Lind’s misleading language about wages.

To follow what I’m about to say, it’s best to start with Michael Lind’s recent article titled “Libertarians’ Big Lie on Wages,” Compact, May 9, 2023, and then read Don Boudreaux’s critique of it.

Don’s critique is quite good. I noticed a few things, though, that he didn’t comment on.

It’s clear from context that Lind is discussing the minimum wage and so that’s the issue Don addresses. But what I noticed is that Lind subtly biases the case against libertarians by claiming that they are against higher wages for workers. Lind starts with:

Are higher wages bad for low-wage workers? One of the most common arguments against higher wages and better benefits for low-income workers is the assertion that, while higher wages might make some workers better off, by making the goods and services that workers provide more expensive, those higher wages will make other low-wage workers worse off as consumers.

Do you see the term “minimum wage” in there? Neither do I. As I said above, it’s clear that Lind is discussing the minimum wage but you wouldn’t know it from the opening paragraph. Who would be against higher wages and better benefits for workers when they result from free markets? Indeed, that is the history of the last approximately 200 years. Workers’ wages have risen, with dips during recessions and depressions. And free-market economists, many of whom could reasonably be called libertarians, have been among the most vociferous cheerleaders for these higher wages. As we have pointed out agains and again, the average worker in the United States is much better off than he/she was 40 years ago, was much better off 40 years ago than 40 years before that, etc.

But what Lind does is make the careless reader think that we are a bunch of misanthropes who want workers not to be better off.

And notice this:

This kind of brazen promulgation of an obvious falsehood is typical of libertarian propaganda, which is a mishmash of dubious assertions and outright lies: Higher wages hurt those whom they are meant to help; free trade always and everywhere benefits both sides; mass immigration has no effect on wages; high CEO salaries mysteriously don’t lead to price increases, but slightly higher wages for low-wage workers always do; and so on. (italics added)

The reason I italicized the clause above is that the part about high CEO salaries is like the issue of higher wages but is not like the issue of higher minimum wages. Free-market economists don’t generally have a problem with high CEO salaries that come about in a free market just as we don’t have a problem with, and even strongly favor, higher wages for low-wage workers that come about in a free market.

Were Lind to make his point straightforwardly so as not to mislead the reader, the italicized part would have to be “high CEO salaries dictated by law don’t lead to price increases, but slightly higher minimum wages for low-wage workers always do.” But in that case, he wouldn’t find many free-market economists holding that view. Most of us would say that a government that made CEO pay higher than the market pay would lead to price increases, however small. But then Lind’s rhetorical point would lose its power.

Lind generously throws around the word “lies” to refer to thoughts of people who disagree with him. I won’t reciprocate. But I will say that Michael Lind is very confused and that if you don’t notice his rhetorical switch, you will be too.