BOHANON & STYRING: Turn clock way back to pre-tech economy

June 4, 2016

Economic AnalysisAll presidential candidates still standing agree wages need to go up. They all agree passing minimum wage laws is the way to accomplish this. They differ only in degree and approach.

Candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders want a national minimum wage hike but differ on the level. Candidate Donald Trump wants minimum wage handled at the state level. All of these well-intentioned souls are wrong.

If our body politic thinks wages are too low, we economists insist the causes are insufficient demand for and/or too much supply of labor. Supply and demand. Milton Friedman once quipped that if he could teach a parrot to say “supply and demand,” the parrot would be smarter than 99 percent of the politicians. And who are we to disagree with someone with one more Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences than we will ever collect?

Bohanon and Styring aren’t fans of laws trying to engineer specific economic outcomes. But if our pols are determined to pass wage-increasing laws, they might as well attack the supply/demand “root causes” of low wages.

So, a modest proposal: Pass a law outlawing everything patented after 1900. Think of the marvelous effects the law would have almost overnight.

On the demand side, for example, no more robots. No more robots means all those auto assembly, screw-tightening and bolting jobs immediately come back. Even better, no one will want those boring, high-anomie jobs, so wages will rise.

No fancy farm equipment means half of us will have to return to farming to eat. Good, healthy, outdoor work communing with nature. Green agriculture, too. Everything will be organic with pesticides and chemical fertilizers criminalized.

Our military would be a huge employer. No airplanes and tanks means we’d need 20 times more people with bolt-action rifles and horse-drawn artillery to assure national security. Our Navy ships would burn coal—bad stuff—but with a horse-and-rifles army, why bother with a navy?

This plan works from the supply side even better. Nothing post-1900 means no washers, dryers, dishwashers, electric ovens and microwaves. Half the workforce will drop out. If we want cooked meals and clean clothes, many will have to revert to full-time housewife/house-husband status. Labor supply down by half!

More labor demand and less labor supply. Nirvana.

Let’s stop pussyfooting with this penny-ante min-imum wage stuff. Time for our presidential wannabes to Think Big!•


Bohanon is a professor of economics at Ball State University. Styring is an economist and independent researcher. Both also blog at INforefront.com. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com. 


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