minimum wage

All posts tagged minimum wage

Book review: Poverty and Discrimination by Kevin Lang.
This book is designed to make you feel less sure of your knowledge, and it succeeds in that goal. That’s a worthy accomplishment, although it provides much less satisfaction than a book that provides a grand vision for solving problems would. At some abstract intellectual level I liked the book, but my gut feelings often told me that reading the book was unrewarding work that I shouldn’t do unless it was assigned reading for a course I needed.
The book will dissatisfy anyone who wants to view politics as a fight between good and evil. For many issues such as the minimum wage, he provides strong arguments that the effects are small enough that we should doubt whether the issue is worth fighting about.
He gives good explanations of why it’s hard to even have clear concepts of poverty and discrimination by providing examples of how seemingly trivial or unobservable differences can create results that our intuitions say are important to our moral rules.
He provides clear evidence that some discrimination still exists, and then thoroughly explains why there’s large uncertainty about how harmful it is. He presents one moderately unrealistic model in which discrimination is common but doesn’t affect wages. Then he presents a somewhat more realistic model in which a tiny bit of discrimination produces large wage differences. But those wage differences may overstate the harm done, because they’re partly due to minorities spending less on education and to women pursuing careers in lower risk occupations or careers which allow more flexibility to take time off.
There are only a handful of places where I doubted his objectivity.
He reports one study showing evidence of racial discrimination in home loans, but fails to mention any of the contrary evidence such as the Anderson and Vanderhoff paper showing higher marginal default rates for blacks.
The final few pages on policy implications seem poorly thought out compared to the rest of the book (he says that’s the least important chapter of the book). He claims that income taxes on the bottom quintile can be reduced to zero by a 10% increase on the top quintile, but that claim depends on assumptions about how reported income changes in response to tax increases. He doesn’t indicate what assumptions his claim depends on.
He claims “The high rate of incarceration in the United States and the high level of inequality are related.” He gives a plausible theory about why inequality causes the wealthy in some countries to spend a lot protecting their wealth from the poor, but provides no evidence connecting that theory to U.S. incarceration rates.