model doesn’t mean we can’t thrive with a high-wage one.

Also, we’re nuanced. At least, some of us. It is no more “intellectually inconsistent” to posit that an immediate jump to $15 might cost jobs while a three-year phase-in wouldn’t, than it is to acknowledge that a $50 minimum wage would be an economic disaster while a $15 minimum wage would not. Perry and Worstall are so tightly sealed within their neo-classical closed equilibrium system that they’re incapable of accommodating a whiff of nuance.

And finally, we’re not all evil. Again, most of us. Yet to accept Perry and Worstall’s logic that a phase-in proves we know a $15 minimum wage will hurt the workers it’s intended to help, but we continue to advocate for it anyway, you must also logically conclude that we are simply bad people. And that’s what’s really missing from Perry’s stupid conspiracy theory: a motive. What’s our motive? What could I possibly gain from promoting a policy I know to be inherently bad?

There’s a shtick I sometimes employ when critiquing an adversary, in which I sarcastically ask the question “Liar or Idiot?” The joke is that I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt as to intent. But Perry and Worstall don’t even grant us that courtesy. They just assume ill-intent, whatever our motive, and in doing so they fail to follow the basic dictum of Occam’s Razor—that the hypothesis relying on the fewest assumptions is likely the most correct.

I could speculate on Perry and Worstall’s motives. Perhaps they’re just shilling for their corporate overlords? Perhaps they’re less interest in actual fact than they are in scoring rhetorical points? Perhaps they’re lashing over the frustrating lack of data to support their “ironclad” assumptions? But I think the most obvious explanation for their fervent opposition to a livable minimum wage is that their economic theories are flat out wrong.

Simple as that. I’m right and they’re wrong. No need to impugn anybody’s motives by imagining some far-out political conspiracy.

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Goldy
David "Goldy" Goldstein has written about politics for The Stranger, The Nation and the Huffington Post. He hosted “The David Goldstein Show” on Seattle’s news/talk 710-KIRO from 2006 through 2008, and has been pissing off readers at his blog HorsesAss.org for more than a decade.