I apologize for the sparse activity. My professional life has been taking up more time than what’s typical. Hopefully, I will be able to return to my normal reading and blogging habits shortly.
I do, however, want to comment on something that builds on Daniel Kuehn’s recent sarcasm. He notes that a recent Mises.ca blog post on the minimum wage associates the movement to raise the minimum wage with Marxism. I think Thomas Salamanca’s piece is a little more nuanced than that, but it is true that it falls back on blaming support of the minimum wage on a misunderstanding of markets and general liberalism — the leftist kind of liberalism, that is. This is not the kind of approach I would take if I were to write a post on why the minimum wage is bad policy.
Salamanca’s article reminds me a little bit of the recent New York Times piece on Rand Paul. The authors clearly opted to attack the weakest parts of the libertarian movement (although, the content was accurate), especially the radicalism that some of its exponents radiate. They received a good deal of criticism for their writing strategy, and I think rightly so. In my comment on the piece, I considered the strategy “cowardly.”
Writers who attack the weakest version of an argument are akin to bullies. Bullies prey on the weakest, because it makes them feel powerful. The writer version of bullies are similar, because they attack the weak to make their argument as persuasive as possible. If the reader thinks that the ideas being criticized are absolutely ludicrous, then the writer bolsters his own argument by making the alternative too ridiculous to agree with. It is a disservice to the reader, and it is disingenuous on part of the author (and I apologize if I have ever done it).
Attacking the anti-market ideas associated with some of those who support the minimum wage is attacking the weakest exponents of the problem being tackled. The strongest arguments in favor of the minimum wage are the theoretical ideas that show that, if the conditions are right, a minimum wage can bring about a net welfare increase. The strongest arguments in favor of the minimum wage are those empirical studies that show, at worst, a neutral effect on employment. Salamanca offers one paragraph in reference to this literature, but quotes only from one (critical) study and dismisses the evidence by claiming that studies that do not show disemployment effects “are significantly outnumbered by studies demonstrating the opposite” — a claim I don’t think is necessarily true. And, a claim that ultimately doesn’t address what side of the literature offers the best arguments and the best evidence.
There are many learned people who support both the minimum wage and markets. They know what voluntary association and free trade have done for society. They understand that more radical departures from capitalism, such as communism, are for the worse. These are the people who drive policy, and these are the people who will not be persuaded by articles like Salamanca’s. Neither should a skeptical reader be persuaded. The skeptical reader should always want the strongest argument in favor or against a position.
I feel that I’m being too hard on Salamanca. Honestly, he’s not my target, and I don’t think his piece is necessarily bad. He’s just unfortunate that I’m using his article as my example. I’m addressing a broad audience. My point is: when you write on an issue, don’t be a bully. Seek the strongest arguments against your position and attack those. Arguments that attack weak positions are typically weak themselves, because they don’t address the stronger ideas. If you are being a bully, be aware that you are publishing a weak argument yourself.