Skip to comments.The New York Times and the minimum wage
Posted on 07/26/2004 11:57:40 PM PDT by kattracks
In academia, when scholars change their minds about something, they admit it publicly and explain why, even if it causes a bit of embarrassment for having erred previously. Thus we recently saw renowned physicist Stephen Hawking say that he was wrong in his theory of "black holes." He knew that it was a necessary, if painful, thing for him to do so that research on these celestial objects can move forward.
I believe that public opinion leaders have the same responsibility to explain themselves when they switch gears. If I were suddenly to endorse a higher minimum wage, after having opposed it for many years, I would owe my readers an explanation. I would have to say that the facts had changed or that new research had caused me to change my mind or whatever. It would irresponsible for me to pretend that my new position was consistent with my old one and just ignore the contradiction.
This is a view that is not held by the New York Times. For decades, that paper had carefully and consistently editorialized against the minimum wage. But five years ago, for no apparent reason, it reversed a policy dating back to 1937 and suddenly endorsed a higher minimum wage. Its latest editorial on this topic appeared on July 24, in which legislators in Albany were urged to agree on a "much-needed increase in the minimum wage" for New York State.
When I first began clipping Times editorials on the minimum wage back in the 1970s, they were unambiguous in their condemnation of it as misdirected, inefficient and having negative consequences for most of those it was supposed to help. For example, an Aug. 17, 1977, editorial stated, "The basic effect of an increase in the minimum wage ... would be to intensify the cruel competition among the poor for scarce jobs." For this reason, it said, "Minimum wage legislation has no place in a strategy to eliminate poverty."
In the 1980s, the Times became even more aggressive in its denunciations of the minimum wage. Rather than simply argue against increases, it actively campaigned for abolition of the minimum wage altogether. Indeed, a remarkable editorial on Jan. 14, 1987, was titled, "The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00."
Everything in that editorial is still true today. "There's a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed," it said. "Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and few will be hired," it correctly observed. In conclusion: "The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable -- and fundamentally flawed. It's time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little."
Even in the 1990s, the Times remained skeptical about the value of raising the minimum wage. An April 5, 1996, editorial conceded that a proposed 90-cent increase in the minimum wage would wipe out 100,000 jobs. It said that Republican critics of the minimum wage as a "crude" antipoverty tool were right.
By 1999, however, the nation's newspaper of record had completely reversed itself. In a Sept. 14 editorial, it endorsed a sharp increase in the minimum wage, arguing that it would have no impact whatsoever on unemployment. "For millions of workers, a higher minimum wage means a better shot at self-sufficiency," it stated.
Gone are all the old arguments that higher minimum wages cost jobs, are mainly promoted by unions to stifle competition, that most of the benefits go to the children of the well-to-do rather than the poor and that legislating higher wage costs would be inflationary. Now the Times accepts the justification for a higher minimum wage as given and doesn't even try to marshal any facts or analyses in favor of its new position. It simply says the minimum wage should be raised, as if its opinion on the matter is all that anyone needs to know.
I think the Times owes its readers some explanation for its about-face. After all, there has been no change in ownership at the paper that caused its editorial policy to change, as was the case at the New York Post and the Daily News. The Times is still owned and run by the same family and has had the same liberal editorial policy since the 1930s. So what gives with the minimum wage? Why was it bad for 60 years and now has suddenly become good? Inquiring minds want to know.
I won't hold my breath waiting for an answer. In the meantime, I recommend the book, "Times Change: The Minimum Wage and The New York Times" by economist Richard McKenzie for those curious about this case of editorial apostasy.
Bruce Bartlett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Townhall.com member group.
©2004 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Contact Bruce Bartlett | Read Bartlett's biography
The main reason that the NYTimes has been able to do this is a discredited study that appeared in the American Economic Review by two Princeton economists, Card and Krueger, who interviewed "managers" at a sample of New England fast-food restaurants before and after state minimum wage increases, and claimed to find that employment actually INCREASED. A follow-up study by the Employment Policies Institute in DC revealed glaring errors when it asked the surveyed restaurants to check their actual payroll records. The corrected data showed significant employment LOSSES, as theory predicts and every other study has shown. It appears that Card and Krueger interviewed "shift managers" who didn't have a clue about how many people were employed. But their trashy study got published because they are big-wigs in academia, and the left now uses this horrible study as cover, claiming that there is "evidence" that increasing the minimum wage may actually increase employment! Sigh . . . .
Being Liberal means never having to be consistent.
The Times is irrelevant, destined for the scrap heap of history.
ON THE MINIMUM WAGE
My problem is that I see the mwl as the root cause(or a contributary) of every social problem in our society from drugs, to crime, outsourcing of jobs and closing of manufacturing plants. In Alaska, Texas and all coastal areas, fishermen want bigger and bigger boats to get ever larger catches at sea. Then they complain that the ocean is fished out as their catch is less and less. Of course, they complain that they cannot meet their ever higher mortgage on the boat(s). The price of fish goes up and up.
The apartment house operation is interesting as well. They overpay for a building and take advantage of inflation to raise rents at every opportunity. The price of a property(in the LA area) has far exceeded the ability of the building to generate the necessary revenue to cover the cost and pay the mortgage. The investors bid up the price and use tax write offs to pay cash for it. The rich get richer. They love the mwl. Each time it is raised, they can smell that extra cash and they raise their rents(more inflation).
I live in the past. In 1960, the mwl was raised from $1ph to $1.35. Most businesses that employed young people felt that 35% increase was too costly and did not hire as many as been their practice. That following summer the unemployed childrem flocked to the beach in California. There they learned about the drug scene and what getting 'high' is/was all about. The 'flower children', 'hippies', etc. Manson and Sharon Tate were just a few of the victims. I also think our society suffered as well.
I have observed that the minimum wage is part of the reason for some of the distortions we face. People cannot remember when we did not have a minimum wage law and it is reflected in their attutude about their lives and about government. Many/most think it is a normal function of government. And, they could not conceive of living in a free and open society without it. They don't seem to understand that the cost of living goes up faster than the their wage rate. From an average of 2-3% before 1961 to 20% under Jimmy Carter. I think the NY Times had it right up til now.
During the tribute to Reagan a few weeks ago, it was indicated that he got a very small percentage of the black vote. I think that is because he preached 'self reliance' and the blacks(as a group) have never understood it. When you hear about education progress reports, it is always followed by the minority progress report.
From slavery onward, they seem to be waiting for the next handout. Jessie Jackson coherse big corporations to offer big handouts as he takes a piece of the pie. You did notice that his son has a Coca Cola distributorship.
Have you ever heard of Walter Williams? He is a black conservative. Look him up on Google.
That is my soapbox.
IMO the NY Times is for a higher minimum wage because that's about all they can justify paying their biased reporters...its the reporters who want a higher minimum wage..lol..
Welcome to FR.