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More St. Paul mayoral candidates on the minimum wage

Recently I looked at where some of the candidates in tomorrow’s St.Paul mayoral race stood on the issue of the minimum wage. I summed up by saying that there was “a refreshing range of views represented there from the sensible to the not so sensible via the non-committal”.

But there are other candidates out there. As MinnPost helpfully summed up recently,

Tim Holden ran against Coleman in 2013 as a business-oriented independent. Chris Holbrook was the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in 2014 who is critical of increased city property taxes, regulation of business and opposed to any city minimum wage. There’s also Trahern Crews, a civil rights activist who describes himself as “the poor people’s candidate,” and Barnabas Joshua Yshua, a homeless man who says he is answering a call from God to run. Finally, there’s Sharon Anderson, who is well into the definition of “perennial candidate,” having run for mayor three times, city council once, state Senate twice and state attorney general twice.

I do not know what position the Almighty has inspired Mr. Yshua to take on the minimum wage. But, in the interests of balance, the Pioneer Press ran a feature on Green Party candidate Elizabeth Dickinson. On the minimum wage, it reported that

Small-business owners have questioned whether they’ll be able to afford nearly doubling the current state minimum wage to $15, though Dickinson points out she’s advocating for a gradual phase-in equivalent to raising wages roughly 75 cents per year.

“They’ll say if we’re hiring a 15-year-old kid, and this is their first job, they’re not worth $15 per hour,” Dickinson said. “But we’re also talking about single women with kids. Maybe they only hire one 15-year-old instead of three. I really think that someday we’ll see this as so basic, like the 40-hour work week, and like having child-labor laws.”

This is economic illiteracy, pure and simple. Wages are determined by how productive the employer thinks the worker will be. This is not a function of of how many children that workers has but of what skills they have. “Maybe they only hire one 15-year-old instead of three” Ms. Dickinson blithely suggests, with callous disregard for the two would-be workers who go without a salary. That, in fact, is what employers have been doing with teenage workers following the last minimum wage hike.

The Pioneer Press also recently ran an interview with Mr. Holbrook titled ‘Libertarian mayoral candidate eyeing zero-dollar minimum wage’

At a time when wage activists are calling for “$15 Now!,” Chris Holbrook has a different philosophy. You might call it “$15 never!” — a minimum wage of zero.

“I believe in voluntary contracts,” said Holbrook, who points to the complicated experience of Seattle, where some businesses reduced worker’s hours after the minimum wage went up. “If you’re not making enough money, you’re free to go look for another job that will pay you more. It’s supply and demand.”

There’s a couple of arguments here. The moral one, about voluntary contracts, can be summarized as ‘Don’t like jobs paying $9.50? Don’t get one‘. There is also the practical argument where, as seen in Seattle, as the price of labor went up, the quantity demanded went down. Remember that the evidence suggests that minimum wage laws harm the very workers they are ostensibly intended to help. Summing up this research, economists David Neumark and William L. Wascher found that “minimum wages reduce employment opportunities for less-skilled workers…[that] a higher minimum wage tends to reduce rather than to increase the earnings of the lowest-skilled individuals…[that] minimum wages do not, on net, reduce poverty…[and that] minimum wages appear to have adverse longer-run effects on wages and earnings.”

As I said before, when judging what the candidates say, keep in mind what the evidence says.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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