In academia, when scholars change their minds about something, they admit it publicly and explain why, even if it causes a bit of embarrassment for having erred previously. Thus we recently saw renowned physicist Stephen Hawking say that he was wrong in his theory of "black holes." He knew that it was a necessary, if painful, thing for him to do so that research on these celestial objects can move forward.
I believe that public opinion leaders have the same responsibility to explain themselves when they switch gears. If I were suddenly to endorse a higher minimum wage, after having opposed it for many years, I would owe my readers an explanation. I would have to say that the facts had changed or that new research had caused me to change my mind or whatever. It would irresponsible for me to pretend that my new position was consistent with my old one and just ignore the contradiction.
This is a view that is not held by the New York Times. For decades, that paper had carefully and consistently editorialized against the minimum wage. But five years ago, for no apparent reason, it reversed a policy dating back to 1937 and suddenly endorsed a higher minimum wage. Its latest editorial on this topic appeared on July 24, in which legislators in Albany were urged to agree on a "much-needed increase in the minimum wage" for New York State.
When I first began clipping Times editorials on the minimum wage back in the 1970s, they were unambiguous in their condemnation of it as misdirected, inefficient and having negative consequences for most of those it was supposed to help. For example, an Aug. 17, 1977, editorial stated, "The basic effect of an increase in the minimum wage ... would be to intensify the cruel competition among the poor for scarce jobs." For this reason, it said, "Minimum wage legislation has no place in a strategy to eliminate poverty."
In the 1980s, the Times became even more aggressive in its denunciations of the minimum wage. Rather than simply argue against increases, it actively campaigned for abolition of the minimum wage altogether. Indeed, a remarkable editorial on Jan. 14, 1987, was titled, "The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00."
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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