Friday, January 05, 2007


David Card on the Minimum Wage

In a recent interview, David Card talks about his research projects and elaborates the work he did with Alan Krueger in the mid-90's on potential employement impacts of the minimum wage. I've posted the most relevant section below.

HT to Roger Garrison.

In contrast to that highly simplified theoretical model, there is a huge literature that has evolved in labor economics over the last 25 years, arguing that individuals have to spend time looking for job opportunities and employers have to spend time finding employees. In this alternative paradigm a range of wage offers co-exist in the market at any one time. That broader theory is, I think, pretty widely accepted in most branches of economics. The same idea is used to think about product markets where two firms that sell very similar products may not charge exactly the same price. The theory explains a lot of things that don't seem to make sense, at least to me, in a simple demand and supply model.

For example, what does it mean for a firm to have a vacancy? If a firm can readily go to the market and buy a worker, there's no such thing as a vacancy, or at least not a persistent vacancy. During the early 1990s, when Alan and I were working on minimum wages, it was our perception that many low-wage employers had had vacancies for months on end. Actually many fast-food restaurants had policies that said, “Bring in a friend, get him to work for us for a week or two and we'll pay you a $100 bonus.” These policies raised the question to us: Why not just increase the wage?

From the perspective of a search paradigm, these policies make sense, but they also mean that each employer has a tiny bit of monopoly power over his or her workforce. As a result, if you raise the minimum wage a little—not a huge amount, but a little—you won't necessarily cause a big employment reduction. In some cases you could get an employment increase...It doesn't mean that if we raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour we wouldn't have massive problems...In fact, nowhere in the book or in other writing did I ever propose raising the minimum wage. I try to stay out of political arguments.

I think that studies like this are missing something; they all question the effects of raising the minimum wage, but not lowering it.

For example, what would happen if we abolished the minimum wage completely? Would we witness the return of elevator operators? Ushers? Bathroom attendants? Live-in domestic servants? Gas station attendants?

This is the "unseen." Who knows what opportunities and services would arise in this scenario.
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