Apr 08, 2013 8:09 PM GMT
An idea that has currency - and an idea that could be supported by most on the left and right. Unfortunately it means less government bureaucracy and regulation.
The alternative to the minimum wage is a minimum income: paid not by employers, but by the state.
The minimum wage is typical of so many bad policies, in so far as it attempts to solve a distributional problem — some people’s incomes are too low — with an instrument designed for a very different purpose. Wages are a kind of price: their role is to connect buyers and sellers in the market for labour in such a way as to ensure there are no shortages and surpluses. Stop them from doing that, and shortages and surpluses you will get.
Fixing wages and prices in this way isn’t an example of Big Government; it’s rather what I call phoney small government. Part of its appeal is that it appears less interventionist than the alternative, as proposed by that early economist Robin Hood: Take from the rich and give to the poor. But it isn’t. It’s just less effective. Pass a law demanding that employers pay each worker a higher wage than they’d prefer to pay, and they have an easy (and perfectly legal) way to avoid it: hire fewer workers. Whereas the Canada Revenue Agency is rather harder to get around.
Social obligations should be socially financed. As a collective ideal, distributional justice is ill-suited to being pursued through markets. That’s not what they’re for. Let us stop shunting our responsibility off on others. In place of the minimum wage, let us fix a minimum income.