In her vocal support for higher minimum wage legislation in Louisiana, Stephanie Grace once again focuses on the political aspects of the issue while ignoring its economic aspects. Citing an LSU poll from earlier this year that reported 81% of Louisianans backed a higher minimum wage, she claims: “It’s not at all difficult to predict what would happen if voters were allowed to rule on the minimum wage.”
Maybe so, but that’s not how representative democracy works. It is foolhardy, even dangerous, to conflate public opinion polls with electoral votes. Both occur under a cloak of anonymity, but individuals have less incentive to be accurate and truthful in answering pollsters than in casting votes for elected representatives, simply because in the first instance there is no individual or social cost to making a “wrong” choice.
Not long ago, virtually every poll said with high confidence that Donald Trump would not be elected, yet he sits in the White House today. Last year, a Gallup Poll reported that 51% of Americans aged 18 to 29 have a positive view of socialism. Perhaps Grace will call Congress on the carpet for not being responsive to this tranche of voters. For better or worse, representative democracy is grounded in deliberation and debate, not opinion polls.
As long as the mainstream press leans more toward propaganda than factual analysis, the public will remain ill-informed. Instead of blaming the usual bogeymen, i.e., profit-grubbing businessmen, for spoiling the soup, sober judgment calls for a dispassionate appraisal of the pros and cons of minimum wages. This is where “fair and balanced” reporting can be helpful. The Advocate’s coverage of the minimum wage debate, like that of many other newspapers, is front-loaded toward the superficial benefits (i.e., higher pay for a small slice of the workforce), while being dismissive — or worse, ignorant — of the darker side of such legislation.
The economics of minimum wage legislation is well-established. Only the empirical data on particular effects are in doubt. It is known that minimum wages are not a permanent solution to poverty. It is known that minimum wages have adverse employment effects, especially on those whom they are intended to help: the young, inexperienced, unskilled, and under educated who use minimum-wage jobs as a steppingstone to upward labor mobility. It is known that higher minimum wages don’t guarantee higher income if workers’ see their hours cut as a result, which often happens. It is known that minimum wages may impose hidden costs on society: a recent NBER study found “robust evidence” that a significant number of these youthful lockouts turn to crime as an alternative. It is known that if prosperity could be produced by simple mandates, it would have happened long ago. Grace has clearly found a political drum to beat loudly and often; and will not be deterred by economic realities that threaten her cadence.