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Raising the Price of Milk: A Minimum Wage Metaphor

in Communicating Liberty, Economics, Liberator Online Archives, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Libertarian Stances on Issues by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 15 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

First, the bad news.

A strong majority of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage. A recent Reason-Rope poll asked Raising the Price of Milk1,003 American adults this question: “The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Do you favor or oppose raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour?”

Fully 67 percent supported raising the minimum wage.

But there’s more.

When the poll further asked: “What about if raising the minimum wage caused some employers to lay off workers or hire fewer workers? Would you favor or oppose raising the minimum wage?” the response changed dramatically. 58 percent opposed raising the minimum wage, and only 39 percent favored it.

And when asked: “What about if raising the minimum wage caused some employers to raise prices? Would you favor or oppose raising the minimum wage?” the vote was split almost evenly.

And that’s the good news. We can change minds and win the majority to our side on this issue — if we help people understand the true, terrible consequences of minimum wage laws.

How can we do that? It’s not easy. To many people, a higher minimum wage seems compassionate. It even seems to make economic sense. As one state representative said earlier this year: “Raising the minimum is a win-win. If you put an extra $700 or $800 in a worker’s pocket, that money is going to be spent. Everybody will benefit.”

One problem is that most people aren’t employers; they don’t “buy” labor. They don’t think in those terms.

But most people do buy milk. And that suggests a simple analogy that can cut through foggy thinking and help people understand why the minimum wage produces such bad results.

Ask your listeners: What if the government decided to mandate an increase in the retail price of milk? Suppose the price of a gallon of milk was doubled?

Would that help farmers, dairies, and grocery stores? Would it mean more money for them? After all, it would only be a small increase for most milk buyers, just a few dollars per week.

Ask your listener what they think would happen if the cost of milk doubled.

How would people react? Would people buy more milk, or less?

For some people, the price increase wouldn’t matter. They’d just keep on buying milk.

But for many consumers, the price increase would make a big difference. Struggling families would be hit especially hard.

Many people would start exploring milk substitutes. Instead of buying whole milk, they might switch to cheaper soy or almond or rice milk.

Others would simply cut back on the amount of milk they consume.

Still others might water down their milk after purchasing it, to make it stretch further.

Further, the cost of items that used milk — cheese, ice cream, butter, etc. — would also rise. Consumers would buy less of those items, too. And manufacturers, just like consumers, would switch to milk substitutes whenever possible, in order to keep the prices of their products as low as possible.

The bottom line? Consumers would buy less milk. And, ironically, many farmers — the very people the increase was supposed to help — would lose money or even go out of business.

Which brings us to the minimum wage.

Employers buy labor, not milk. But if you increase the cost of labor, employers will act in much the same way that our imaginary milk consumers did.

Some employers will no longer be able to afford to buy labor at the price mandated by the new minimum wage. As a result, some jobs will shrink (fewer bag boys, fewer check-out counters, fewer waiters, fewer warehouse workers, etc.). Some jobs will disappear altogether. (Remember movie ushers, and car attendants who pumped your gas and checked your oil for you?)

Further, as the price for labor is incorporated into the price of goods, prices will go up for some products, and others may simply disappear from store shelves.

Some employers will look for labor substitutes, just like our consumers above looked for milk substitutes. They will use technology. Check-yourself-out counters. Automation. Robots. When labor reaches a high enough price, substitutes suddenly become cost-effective. Even moving to a new country with cheaper labor costs may be feasible.

Still others will “water down” the work. They will hire fewer people, or fewer full time employees, and stretch the work out between them.

Most people understand that if you forcibly increase the cost of milk, less milk will be sold, and ultimately both consumers and farmers will be harmed.

This simple metaphor lets them see the same is true of labor, too. A mandated increase in the price of labor, via the minimum wage, brings fewer jobs, higher prices for goods and services, harder work loads, and other negative consequences.

That’s not what people want. When they learn such these things are consequences of the minimum wage, they will no longer support it.

