Reprinted from Mises.org
Are supporters of the minimum wage law criminals? Possibly, but not necessarily.
Consider the following contention. Merely verbally advocating for “public policies” like the minimum wage constitutes illicit threat, and the perpetrators of such speech should be charged with the “direct” crime of threat in the libertarian Nuremberg trial, not just as “indirect” accessories of the state apparatus. Suppose someone publicly announces that he will send a team of people to beat some people up, and persuades others to support his plan. That is certainly an illicit threat. Well, if the government holds a referendum on whether to implement the minimum wage, and someone publicly announces that he intends to vote “yes” on the resolution and persuades others to do so, it seems that this is of the same nature of the aforementioned scenario. Similarly for an announcement that he will ask “his” congressman to vote for a certain rapacious bill in congress.
I can’t bring myself to agree with this analysis, but I am in awe of its beauty. The aesthete in me cries out in appreciation at this way of looking at the matter.
Why can’t I agree with it, even though I greatly admire it?
Consider the following. A rams his car into C’s automobile, because A hates C and wants to damage the latter and his property. A, here, is clearly a criminal. B also rams his car into C’s, but B bears C no ill will. B’s infliction of damage on C’s property was totally accidental. Is B, too, a criminal like A? No. B is only a tort feasor. B owes C only an amount sufficient to make C “whole” again, but not like A, in addition, punitive damages, being subjected to a very Draconian libertarian punishment theory.
Now, consider the man on the street who knows no economics at all. He supports the minimum wage law, he votes for it, he urges others to do so. Why? Because he erroneously thinks that this law will actually raise the compensation of the poor and unskilled. The last thing on his mind is that it will create unemployment, or that fulfilling this law will unleash violence against those who disobey it. In my view, such a person is more akin to B, in my car story, than to A. I don’t think that people who vote for, support, etc., minimum wage laws are out and out criminals. They are just (invincibly) ignorant. This statement of Murray Rothbard’s is pertinent: “”It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” So I ask, is the minimum wage supporter a criminal? I answer in the negative. Is such a person “irresponsible”? Yes, of course, he is. But irresponsibility is not a criminal offense.
Every time I teach an introductory microeconomics course, I start off by taking a survey of my mainly freshman students. I offer them the following choices.
1. The minimum wage level should be increased
2. The minimum wage level should remain as is
3. The minimum wage level should be decreased
4. The minimum wage level should be eliminated
5. The minimum wage level should be eliminated, and those responsible for implementing it should be imprisoned.
Note, I don’t offer these kids any other option, such as, “unsure.”
Here are the percentage responses I usually get.
5. 2% (these are from students who enroll at Loyola because they came here to study with me and are already supporters of anarcho capitalism)
Should 98% of my ignorant freshman students be considered criminals? I find it very difficult to agree with this assessment. But, note, I share this outlook regarding those who are responsible for implementing such unjust laws, such as congressmen who voted for it (watch out Bernie!), judges and cops who enforce it, etc.