Thursday, 1 August 2019

Who pays for the minimum wage?

This question is asked in a new article, Who Pays for the Minimum Wage?, in the latest issue (Vol. 109, No. 8, August 2019) of the American Economic Review.

The paper is by Peter Harasztosi and Attila Lindner and looks at the margins along which firms responded to a large and persistent minimum wage increase in Hungary. It finds that the employment elasticities are small, but negative.

The abstract reads,
This paper provides a comprehensive assessment of the margins along which firms responded to a large and persistent minimum wage increase in Hungary. We show that employment elasticities are negative but small even four years after the reform; that around 75 percent of the minimum wage increase was paid by consumers and 25 percent by firm owners; that firms responded to the minimum wage by substituting labor with capital; and that disemployment effects were greater in industries where passing the wage costs to consumers is more difficult. We estimate a model with monopolistic competition to explain these findings.

Bad economic justifications for minimum wage hikes

Ryan Bourne has authored a recent paper at the Cato Institute on Bad Economic Justifications for Minimum Wage Hikes.

The bad reasons he gives are,
  • A solution to a market failure?
  • To keep pace with productivity trends?
  • Costs of living
  • Poverty
His conclusion reads,
The metrics that $15 minimum wage advocates use to make the case for substantial minimum wage hikes are not, on their own, economically sensible benchmarks by which to set minimum wage rates.

Economy-wide productivity growth can be a poor guide to productivity trends for minimum wage workers and different localities, and it tells us little about whether firms have the power to set below-market wage levels.

Housing and childcare costs are unrelated to firms’ ability to pay or the value of the work minimum wage employees undertake. And comparing the income of someone working full-time at the federal minimum wage to existing poverty thresholds ignores the role of anti-poverty programs and the fact that many minimum wage earners are not poor.

Campaigners’ arguments often imply that minimum wages should be linked to productivity measures, living costs, or poverty thresholds. The evidence presented above suggests that translating these arguments into policy could produce damaging labor market outcomes.

Bernie Sanders and bad justifications for minimum wage hikes

This audio is from the Cato Daily Podcast.
The tiff between workers for the Bernie Sanders campaign and the campaign leadership illustrates some of the tradeoffs inherent in mandating wage floors. Ryan Bourne is author of a new paper on minimum wage hikes and bad justifications for them.

Friday, 12 July 2019

The Conservative Sensibility

Caleb O. Brown interview George F. Will about his new book The Conservative Sensibility
Rights precede government. That’s the core of the American founding, and George F. Will argues that it’s worth preserving. His new book is The Conservative Sensibility.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Making Sense of the minimum wage

Recently the Cato Institute put out a new Policy Analysis (No. 867) on Making Sense of the Minimum Wage: A Roadmap for Navigating Recent Research by Jeffrey Clemens. Clemens is an associate professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego.

Executive Summary:
The new conventional wisdom holds that a large increase in the minimum wage would be desirable policy. Advocates for this policy dismiss the traditional concern that such an increase would lower employment for many of the low-skilled workers that the increase is intended to help. Recent economic research, they claim, demonstrates that the disemployment effects of increasing minimum wages are small or nonexistent, while there are large social benefits to raising the wage floor.

This policy analysis discusses four ways in which the case for large minimum wage increases is either mistaken or overstated.

First, the new conventional wisdom misreads the totality of recent evidence for the negative effects of minimum wages. Several strands of research arrive regularly at the conclusion that high minimum wages reduce opportunities for disadvantaged individuals.

Second, the theoretical basis for minimum wage advocates’ claims is far more limited than they seem to realize. Advocates offer rationales for why current wage rates might be suppressed relative to their competitive market values. These arguments are reasonable to a point, but they are a weak basis for making claims about the effects of large minimum wage increases.

Third, economists’ empirical methods have blind spots. Notably, firms’ responses to minimum wage changes can occur in nuanced ways. I discuss why economists’ methods will predictably fail to capture firms’ responses in their totality.

