Sunday, June 03, 2012

On minimum wage and the "race to the bottom"

Minimum wages make for great politics, bad economics. Despite hurting most those they are supposed to help, it seems unlikely that we will see their repeal anytime soon.  Andrew Coyne from the National Post:

Much popular thinking about the economy inclines to the former view. We grow richer, in effect, by overpaying each other, and overcharging each other in our turn. To leave the setting of wages to the market would, on this view, lead inevitably to a “race to the bottom.” Only by pegging wages above-market levels, whether directly in law, or by means of union representation, is there any hope even of maintaining such progress as has been achieved, let alone making further gains. 
But if the pop economics story were true, it would be hard to explain why anyone made more than the minimum wage — anyone, that is, who did not work in a union shop. In fact only about 5% of workers in Canada make the minimum, while just 16% of the private sector workforce now belongs to a union. 
Yet, far from stagnating, as the Star story claims, living standards in Canada have in fact been rising steadily for most of the last two decades: from 1993 to 2008, median family income grew by 21.5% after inflation. Incomes fell, it is true, in the previous decade, but for an obvious reason: the two bone-crunching recessions that began and ended it. When large numbers of people are earning no income — because they are unemployed — the median tends to lag a bit.
And similar stats are mirrored in the US according to John Stossel:
But without a minimum wage or union protection, wouldn't employers abuse workers? In a real free market, no, they can't. Because workers have choices. Employers have an incentive to maintain a good relationship with employees — one that keeps them reasonably loyal — because workers can quit and go work for a rival. 
If globalism leads to a "race to the bottom," why do 95 percent of American workers make more than minimum wage? It's not because companies are generous, but because competition forces them to offer higher wages to attract good workers. Companies may move jobs overseas to escape high U.S. wages (or U.S. taxes and regulations), but they clearly prefer to keep jobs here, close to their headquarters, suppliers and customers.

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