Acton Institute Powerblog

How Minimum Wage Laws Are Like Geocentrism

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300px-GeocentrismGeocentrism was the belief that the sun, the planets, and all the stars revolve around the Earth. The alternative view—heliocentricism—had been around since the 3 BC but was not taken seriously until the 16th century AD. What seems obvious to us now was a matter of heated debated for almost two thousand years.

Economist Don Boudreaux says the minimum-wage debate in economics is rather like the reverse of this debate that took place centuries ago among astronomers.

In astronomy, the standard, mistaken geocentric theory of the solar system was defended with ever-greater cleverness and desperation by thinkers eager to explain how the apparently inexplicable movements of the planets in fact are consistent with Ptolemaic theory.

In economics, in contrast, the standard textbook theory works remarkably well, without any desperate tweaking, to explain observed patterns of activity following increases in the minimum wage.  The clever and desperate tweaking of theory is done instead by those economists whose faith in the politics-centric view of the economy refuses to be shaken by reason or observed empirical reality.  These faith-guided economists just know that minimum-wage legislation helps the poorest of poor workers, and to ‘prove’ the validity of their faith they concoct and deploy all manner of contorted theoretical explanations to explain why the market for low-skilled workers is, among all markets in creation, the one in which the standard law of demand is suspended whenever the great hand of Government-the-Creator is waved and a prayer is muttered by the congregation about how this waving hand will by Will enrich poor workers.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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