Sunday, January 15, 2006

If wages were a moral issue ...

It is probably inevitable that the near-ancient discussion of "just" prices, wages, rents, interest rates will continue to be a staple of small talk as well as the other. Never mind the fact that we now know that the wheels come off when we eschew market prices and legislate them instead.

Man-bites-dog is always newsworthy. So is Law-of-Demand-has-exceptions, elasticities-are-negligible, free-lunches-are-available, trade-offs-are-for-the-hidebound, etc.

Not only does this stuff open the gates to the politicization of wages but it also animates the preening of the "progressives". Today's New York Times Magazine feature "Is How Much You Pay a Worker a Moral Issue?" evokes both.

It is, in fact, a moral slam dunk -- once you buy into the fiction that it is a free lunch.

Evidence matters and econometricians debate the exact magnitude of wage elasticities.

But, speaking of evidence, does anyone deny large and growing off-the-books employment in the U.S.?