Posts tagged with: Seattle

Various forms of government intervention negatively affects economic vitality in many ways, however few policies impact the market as directly as wage laws. The $15 minimum wage law in Seattle dramatically influences determinants of business owners’ hiring practices. In many cases, wages are the highest economic cost in the production process, making hiring new employees a risky endeavor. Regardless of size, businesses of all scales must turn profits to stay operational and risk potential losses each time they hire new associates. Extra government mandates and regulations only make this natural market process more onerous.

While wage laws intend to immediately increase pay for the working poor, they severely hinder not only full time employment, but employment itself. Government mandated wage policies erect an artificial economic barrier that increases the supply of, but reduces the demand for, labor. Minimum wage mandates, contrary to their original intent, directly harm the groups they are designed to help. Government intervention in business typically aims to cure certain social ills, but the Utopian desire to cure humanity of all suffering leads to various economic distortions, sending false signals to consumers and producers. This is especially evident in wage policies.

Minimum wage laws primarily target the working poor, about 2% of the working population. Typical of intrusive government intervention, rather than having little to no effect, the laws have an active negative effect. As a labor demographic, the poor are least likely to possess marketable skills necessary to higher level employment and often rely on low-wage, unskilled jobs before developing their talents. When government forces business to pay above the market rate for unskilled work, this results in unemployment of the poor. Minimum wage laws price the poor right out of the labor market and rob them of work that may potentially lead to greater opportunity. African American communities particularly suffer from wage controls. Noble Prize economist, Milton Friedman, dispelled the incorrect perceptions of minimum wage laws in the 1960s and 1970s saying, “the most anti-negro law on the books of this land is the minimum wage rule.” The workers who retain their employment undoubtedly benefit from such wage increases, but at the expense of others. (more…)

Soviet-era Moscow apartments

Soviet-era Moscow apartments

When it comes to urban planning, nobody beats the Soviets. First, they wanted to plan: no mish-mosh, haphazard cities, towns and burgs sprouting up like in the decadent West. Of course, structures had to address equality. No fancy neighborhoods in one area, and low-rent housing in another. And then there was functionality. Workers needed to be close to work. This eliminated the need for unnecessary and costly transportation. Soviet academic Alexei Gutnov described the planning this way:

Ideal conditions for rest and privacy are offered by the individual house situated in the midst of nature. But this is an expensive kind of well-being. . . . The villa
is the traditional retreat of the leisured minority at the top of the bourgeois society. The attempt to make the villa available to the average consumer means
building a mass of little houses, each on a tiny piece of land …’

In their rejection of the American model of suburban sprawl, Gutnov’s team specifically notes its unfeasibility in a society premised on equality.


fight forRobert Reich seems to be a smart man. He served under three presidents, and now is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. His video (below) says raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, he gets it all wrong.

Donald Boudreaux of the Cato Institute notes a couple of errors in Reich’s thinking. First,

Ignoring supply-and-demand analysis (which depicts the correct common-sense understanding that the higher the minimum wage, the lower is the quantity of unskilled workers that firms can profitably employ), Reich asserts that a higher minimum wage enables workers to spend more money on consumer goods which, in turn, prompts employers to hire more workers.  Reich apparently believes that his ability to describe and draw such a “virtuous circle” of increased spending and hiring is reason enough to dismiss the concerns of “scare-mongers” (his term) who worry that raising the price of unskilled labor makes such labor less attractive to employers.


closedSeattle has now mandated an increase in minimum wage. The economic ramifications are being felt, especially throughout the restaurant industry.

Several Seattle restaurants have done away with tipping, but are adding a mandatory service charge on a customer’s bill.

Restaurants often operate on thin margins, so higher wages quickly impact profitability. As opposed to tips, a service charge becomes part of the restaurant’s overall revenue. The restaurateurs say the service charge component will be used exclusively for employee wages, benefits and payroll expenses.

While this may solve the economic issue for some restaurants, the mandatory minimum wage increase is causing others to simply close their doors. (more…)

Seattle-mystWhen I was growing up I had a buddy—let’s call him “Bob”—who was constantly asking, “What happens if we do . . . ?” Bob’s curiosity, however, only led him to wonder about foolish actions. He never pondered, for example, what would happen if we all volunteered at the senior citizens center. Instead, his thinking ran more along the lines of what would happen if we jumped off the senior citizens center.

The reaction of me and the rest of my friends was always, “Let’s find out!” But we were more prudent than Bob (or maybe just more cowardly) so we’d encourage him to try whatever reckless idea he had in mind so we could learn from his experience. We learned, for instance, that if jump off the 3-story senior citizens center, a stack of cardboard boxes will not be enough to sufficiently break your fall.

Bob’s shenanigans would daily provide for us what social scientists would call a “natural experiment.” A natural experiment is a study of the effect of an independent variable, which has not been planned or manipulated by the researchers, on a dependent variable. (The word ‘natural’ in the term natural experiment therefore refers to an event that is not planned by the researchers.)

The city of Seattle is about to pull a Bob, by foolishly raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The effect on the citizens of Seattle will be almost entirely harmful. But it will provide a natural experiment on the effect of raising the minimum wage laws that the rest of American can learn from. Anyone who isn’t already convinced that increasing the minimum wage has a detrimental impact on employment and harm minority workers will, in a few years, have solid proof. We will all be able to look to Seattle to see the difference between good, albeit naive, intentions and sound economic policy.

Here are some of the effects I predict the policy will have in the next three years: