Wednesday, June 11, 2014

No opinion or no well-crafted response

After his upset victory over Eric Cantor in the Republican primary, David Brat (currently a professor of economics) was asked about whether he supported raising the minimum wage.  He replied "I don't have a well-crafted response on that."  Justin Wolfers says that "admitting to being uncertain on an issue . . . [is] a mark of intellectual honesty":  "assessing the evidence on the effects of the minimum wage is a tricky business" and economists are divided on the issue.

But Brat didn't say he was a typical economist--he said he was "a free-market guy," and "anything that distorts the free market, I'm against." He also didn't say that he was uncertain, but that he "didn't have a well-crafted response."

His dilemma is that if you start with the position that a free market is best, there's a strong case against having any minimum wage; however, there's also strong public support for the minimum wage.  Many surveys going back to the 1940s have asked whether the minimum wage should be increased, and almost all have found solid majorities in favor.   I wondered if any had asked if there should be a minimum wage at all.  I found only one, back in 1948.  It asked "Do you think we should have national laws... providing that employers all over the country have to pay a certain minimum wage to employees... or do you think we should have such laws but they should be handled by the states, or do you think we shouldn't have any laws of this kind at all?"  46% said national, 31% said state, and only 13% said none (11% didn't know).  Then I looked for surveys that gave people the option of saying that the minimum wage should be reduced.  There was one from 1987 that asked if the minimum wage was too high, too low, or about right. About two percent said it was too high (there were two different forms of the question--in one, 1% thought it was too high, in the other 3% did).

[Data from iPOLL, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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