Minimum Wage Ad Hominem courtesy of the NYT

Posted on February 11, 2014 by

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The minimum wage continues to be pushed by those on the left as a way to confront income inequality.  On the right, there are vigorous rebuttals, focusing mainly on both the theoretical and empirical case against price controls.  The New York Times has come up with their spin on this, questioning the motives of those who argue against minimum wage legislation–their headline says it all, “Fight Over Minimum Wage Illustrates Web of Industry Ties.”

Just four blocks from the White House is the headquarters of the Employment Policies Institute (EPI), a widely quoted economic research center whose academic reports have repeatedly warned that increasing the minimum wage could be harmful, increasing poverty and unemployment.  But something fundamental goes unsaid in the institute’s reports: The nonprofit group is run by a public relations firm that also represents the restaurant industry, as part of a tightly coordinated effort to defeat the minimum wage increase that the White House and Democrats in Congress have pushed for.

This may indeed be true, but we need to ask a few questions.  First, the implicit assumption is that the EPI is producing research for money.  This is a pretty serious charge, but is their any proof?  The best that the Times can come up with is that a former employee once wrote an email on another industry issue that if the data didn’t work out, the could “bury the results.”  But does this say anything about the analysis of the minimum wage itself?  If you read the article carefully, the Times is able to find another economist that suggests if the data were analyzed a different way that it could lead to a different conclusion.  Fair.  But here is the way science works:  when a thesis is presented, the opponent must provide not a criticism about how that thesis was derived, but needs to create their own analysis.  As one recipient of EPI money said in the Times article:

Mr. Sabia said in an interview late last month that his research conclusions were developed independently. “I don’t write advocacy policy briefs,” he said. His papers are also submitted to academic journals, which publish them after a peer-review process — a standard, he noted, that publications put out by left-leaning groups like the Economic Policy Institute often do not meet.

Peer-review, while imperfect, is the scientific way to reduce bias in analyses.  Second, if EPI is using corporate money to fund research that supports their industry, and somehow that makes the analysis suspect, what about the funders of the opposite work?  Do they not have an agenda?  As the Times admits,

The left has its own prominent groups, like the Center for American Progress and the Economic Policy Institute, whose donors include nearly 20 labor unions, and whose reports, with their own aura of objectivity, consistently conclude that raising the minimum wage makes good economic sense.

If funding inevitably corrupts the analysis, and peer review is not sufficient to correct, then can we have any scholarship except by the rich? Third, even if all this were true (that funding for minimum wage research is sometimes corrupted by industry), that says nothing about the vast majority of economists that are against minimum wage increases.  I suppose we’re worse–simply blinded by ideology?

This whole argument should be seen for what it is: an ad hominem attack.  When you can’t answer the man’s analysis, simply question his motives.  Since we can’t know a person’s motives, this is sheer speculation intended to create an emotional response against a serious argument.  To the supporters of the minimum wage legislation:  man up!  That means come up with real data to prove your points.  Stop implicitly calling people stooges for industry.  For Bereans, this is another example of how not to do political economy.  It is tempting to question motives, but at the end of the day we need a better thesis for our arguments.  On the minimum wage, we’re on solid ground, empirically and theoretically.

PS:  if you can’t win the intellectual battle, don’t resort to suing your opponents:

Left-leaning groups like the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have filed legal complaints, arguing that the large payments to Mr. Berman’s for-profit firm may violate the law, an accusation that Berman and Company strongly disputes.

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