Feeling vs. the Minimum Wage: A Hard-Headed Assessment
By Bryan Caplan
@bryan_caplan Find a person who got laid off from a charity after minimum wage increase. She tearfully says “I just want to help people.”
@bryan_caplan Oprah hugs the crying worker and whispers “Truth is a deeper sense of intention.” Audience nods thoughtfully. And…scene.
I can actually imagine this persuading Feeling people to support a minimum wage exemption for charities. Anything broader? Doubtful.
None of the efforts to smear the minimum wage based on its racist historical origins would work, unless the listener knew someone who told them about first-hand experiences with racist minimum wage advocates. Even then, it would probably feel irrelevant for today.
All of the answers with numbers, dollars-and-cents, or abbreviations (like EITC) would leave Feeling listeners feeling cold, bored, and unpersuaded.
Eli’s answer is very cute:
You know Oprah, I wish I could in good conscience support
the minimum wage, I really do. But do you know what happens when people
don’t comply? A lot of times it’s imprisonment. Sometimes its a fine
but if they don’t pay something has to happen, and its not going to be
And many won’t comply, for many reasons; maybe they’re small
businesses who can’t afford it, or maybe they’re just that darned
greedy. But either way, is that something you want to destroy somebody’s
life over? Greed? Such a basic human impulse, that we all have by the
way, and you want to bring out the guns over that?
Maybe the ends justify the means. And I know that in my brain, they
do. But there’s just something in my heart that says, these are people
too, no matter how greedy they are. There has to be a better way.
Still, I can’t see this working. Most Feeling people would feel angry about greedy business owners and want to punish them, especially if they can do this in the name of caring for poor workers.
Andy Hallman aptly describes the conundrum:
In order for an idea to appeal to someone with a soft heart, the victims have to be tangible, not statistical.
We can be fairly certain the minimum wage prevents some people from
working, but since we don’t know who exactly, we have nobody to feature
in our sob story.
Daniel Levine interestingly observes:
I actually think that one of the better strategies might be focusing on
how it’s only a pretty narrow slice of people who actually make the
minimum wage. So, if you care about the poor, raising the minimum wage
doesn’t actually help most of them. Those poor we care about are mostly
making above minimum wage (and even above most proposed increased wages)
and still have trouble making ends meet, or they’re not making a wage
Still, the Feeling response is bound to be: “But it does help some poor people!”
Bob Roberts promisingly emphasizes the handicapped:
We, on the other hand, had folks who were prevented from finding work by
the minimum wage law. These handicapped people aren’t able to do work
that is worth the minimum wage rate, but they still wanted the pride
that comes with a job, and they wanted it badly. They weren’t going to
go hungry or live in poverty or anything, but doing meaningful,
necessary work gives a person a sense of accomplishment and value of
oneself that you can’t find anywhere else.
Maybe this would persuade them to support an exemption for the handicapped, but probably not. The natural Feeling response would be, “It’s bad enough they’re handicapped. Now you want to treat them like second-class citizens, denying them the same protections the rest of us take for granted?!”
Jim Rose warns:
Ask questions. What do you think are the consequences of a minimum wage rise? Never lecture!
Ask them to put themselves in the place of a small business owner face a minimum wage rise
Lecturing is a gift as they counter-punch rather than explain their own position in their own words.
The Feeling person will definitely like you more when you don’t lecture. But this approach will merely prompt the Feeling person to give you an economically illiterate lecture in favor of the minimum wage. E.g., “I’d be happy to pay the minimum wage as long as all the other employers had to do the same.”
Overall, the responses are a little stronger than I expected. Yet in absolute terms, they fall short. We certainly shouldn’t give up because one day’s comments failed to yield a magic public relations bullet. It’s an important problem worth ample time and thought. Still, one thing is clear: If you think selling libertarian ideas to Feeling people isn’t inherently difficult, you’re fooling yourself.