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I demand intellectual consistency for myself, especially for views that I hold most strongly. Here is a challenge to something I understand to be true. The minimum wage is really bad policy on a whole host of economic, logical, practical and ethical grounds (even IF it does not cause unemployment, the arguments remain in force). Maybe I’ll summarize all of that in a future post. OK, so suppose I go to the wall for that view and say something like, “under no circumstance would I support the minimum wage.”

However, I also hold the view that too many unqualified students are already going to colleges (that is the subject of another post). And one of the empirical findings in the minimum wage literature is that increases in the minimum wage are associated with increases in the college drop-out rate. Now, I doubt anyone majoring in neuroscience is skipping out of college to take advantage of higher pancake flipper wages, so my bet is that these losses are concentrated among the group of people who ought not be in college today – at least given their woeful preparation in high school and the woeful way we run universities today.

The challenge to me is obvious. If I believe that fewer folks ought to go to college, yet I also believe that the minimum wage is bad, wouldn’t I have to abandon, at least partially, one of those views? Of course I do not think so at all. I invite you to chime in on why or why not. Whatever the answer, I like to debate myself like this to make sure I am always understanding how others may understand what my views are, and to make sure that I do not run into logical traps. If my thinking contradicts itself, that tells me that something has to give.

I’ll be putting together an extensive post on my evolving thoughts in Intellectual Property sometime over the summer that is the very essence of the debating myself discipline.

12 Responses to “Debating Myself, A Continuing Series”

  1. DragonFlyEye says:

    A quibble with at least some of your logic:

    Now, I doubt anyone majoring in neuroscience is skipping out of college to take advantage of higher pancake flipper wages, so my bet is that these losses are concentrated among the group of people who ought not be in college today

    The more people enter a work force, the more downward pressure there is on wages. But as even semi-educated workers enter the lower echelons of the work force, they are doubtless driving up the minimum wage because they have access to greater political resource: their middle-income parents.

  2. Harry says:

    Perhaps the correlation between dropout rates and minimum wage rate increases is a version of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. While it may be true that somewhere out there on the margin 0.035 percent of college freshmen drop out of college to start a career at the ground level, there no doubt are other influences, maybe stronger, in making that decision. How could we know?

    Similarly, suppose atmospheric carbon dioxide increases from .0035 percent to 0.039 percent. While one might argue that that increase will have some greenhouse effect, it would be fallacious to argue that it was significantly caused by a failure of congress to enact a minimum wage increase.

  3. Harry says:

    Sorry, my phone caused me to get that decimal point wrong.

    By the way, the high school sophomore who helps me with general maintenance is coming over at noon. He’s strong and smart. I pay him cash, more than the minimum wage. He is likely to go to college on a football scholarship, and I predict he will graduate with a BS. Right now, he’s saving money for his Latin class’s trip to Italy this summer.

  4. Busterdog says:

    I think you have conflated two different things. I oppose minimum wage on the principle that is violates my right to enter into an agreement I might want to make, that is to work for less than minimum wage. The number of people who leave college because of a higher minimum wage is swamped by the number there who shouldn’t be but are due to excessive government subsidies (grant, loans.)
    So the blindingly obvious (and therefore least likely to be adopted) solution is to remove government intrusions into the labor market and the education sector. Let only the people who are willing to pay or are sharp enough to get a scholarship go. All things will then seek their own level.

  5. Harry says:

    But Wintercow is consistent in his thinking. The question he posed was to ask whether he was. This time his thinking is clear. I do not mean to imply that that is not normal, unless Wintercow has spent too much time ice skating in Rochester.

  6. D says:

    Your asking has tempted me to comment on how I understand your views.
    To me, intellectual consistency is not the most critical guideline. As I understand, you value consistency very highly. But I think that many things are too complicated to be caged in categories, that if you hold a certain position, say, on a women’s right to choose, you must never let it waver. I remember a certain evening when you spoke about people who want clean energy but don’t like it when China develops it. You said something like: “These people are inconsistent. If they want clean energy, they shouldn’t care who develops it, even if it’s China stuffing their producers with massive amounts of subsidies. They should acknowledge their contradiction.” My view would be that while these people may really favor clean energy, they ALSO favor strong American employment, and don’t like it when the Chinese government pumps state companies full of cash so that even with inefficiencies their capabilities are massive, while American producers are in danger of being edged out without subsidies on a similar scale. In our case, I’d more willingly accept that we’re prioritizing while acknowledging that there are costs, that while kids dropping out are a problem the (supposed) benefits of the minimum wage are worth it.

