Kevin Williamson observes that President Obama shows no signs of having expended any effort on big thinkers or big ideas: “Obama’s most important influences have been tacticians such as Abner Mikva, bush-league propagandists like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and his beloved community organizers.” When Obama musters his forces to address the issue of “income inequality,” as he did last week (text here), he therefore serves up a concatenation of question-begging clichés such as this:
The truth is we’ll never be able to compete with other countries when it comes to who’s best at letting their businesses pay the lowest wages, who’s best at busting unions, who’s best at letting companies pollute as much as they want.
Richard Epstein takes this declaration as a prooftext and declares:
For the President, each of these goals represents the ugly end of an economic “race to the bottom” that the U.S. should do its best to avoid. Unfortunately, his statement is wrong on every point.
Obama talks a lot about material poverty in the speech, but the poverty most visible in it is poverty of thought and language. They are far more prevalent than material poverty and Obama is himself a perpetrator. You might say that at this point he is a root cause.
Obama comes out foursquare in favor of such public-policy gems as “making high-quality preschool available to every child in America” and “ensur[ing] our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to — (applause) — so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class.”
Professor Epstein takes the speech at face value, but the interested observer cannot help but see that good public policy has little to do with Obama’s deliberations over income inequality. Thus Obama’s intellectually thrilling call for — hold your breath — increasing the minimum wage! “[I]t’s well past the time to raise a minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.” This is deep stuff:
Now, we all know the arguments that have been used against a higher minimum wage. Some say it actually hurts low-wage workers — businesses will be less likely to hire them. But there’s no solid evidence that a higher minimum wage costs jobs, and research shows it raises incomes for low-wage workers and boosts short-term economic growth.
For a roundup of relevant studies (as well as comments by former Enron adviser Paul Krugman) and for an assessment of this particular passage, see Glenn Kessler’s useful Washington Post Fact Checker column.