Walter E. Williams

The first fundamental law of demand postulates that the lower the price of something, the more will be demanded, and the higher the price, the less will be demanded. To my knowledge, there are no known exceptions to the law of demand. That was until last fall when 650 economists, including several Nobel Laureates, signed a letter calling for an increase in the minimum wage.

They said, "We believe that a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed." I'm not sure if these 650 economists meant increases in the minimum wage will have no effect on the employment of low-wage workers or if they meant its magnitude won't be large. If their argument is the former, I'm embarrassed for them.

Maybe these economists, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, see the law of demand as being somewhat temperamental -- sometimes having an effect and sometimes not. This would be like a physicist suggesting that the velocity of light, in a vacuum, is temperamental -- sometimes a constant and sometimes not. But they and Speaker Pelosi might have a point.

On Jan. 10, the House of Representatives voted to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. Their bill, for the first time, extended the federal minimum wage to the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, but it exempted American Samoa, another U.S. Pacific Ocean territory. American Samoa would have been the only U.S. territory not subject to the federal minimum wage. If increases in the minimum wage, like my 650 fellow economists claim, are so helpful to low-wage workers, why deprive Samoan workers from the benefits? Are Speaker Pelosi and my fellow economists anti-Samoan?

StarKist Tuna, whose parent company is Del Monte, and Chicken of the Sea employ nearly 50 percent of the Samoan workforce. Samoan cannery workers earn about $3.50 an hour. I'll give you one guess what would happen if the minimum wage were raised to $7.25 an hour. Here's a hint: The average cannery wage in Thailand is 67 cents an hour, and in the Philippines, it's 66 cents. If you guessed that StarKist and Chicken of the Sea might move their operations to Thailand or the Philippines, go to the head of the class. Perhaps Speaker Pelosi agrees that mandating a higher wage would have an unemployment effect, but just in Samoa.


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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