Don Boudreaux, writing at Café Hayek, has a good question for people who support increases in the minimum wage:
… If enforcement of minimum-wage policies were carried out in practice by policing low-skilled workers rather than employers – if these policies were enforced by police officers monitoring workers and fining those workers who agreed to work at hourly wages below the legislated minimum – would you still support minimum wages?
I actually think most of the public is too benighted to see the sense of this question.
Think about it: employment requires the agreement of two parties — the employer and the employee.
So, employment at some wage below the statutory minimum requires the voluntary assent of both parties.
Yet, if that employment agreement violates the minimum wage laws, the enforcement mechanism goes after the employer rather than the employee.
If I may draw an analogy, prostitution is a voluntary employment agreement where we tend to underprosecute the employers (i.e., “johns”) and overprosecute the employees (the prostitutes themselves).
Most people recognize that as upside-down, and have a problem with it. In fact, I think people on the political left have a bigger than average problem with this.
The point of the analogy is that sometimes we do recognize that our enforcement mechanism is one-sided, and that the side society has chosen is sometimes problematic.
But that’s where Boudreaux’s point hits home: no one asks if people favor minimum wage increases because we like that the enforcement is one-sided. Going further, liking enforcement that’s one-sided is the very definition of sadism.
Now we have cognitive dissonance: most of the public both wants increased minimum wages and sadistic enforcement. If you tell that to people they’ll be inclined to freak out.
Yet morality requires that if you’re in favor of increasing the minimum wage that you need to be in favor of leveling the enforcement mechanism.
The fact that no one does suggest this means … well … you can probably see where I’m going with this.