Meer vs. Galbraith on the $15 Minimum Wage
By David Henderson
I finally got around to watching the debate about the minimum wage between Jonathan Meer and Jamie Galbraith. Meer is an economics professor at Texas A&M University and Galbraith is an economics professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School at the University of Texas.
Co-blogger Bryan Caplan had recommended it earlier. So do I. I also recommend listening at 1.25 speed and saving 20% of your time.
It won’t surprise regular readers of this blog that I thought Meer, who argued against the minimum wage, got the better of the debate over Galbraith, who favors an increase to $15 per hour over a few years.
I usually point to specific minute and second points for those who want to find the actual statements I discuss, but I was watching this as I was watching the baseball game and packing for a trip and so I didn’t write down all the times. I did note some.
In his opening statement in favor of the minimum wage, Galbraith said there wasn’t any evidence that the minimum wage causes job loss. In fact, there is lots of evidence. Galbraith might have had in mind that there are studies that find no impact but, of course, that’s quite different from saying there’s no evidence.
I was very impressed with Jonathan Meer’s command of the empirical literature on the minimum wage, evidenced throughout. Also, although I had known much about the racist origins of the minimum wage, and I have blogged here about John F. Kennedy’s racist case for the minimum wage, I had not known the Sydney Webb reference (around the 25:00 point.) Also, in his opening statement, Meer pointed out that of all the young black men who don’t have a high school diploma and who are not in prison or not in the military, only 6% have full-time jobs. (at about the 26:50 point.) His point, of course, was that some of this is due to the minimum wage and a large increase in the minimum wage would make it even harder for them to find full-time work.
What I found striking about Jamie Galbraith’s case, especially in his rebuttal to Meer and in his responses to questions from the audience, was how “priceless” it was. That is, there was no price theory, no basic microeconomics in his argument. Galbraith argued that raising the minimum wage would give workers more money to spend and that their expenditures would cause other industries to grow, with no net loss in jobs or in economic activity. But if that’s so, and Jonathan Meer made this point in his response, then there really would be no good economic argument against raising the minimum wage even further–to $20 an hour, $30 an hour, even $50 an hour.
Also in Q&A, Meer challenged Galbraith’s view (at about the 1:12:30 point), which I often see Robert Reich and others express, that the welfare state allows companies like Wal-Mart to pay their workers less. Meer pointed out that the basic economics is exactly the opposite: Wal-Mart has to compete against the welfare state. The welfare state raises workers’ reservation wages. Galbraith had a pretty weak rejoinder. (This was all relatively late in the Q&A.)
If you want to see someone sink really low, by the way, watch Galbraith at the 1:14:10 point. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to work with the audience. I wonder if that’s all Jamie had left because he couldn’t think of a good argument against Jonathan.