No economic issue could be clearer in its impact than a legislated minimum wage. Like any other legislated "minimum price," the minimum wage results in lower demand for labor. It also changes the quality of the labor demanded since workers do not all come with the same skill and experience levels. Higher minimum wages mean that the costs are disproportionately borne by the citizens with lowest skill levels. Indeed, a minimum wage is effectively a barrier, perhaps a permanent barrier, to economic improvement for the poorest members of our society.
So, when Ben Carson and Rick Santorum championed the minimum wage in last night's Republican presidential candidate debates, you have to wonder if there are any advocates of free markets left. Peggy Noonan's op-ed in today's WSJ described Santorum's fervent pitch for a higher minimum wage as his "best" moment in the debate. That tells you where Noonan's head is. Meanwhile, no candidate on the stage told the real truth about the minimum wage and even Fiorina seemed supportive, though unwilling to advocate increasing its level.
It's hard to take a candidate serious as a defender of free markets if they can't master the simple economics of the minimum wage. That the issue may be confusing to working class Americans is no excuse to pass laws that eliminate any upside for the folks at the bottom of the economic pile.
I noticed no one took a swipe at the pitiful public education afforded the poorest in our society. Vouchers have the potential to revolutionize the education of the poorest children in America, but the quest for vouchers founders on the elaborate tenure provisions that protect some of the worst teachers in America. No Republican spoke up for these children. They should. We shouldn't protect relatively wealthy teachers, whose average pay and benefits greatly exceed the averages for the families whose children they "teach," while abandoning these children to a hopeless future.
Republicans should know better.