Walter E. Williams

Poor people are not poor because of low wages. For the most part, they're poor because of low productivity, and wages are connected to productivity. The effect of minimum wages is that of causing unemployment among low-skilled workers. If an employer must pay $5.15 an hour, plus mandated fringes that might bring the employment cost of a worker to $7 an hour, does it pay him to hire a person who is so unfortunate as to have skills that permit him to produce only $4 worth of value per hour? Most employers would view hiring such a person as a losing economic proposition.

Two important surveys of academic economists were reported in two issues of the American Economic Review, May 1979 and May 1992. In one survey, 90 percent, and in the other 80 percent, of economists agreed that increasing the minimum wage causes unemployment among youth and low-skilled workers.

Minimum wages can have a more insidious effect. In research for my book "South Africa's War Against Capitalism" (1989), I found that during South Africa's apartheid era, racist unions, who'd never admit blacks, were the major supporters of higher minimum wages for blacks.

Gert Beetge, secretary of South Africa's avowedly racist Building Worker's Union, in response to contractors hiring black workers, said, "There is no job reservation left in the building industry, and in the circumstances I support the rate-for-the-job [minimum wages] as the second best way of protecting our white artisans." Racists recognized the discriminatory effects of mandated minimum wages.

I'm trying to figure whether ineptitude explains the errors in Oprah's show or a deliberate attempt to mislead.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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