Letter to the Editor

Rigor and Honesty

To the Editor,

The minimum wage debate is one economists and social scientists have grappled with for decades.  It is ongoing, and the labor economists who lead the research charge continue to draw conclusions often at odds with one another.  What is aligned, are the intentions of those doing this important work — seek truth to motivate social policy. 

In the Beacon Hill Times recent editorial ‘Minimum Wage Should be $15’, I was disappointed that none of the deep and pertinent questions on the matter were mentioned!  

Might doubling the minimum wage lead firms to respond by reducing their workforce?  I for one was disappointed to see the Whole Foods on Cambridge Street, last week, reconfigure their small-item check-out lines to self-check-out. 

Should the minimum wage be $15 everywhere?  $15 goes a lot further in Mobile AL than Brookline MA.  Might we expect employment effects to be exacerbated in low COL regions?    

Could such a sudden and sharp broad-stroke increase in minimum wage lead to inflationary effects that reduce the real wealth gain from those affected under the policy in question?  What second-order policies might we consider invoking to avoid mere “nominal” gains, and ensure the benefit results in actual increased buying power? 

Instead, the editorial piece reads like ideological fodder for a left-of-center audience who seeks local consensus with their own priors.  It needlessly provokes divisive Trump-isms (Make America Great Again) that serve only to center policy discourse more around political performance and gesturing, and less around the productive activity of careful reasoning via conversation.  

This sentence I took the greatest exception to: “…it is below the dignity of anyone to work for wages that amount to not much better than slave labor.”  This is exceptionally dismissive of how tortuous and devastating chattel slavery was in the United States.  There remains much to be done to give black Americans greater access to economic opportunity, something I am actively involved with in the Boston area…but to liken living on minimum wage in America to enslavement!?  That is beyond.  There remain 40 million people enslaved globally, and I assure you they would give arm and leg to live on minimum wage incomes in the US.  Moreover, low-income Americans are better off than even most of the non-enslaved global population.  Please, let’s have this conversation, but can we do so with rigor and honesty? 

Leo Hsia

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