Finally, the details of employees’ schedules, perks, fringe benefits, and the organization of the workplace are central to firms’ management of both their costs and productivity. Yet data on many aspects of workers’ relationships with their employers are incomplete, if not entirely lacking. Consequently, empirical evidence will tend to understate the minimum wage’s negative effects and overstate its benefits.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Tyler Cowen interviews Russ Roberts

What are the virtues of forgiveness? Are we subject to being manipulated by data? Why do people struggle with prayer? What really motivates us? How has the volunteer army system changed the incentives for war? These are just some of the questions that keep Russ Roberts going as he constantly analyzes the world and revisits his own biases through thirteen years of conversations on EconTalk.

Russ made his way to the Mercatus studio to talk with Tyler about these ideas and more. The pair examines where classical liberalism has gone wrong, if dropping out of college is overrated, and what people are missing from the Bible. Tyler questions Russ on Hayek, behavioral economics, and his favorite EconTalk conversation. Ever the host, Russ also throws in a couple questions to Tyler.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The employment effects of minimum wages

A brief summary of the state of play.
First, the evidence on the disemployment effect of minimum wages is contested, and there clearly are studies that find no employment effect – both in the United States and in other countries. However, the preponderance of evidence indicates that minimum wages reduce employment of the least-skilled workers. Earlier estimates suggested an ‘elasticity’ of about -0.1 to -0.2. Many estimates are still in this range, some are closer to zero, and some are larger. To be clear, some researchers may have reason to put more store in the types of estimates that tend to find no employment effects – typically the research designs that I have labeled ‘close controls’. I have indicated reasons I am somewhat skeptical of these designs, but also indicated that the jury is still out. More definitively, though, it is indisputable that there is a body of evidence pointing to job losses from higher minimum wages. Characterizations of the literature as providing no evidence of job loss are simply inaccurate.

Second, there are two kinds of changes in minimum wages about which we know a lot less. The first change is the adoption of much higher minimum wages – as is happening in the United States with serious movement toward a $15 minimum. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the employment effects of a $15 minimum wage. One thing we do know is that it would impact far more workers than the current minimum wage, especially in lower-wage states and lower-wage areas of most states. More speculatively, my sense is that the costs of a much higher minimum wage are likely to be understated by simply scaling up the effects based on employment elasticities in the existing literature, because the much higher share of workers affected will reduce employers’ ability to partially offset minimum wage increases by changes in margins other than employment.

The second kind of change about which we know relatively little concerns the introduction of a new minimum wage – like in Germany. There is some evidence from the introduction of a new minimum wage in the United Kingdom. Some of this evidence points to job loss, but the evidence is mixed. And, of course, the institutional setting is not the same.
From "The Econometrics and Economics of the Employment Effects of Minimum Wages: Getting from Known Unknowns to Known Knowns" by David Neumark, German Economic Review, Forthcoming.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Coase and Plant on the market versus the firm

In a 1937 paper, "Centralise or decentralise" Arnold Plant writes,
"[...] centralisation is the means by which the collaborating enterprises secure the advantage of specialised services or equipment which would not otherwise be available to them on such favourable terms, if at all. If the service or merchandise in question is freely bought and sold on any scale in a well-organised market, there will be no need for centralisation of firms. It is the absence of a well-organised market which may justify firms in pooling their requirements".
He sees a clear trade-off between market provision and in-house production. When markets are available and relatively cheap their use makes sense. But when they are expensive, or unavailable, production in a firm makes sense. Today we would express this by saying when transaction costs are high we use the firm but when they are low we use the market.

Plant's line of argument has a somewhat modern, Coaseian, feel to it. The question this gives rise to is, For how long had Plant been thinking in this way? And did he discuss this line of reasoning in classes that Coase took? Or does the causation run in the opposite direction? Plant's paper was published in 1937 and we know that Coase's analysis of the firm was largely complete by 1932. Did Coase discuss his approach with his former teacher? Or did the two of them reach similar conclusions independently?

I'm not sure we know enough to answer these questions, but it does raise an interesting possibility about the development of Coase's ideas on the firm.

  • Plant, Arnold (1974). 'Centralise or decentralise?'. In Arnold Plant, "Selected Economic Essays and Addresses (174-98), London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. First published in Arnold Plant (ed.), "Some Modern Business Problems: A Series of Studies", London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1937.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

The 2018 trade war

Has the trade war with China been good for American businesses and consumers? The first results are in, and David Weinstein tells Tim Phillips who the winners and losers are.