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minimum wage

Let them Eat the Dollar Menu

Making the rounds on the internet this week is a budget tool for McDonald’s employees, put together by McDonald’s and Visa. It’s depressing.

The budget is unrealistic–it neglects costs like gas and food and relies on a person working 74 hours a week at the minimum wage.

Other sites have done a decent job of explaining why it is hard to live off a minimum wage. Let’s take a minute to think about how we got here, though. Why do we have people working for such terrible wages?

Let’s go over a few common explanations. (The first two are not particularly convincing.)

1. McDonald’s is greedy. McDonald’s should pay their workers more.

Well, yes: McDonald’s is greedy. But it’s greedy because it is a legal entity explicitly designed to be greedy—that is, maximize shareholder value. While I’m all for companies paying high wages and getting high value from their workers, and also increasing the bargaining power of workers, currently the trend is clear: corporations will pay wages ” the market will bear”.

2. Consumers are cheap. People need to consume more responsibly.

Are we complicit

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Cash and W2 form

Minimum Wage/Maximum Growth

In his State of the Union Address president Obama proposed that Congress increase the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour.

Almost immediately a chorus of opposition based on neoclassical economics emerged, arguing that such a change would kill job creation. As former Bush Administration economist Greg Mankiw notes, “there is 79 percent agreement among his peers that a minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers.” But let’s be clear, what Mankiw really means to say is a 79 percent agreement among neoclassical economists.

The neoclassical economic argument against the minimum wage is grounded in the view that if a worker and employer agree on a wage then this wage level must be welfare maximizing for both of them and by definition for society. The only thing a government regulated price for labor can do is distort labor markets and lead to less, not more economic welfare.

In fact, a higher minimum wage would spur economic growth, while also increasing economic fairness.

First, here’s why the President’s proposal won’t kill jobs. The argument among neoclassical economists on the minimum wage is too narrowly focused on microeconomics. In other words,

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