(To learn more arguments against the minimum wage, see “Minimum Wage Maximum Damage” by economist Jim Cox, published by the Advocates. This short easy-to-understand booklet devastates every argument for the minimum wage.)

Free Markets Nurture Empathy

in Communicating Liberty, Economic Liberty, Economics, Liberator Online Archives by Michael Cloud Comments are off

Free markets(From the Persuasion Powerpoint section in Volume 19, No. 10 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Would you like to live in a world where empathy is both virtuous and profitable?

A world where it pays to meet the wants and needs of others?

Look for it in the private sector. Private enterprises. Free markets.

Without empathy, private businesses and free markets wither and die. With empathy, they survive and thrive.

Each business must be guided by empathy for their customers’ wants and needs and budgets.

Or the customers will seek out and patronize a business that does.

Every retail business faces this truth each day.

What would attract customers to our store?

How do our shoppers want to be greeted and treated?

What store layout and merchandising would appeal most to our customers?

What kind of employees would our customers be most comfortable with?

What do our shoppers expect from our employees? Information? Guidance? Courtesy? Close assistance, or room to roam?

What prices and terms make it easiest for our customers to buy?

What do our shoppers think? What do they know? What do they need to know? What do they want? What are they looking for — that no one else has offered them?

Empathy guides businesses toward the right solutions. The answers that open the wallets and purses of their customers.

Private enterprises instill a deep and abiding empathy in each of us who work there.

Free markets nurture empathy.

The Piketty Challenge to Capitalism

in Economic Liberty, Economics, Liberator Online Archives by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 8 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Capital - Thomas PikettySeems like everybody is talking about French left-wing economist Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

It rocketed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Lefty pundit Paul Krugman hails it as “the most important economics book of the year — and maybe the decade.”

An Esquire review was entitled “The Most Important Book of the Twenty-First Century.”

New York magazine described Piketty as a “Rock-Star Economist.”

The title of an article on Bill Moyers website crowed: “Piketty’s Bombshell Book Blows Up Libertarian Fantasies.”

Even the Pope tweeted a thumbs-up to the Piketty thesis: “Inequality is the source of social evil.”

No doubt about it: proponents of massive government intervention and coercive wealth distribution are praising Thomas Piketty’s new book to the skies.

Piketty’s tome is seen as a devastating criticism of the very fundamentals of capitalism. Basically, Piketty examines an enormous amount of historical economic data to conclude that capitalism inevitably, over time, promotes huge inequalities in wealth. This wealth becomes ever more concentrated in just a tiny percentage of the population, leaving the rest of us far poorer and far less powerful politically.

This inequality, Piketty believes, poses a serious threat to the people of the world (except the wealthy). The solution? Although he himself suggests it is probably unrealistic, at least for the moment, he urges a massive worldwide tax on wealth to radically reduce income inequality.

And what a tax it is! For the U.S. Piketty wants a steeply progressive income tax with a top rate of 80% on incomes starting at around $500,000 or $1 million, as well as a 50%-60% tax rate on incomes as low as $200,000, which he confidently asserts “would not reduce the growth of the US economy.” To make sure the beast of inequality remains slain, he suggests an annual wealth tax up to 10% on the largest fortunes, and grabbing up to 20% of lesser estates.

No, he’s not kidding. And the main purpose of this tax is not to flood governments with revenue — though it would, at least at first — but simply to reduce income inequality. Indeed, he has surprisingly little concern with how inefficiently or destructively government might use this money.

These proposals may sound downright insane to libertarians and other market advocates, but at the moment Piketty’s book is sweeping the country. So libertarians will want to learn about this latest challenge to liberty and why Piketty’s arguments against economic liberty are dangerous and wrong.

Here are some good short, very readable places to start:

Piketty Gets It Wrong by Michael D. Tanner (Cato Institute), National Review (Online), April 23, 2014.

Excerpt: “Piketty’s solutions would undoubtedly yield a more equal society, but also one that was remarkably poorer.”

Fighting Inequality: Rule of Law Vs. Legal Plunder by James A. Dorn (Cato Institute), Investor’s Business Daily, April 29, 2014.

