Sunday, August 09, 2015

History of what poor people deserve

Being rich and right wing -- jeez, it seems to mean you can believe anything that sustains your situation. This is Very Serious Economist Gregory Mankiw, explaining how conservative pundit Arthur Brooks tells poor people that conservatives really care about them even as they shape laws to keep them in poverty:
For example, take the proposal to increase the minimum wage. Conservatives have many reasons to believe that it is the wrong way to help the working poor.  [....] Brooks believes that the key to personal happiness is “earned success.” A higher minimum wage means that fewer people have the opportunity to experience it.
So if fast-food workers get paid $15 an hour, somehow it is axiomatic they will not have earned it, and they won't be happy.  I wonder what Gregory Mankiw and Arthur Brooks are paid, and how much less they would actually earn if this metaphysical scale were applied to them.  Mankiw should try working the counter at McDonald's for an hour, and see how happy it makes him.

Update, August 21: I've been having a stimulating correspondence with reader Craig Yirush, who believes I quote Mankiw out of context here, and that he (and presumably Brooks, whom neither of us has read) really means only to argue that minimum wages cause unemployment to rise, and that therefore a great number of unemployed people are denied the opportunity, etc. 
"First, when the cost of hiring unskilled workers rises, businesses hire fewer of them." I take this to mean that the result of a minimum wage will be net job losses, and thus fewer low-skilled people will be able to experience any kind of earned success.
I was confident at the time that I was not misquoting, but I'm beginning to see that there may be an alternative reading in which Mankiw/Brooks are not so blindly cruel as it seemed. As long as the link above is alive, you can read the whole thing and decide for yourself.   (Note: some economists doubt the minimum wage hikes = unemployment hypothesis, but that's a different question from the point I made that CY challenges, I think.)
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