Bad Arguments on the minimum wage

As someone who is in favor of large minimum wage increases but likes to keep an open mind, I try to keep up on what the anti-minimum wage people have to say. My latest stab at that project was this article, describing a $15 an hour minimum wage as absurd:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/09/01/the-absurdity-of-a-15-minimum-wage

So I decided to look into the only data this article actually presents to support it’s position, this quote:

“The actual state of knowledge of the impact that the minimum wage has on employment in North America, and especially in Québec, leads to the conclusion that a minimum wage that is greater than 50% of the average wage is harmful to small wage earners and that a minimum wage that is less than 45% has very little risk for this group of workers. Between these limits, the area of 45% to 50% would represent an increasing danger to employment.”

It doesn’t really present any evidence, just makes a factual claim and moves on. Still, people do that all that time, and as long as you link to where you can find more info it’s not a problem.

So I follow the link, which turns out to be Worstall linking to himself (not the best sign):

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/02/17/greg-mankiws-excellent-question-why-a-9-minimum-wage-why-not-90-or-90-cents/

In that article, the same quote is presented, and sourced to a 2006 post in a Canadian economics blog called “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative”:

http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2006/11/when_the_minimu.html

There, we learn the quote comes from an economist named Pierre Fortin, and we get this gem of an attribution:

“An internal working group at the Quebec government kindly offers us a translation for how Fortin summarises the argument (the actual paper is written in French, and as far as I know, no electronic version exists – I got my copy by fax)”

Within that quote there’s a link that is presumably supposed to go to said paper, but actually goes to a ‘page not found’ message:

http://www.travail.gouv.qc.ca/actualite/revision_salaire_minimum/summary2.pdf

And that’s the end of the rainbow. So to be brief about it, I’m not convinced. Worstall’s claim is that we only have evidence that smaller minimum wage increases can be passed without greatly increasing unemployment, but of course the reason for that is we’ve only ever had small, gradualist minimum wage increases to observe. So we have weak evidence in favor of minimum wage increases in general not harming employment, and no evidence pointing the other way. And this is in an article by an anti-minimum wage partisan!

Of course intelligence is not simply the opposite of stupidity, but it still gives me some warm fuzzies that this is the level of discourse on the other side of the debate.

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