Up From Poverty
By David Henderson
“Up From Poverty” is the title of my review [scroll down to page 12] of Walter Williams’s book, Up From the Projects: an Autobiography. Why do I review an autobiography in a publication titled Regulation? Here’s why:
When economists want to discuss the damage done by the minimum wage, for example, we tend to cite studies that show that an x percent increase in the minimum wage led to a y percent drop in the number of jobs held by youths. But another way to understand the damage is to view the experience of one particular person who was not bound by the minimum wage and to see the benefits he reaped. Williams’ book tells of how he was able to jump from job to job in the early years of the minimum wage when it was less constraining than it is now. In each job, he learned something that made him more productive and eventually led him to become a wealthy economist.
I lay out the fact that although there was a minimum wage when Williams was a kid, it wasn’t binding on him: he was generally paid somewhat more than the minimum. I also tell his story of how one of his employers fired him, not because he wasn’t a good worker but because another employee complained to the government about child labor. I continue:
The child labor laws didn’t stop Williams, though. He lists a number of jobs he had while still very young, most of which would be hard to enforce child labor laws against: caddying at a golf club, picking blueberries in New Jersey, peddling fruits and vegetables in North Philadelphia, shoveling snow from residential and business sidewalks, and collecting and returning bottles to claim the deposit. (While reading this list, I felt nostalgic. If you substitute “crab apples in Manitoba” for “blueberries in New Jersey,” I did four of the five jobs when I was about the same age.)