February 14, 2013
November 10, 2012
Tim Harford discusses the image and reality of Britain’s campaign for “living wages”:
The minimum wage, £6.19 an hour for those 21 and over, is a legal obligation. The living wage, £8.55 an hour in London and £7.45 an hour elsewhere, is the result of a very successful publicity campaign and can count Ed Miliband and Boris Johnson among its advocates. There are no legal sanctions for paying less than the living wage, although Mr Miliband did announce plans to “name and shame” those companies who didn’t. Apparently that is helpful, because “name” rhymes with “shame”.
Why do campaigners say that you can’t live on the minimum wage?
Try living on £6.19 an hour and see how you get on.
For an economist you’re getting very high-minded all of a sudden.
I think it’s perfectly reasonable to point out that £6.19 an hour isn’t a lot of money. £8.55 an hour isn’t a lot of money, either, but a lot of people have to get by on less. Unfortunately we economists have to ask awkward questions — for instance, whether these campaigns are likely to help people without much income.
[. . .]
Perhaps we should just raise the legal minimum wage to the same level as the living wage.
Perhaps. Perhaps we should raise the legal minimum wage to a £100m an hour. I think if we did we’d find unemployment might rise. A minimum wage does two things. It will shift money from employers in an imperfectly competitive market to low-paid workers and it will induce some employers to sack workers, even if both employer and employee would prefer a deal struck at an illegally-low wage rate. There’s a case that for the good of low-paid workers, there should be no minimum wage at all. There should be one but it needs to be modest if it isn’t to cause too much unemployment.
Is there any evidence on the right level?
There’s lots, and it is mixed, but on balance it’s in favour of the idea that if you raise the cost of employing people, fewer people will be employed. It is worth bearing in mind that, for a lowly paid worker shifting from job to job, having less work available but at a high hourly rate, isn’t a bad deal. The concern has to be that certain types of people — especially young unskilled workers — will be shut out completely and denied the chance to learn on the job.
January 14, 2012
In an article about the recently approved high speed train link between London and Birmingham, Tim Harford points out a few oddities in the calculations that supposedly show how beneficial the new railway connection will be:
But it’s not just about forecasts — it’s about the value of time saved because of a faster journey, right?
That’s true. The high-speed link would save about 40 minutes on a journey from London to Birmingham. How much that is worth is an interesting question.
If you have a morning meeting it might mean an extra 40 minutes in bed.
It might indeed, which is priceless. HS2 Ltd told me that they use numbers from the Department for Transport. The DfT apparently values leisure time at about £6 an hour — this, intriguingly, implies that the UK government’s official position is that anyone under the age of 21 is wasting their time earning the young person’s minimum wage and would be wise to chillax in front of the Nintendo.
What about business travel?
Well, business travel is valued at £50 an hour. Unless the business travel in question is commuting, in which case it’s £7 an hour.
Doesn’t make a bit of sense to me, either. Perhaps the idea is that commuting is eating into your leisure time, which is almost valueless apparently, whereas business travel is eating into your employer’s time, which is precious indeed. Complain to the DfT if you don’t like it.
July 23, 2009
The economy is struggling, employers are shedding excess workers, the banks are floundering, so what can the government do to make things better? Other than getting the hell out of the way, not much . . . but they can certainly make things worse:
Come Friday, the federally mandated minimum wage will jump from $6.55 an hour to $7.25 — an 11 percent increase. At a time when employers are laying off workers, Washington is going to make it more expensive to keep them.
If you’re a minimum wage employee, your job will pay more, but only if it still exists. These days, most companies are scrutinizing every position on the payroll to make sure it’s worth the cost. Raise the toll, and some employees will find they are no longer valuable enough to make the cut.
Economists generally agree that increases in the minimum wage cause unemployment even when the economy is prospering—something it has not been doing for the last year and a half. David Neumark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, estimates this rise will destroy some 300,000 jobs among teens and young adults.
The problem is that by trying to forcibly change the relationship between entry-level workers and employers, the government actually hurts both parties. Entry-level workers whose lack of training or aptitude makes their work less economical at a mandatory higher pay rate lose the most: their jobs and their prospects of other minimum-wage jobs. Employers lose out, too, because some work is now uneconomical to have done, it either doesn’t get done at all or is outsourced.