  7. wintercow20 says:

    Hi “D”,

    Of course, the happy coincidence is that China’s massive subsidies of green technology DO NOT cost Americans jobs. I did not want to make that point during a talk when no time was allotted to describe why.

    -Mike

  8. D says:

    I’d like to defend myself. Two things:

    Even if Chinese subsidies do not cost American jobs, the point is not totally relevant to my post. That was just a simple illustration that people can hold (slightly) conflicting views because they prioritize. I’m sure that there are other valid examples.

    Second, I was moved by this headline in the Times two months ago: Solar Panel Maker Moves Work to China, article here:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/business/energy-environment/15solar.html?scp=5&sq=chinese%20solar&st=cse
    The article documents how Evergreen Solar shuttered its factory employing 800 in MA, to take advantage of the “considerable help from the Chinese government and state-owned banks, and because manufacturing costs are generally lower in China.” Chinese subsidies apply not just to Chinese companies, but any company operating in China. Whether this is good or bad overall for Americans can be debated, but certainly at that particular moment an American green tech company closed its doors in MA to open new ones in China.

  9. wintercow20 says:

    Even in the second example, this is no cost to American jobs. So we get cheaper solar panels, and now we have more resources to spend here in America. This is indeed the unseen to which we regularly refer. It’s no short of ironic that MA is the place the firm exited from. No doubt the Chinese were an attraction, but this trend has happened from all kinds of competitors for a century. Just today Fidelity announced it is leaving Boston … for NH and RI.

    But the point I make on consistency is subtler than you allow. No doubt someone can hold a view on a woman’s right to choose and also on not selling kidneys, but NOT using the justification that a woman has a right to use her body as she wishes. You may certainly hold what seem to be opposing views, and your point is absolutely correct. For example, folks may support a woman’s right to choose on some other grounds.

    Consistency is a first pass at a smell test for serious thinking. I do not mean to imply that you must think about whether all of your views are consistent, that would be costly, but it does mean that when presented with such an inconsistency one cannot ignore it. That is like ignoring the laws of logic.

  10. Rod says:

    Any government subsidy, whether Chinese, American or North Korean, always delays the day when ingenuity and innovation will enable manufacturers to produce a competitive product. It’s just as much as breaking windows and considering it productive economic activity.

    I used to hire teenagers to work on my farm in the summer, and I started all of them off at a dollar an hour (I think the minimum wage was $1.65 at the time). I would then tell them to do something — feed the calves, bring hay into the milking barn, sweep up in the old barn where the calves and heifers were — and if they learned how to do that without having to be told every move to make, I’d give them an immediate raise to $3 an hour, or nearly twice the minimum wage. I wanted them to know that I valued hard work and attention to detail, and they got the message the first day.

    The only kid who did not get that raise was a real dope from the tech school who could not grasp the arithmetic of mixing a third of a quart of Milksaver powder with two quarts of warm water for each calf. He had a measuring cup for a third of a quart, but when he had three calves to feed it did not dawn on him that he could just dump a quart container of powder into six quarts of water. It turned a five-minute job into a fifteen minute job. And this guy was in food tech at the tech school, learning how to be a baker.

    He left after the second day on the job. Three years later, he reproduced (heard that through the grapevine).

  11. If minimum wages were effective at increasing employment why not raise them to 100 per hour and watch the economy florish…

    I think the value of a college degree is just as high as it always has been. It is just that a degree no longer matters per se, what matters is what you majored in.

    Comp sci, math, statistics, economics, engineering, etc majors don’t have a ton of trouble finding jobs assuming they do well in school 3.5 gpa or higher. Maybe the skills (or lack of them learned) in other departments are a bad investment. Honestly, in a modern economy the ability say write about French literature, dance the salsa, or describe Freudian theories of sexual turmoil, dont seem to me to have much of an appeal to most employers. Then again, if you think I am incorrect, go ahead and major in Comparative Literature, Theater, or Psychology. Good luck.

    I think a good heuristic is, if the class is considered difficult, then its probably a good investment.

    This is purely my opinion and supported only by my experience as a recent college student.

  12. Further there is generally great consensus among students as to what majors are most difficult.

    The most difficult at least the the University of Rochester tended be
    Physics
    Math
    Chemistry
    Computer Science

    The easiest:
    Film and media studies
    English
    Psychology
    Anthropology

    Again, who is most likely to get hired and any randomly selected job? I would bet 1000 dollars on average it sure as hell isn’t a film and media studies major over a math major.

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