Wednesday, July 16, 2008

more feelings

The topic that pretty much got me into blogging was the minimum wage (seems a little stupid now, but probably not much more stupid than being into blogging at all). I brought it up in conversation with Trevor and he gave a pretty standard, economically literate response, which was something along the lines of, “I would like to support it but I think it hurts the people it’s intended to help, so I don’t.” Yes I’m a pedant, yes I know he means something like, “It makes me sad that a minimum wage policy won’t make poor people better off.” But in my fake statement, and the sentiment I’m discussing there’s emotional appeal to the minimum wage regardless of whether it works (Nobel Prize winners actually support the minimum wage, even though they think other programs achieve the aims of the policy, better). We may reject it cos it doesn’t work, but we still like it! We root for it to do better. I’m arguing that it’s a little weird to have any feelings about the policy outside of its actual effects. You may be thinking that mentioning support for minimum wage is a signal of your sympathy for poor people, but if it’s a bad policy, supporting it should be a signal that you want bad things to happen to poor people! You may intend it to signal a belief that everybody is as productive as the level of the minimum wage you’d ideally like to see, but again, that’s a factual claim (a false one).


Trevor Black said...

Is the point not that people realise more people would be better off without a minimum wage, but that it still feels `wrong' that someone should be paid less than a certain amount for doing work. Yes, I buy the supply and demand thing setting the correct price and I buy that labour and ideas have no intrinsic `fair value' other than what people are prepared to pay. However, it is hard to get away from the feeling that there should be a `moral unease' that someone gets paid lower than a certain amount.

You could argue, as I would, that you should feel more unease by paying a few people the minimum wage and leaving a whole bunch of people to get nothing. But it does seem the lesser of two evils.

Ideally everyone would earn a minimum wage.

Ideally no one would be lazy parasites on society either.

Pity we don't live in an ideal world.

Stuart said...

I agree. I try to anticipate that by mentioning the nobel economists who want minimum wage despite thinking other programms are better. Those programs use tax money to increase take how pay. The effect is to ensure people earn a certain minimum, but people also have an adverse reaction to that!

It must all come from the employer. Hence the last sentence, maybe people actually believe that everybody simply is that productive, no matter how incompetent.

Tracy said...

I'm not really following the details of this argument so forgive me. Just some thoughts... that unfortunately feelings and fairness don't match up to the practicalities of reality, but it doesn't mean that our feelings of injustice are wrong. Ideally people would get paid a decent wage for their life's work, but it's not always possible. We do hope though that eventually people's wages will increase as the economy gets better, right? So we're aiming for a better world, accepting that this one is the best we can do for now?

It's kinda like the animal rights movement. I feel that the way we treat billions of animals is terribly wrong, but I know all I can hope for is that things get better with time. Every improvement is an improvement. It's better to increase awareness gradually than to use violence or dogmatism to get the message across.

I'm just rambling... But you're right sometimes feelings don't make sense and if we re-evaluated reality our feelings should change.