Excerpt: “The likely result of this utopian scheme would be to drive creative people out of high-tax countries, slow economic growth, and make societies poorer in the long run.”

Will 80% Income Taxes and a New 10% Wealth Tax Fix Our Economy? by Hunter Lewis, AgainstCronyCapitalism.org, May 2, 2014.

Excerpt: “Perhaps the most astonishing claim in Piketty’s book is that government bureaucracies need to be reformed so that they can make most efficient use of all the new income and wealth taxes that are recommended. The assumption is that almost complete government control of the economy would be best, but that the machinery needs some fine tuning.”

Who Is Thomas Piketty And Why Has The Obama White House Rolled Out The Red Carpet For Him? by Hunter Lewis, AgainstCronyCapitalism.org, April 19, 2014.

Excerpt: “This is all complete nonsense. Economic growth is produced when a society saves money and invests the savings wisely. It is not quantity of investment that matters most, but quality. Government is capable neither of saving nor investing, much less investing wisely.”

The Inequality Trap Distracts from the Real Issue of Freedom by Richard Ebeling, May 5, 2014.

Excerpt: “The only important and relevant ethical and political issue in a free society should be: How has the individual earned and accumulated his material wealth? Has he done so through peaceful production and exchange or through government-assisted plunder and privilege?

“Rather than asking the source or origin of that accumulated wealth — production or plunder — the egalitarians like Thomas Piketty merely see that some have more wealth than others and condemn such an ‘unequal distribution,’ in itself.”

Thomas Piketty’s bestselling post-crisis manifesto is horrendously flawed by Allister Heath, UK Telegraph, April 29, 2014.

Excerpt: “Parts of the US intelligentsia now advocate the same ideas that are to be found on Europe’s Left-wing fringes… Envy is back, disguised as a concern about ‘inequality,’ and the bail-outs and QE were merely a convenient excuse to bash the rich. It is shocking how many intelligent people now support seizing most of the wealth created by entrepreneurs…”

Smith, Marx, and Piketty by George Reisman, Reisman’s Blog, April 21, 2014.

Excerpt: “Contrary to Mr. Piketty, the fact that the rate of return on capital is higher than the rate of economic progress does not at all imply that the fortunes of the rich will increase more rapidly than the overall size of the economic system. … Our problems today result largely from government policies that serve to hold down saving and the demand for capital goods. Among these policies are the corporate and progressive personal income taxes, the estate tax, chronic budget deficits, the social security system, and inflation of the money supply. To the extent that these policies can be reduced, the demand for and production and supply of capital goods will increase, thereby restoring economic progress, and the aggregate amount and average rate of profit will fall.”

On the Piketty Welcome Party by Bas van der Vossen, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, April 21, 2014.

Excerpt: “…inequality per se need not bother us as much as it does the Piketty-acolytes. …What matters is that living standards keep rising, and keep rising for all. That has been the crucial engine of humanity’s greatest achievements in poverty reduction, increases of life expectancy, literacy, culture high and low, and so on.”

Liberal Pundits of the World Unite Over Thomas Piketty’s New Book: Democratic pundits have enthusiastically and unconditionally embraced a book that evokes Karl Marx and talks about tweaking the Soviet experiment“ by David Harsanyi, Reason.com, April 25, 2014.

Excerpt: “…it is worth pointing out that liberal pundits and writers have enthusiastically and unconditionally embraced not only a book on economics but a hard-left manifesto. …But how does a book that evokes Karl Marx and talks about tweaking the Soviet experiment find so much love from people who consider themselves rational, evidence-driven moderates?”

Obama: Wrong About Income Inequality; The problem is joblessness, not rich people by Ronald Bailey, Reason magazine, April 2014.

Excerpt: “Are the rich getting richer? Yes. Are the poor getting poorer? No. In fact, over the past 35 years most Americans got richer. Has income inequality increased in the United States? Yes. Does it matter? …No. …if most Americans’ incomes are rising, does it matter if some are getting a larger share?”