Wednesday, February 27, 2013

And this is "wonkery"

Here's a tweet from Ezra Klein:

So now you're thinking: Klein must be linking to a representative survey of economists in which a large majority endorse the minimum wage without reservation! Or maybe he's linking to a thorough literature review that surveys the relevant literature and argues compellingly in favor of studies that find that the minimum wage raises welfare on net!

If you were thinking that, you'd be disappointed. Here are the survey results Klein is using (click for larger images):

So on the first question, 58 percent of economists surveyed are either uncertain, have no opinion, or believe that raising the minimum wage to $9/hour would make it harder for low-skilled workers to find employment. On the second question, 46 percent of economists surveyed are uncertain, have no opinion, or believe that raising the minimum wage to $9 and indexing it to inflation is an undesirable policy, compared with 47% who think it's desirable (not everyone opined).

So the survey can't even find a majority of economists to endorse minimum wage as the questions are posed here, but Ezra Klein claims that "economists think the minimum wage is worth it." It looks to me like the topic is fraught with uncertainty, but a few bloggers (like Klein and Mike Konczal) want you to think that it's a clear-cut issue. Lest you think that these survey results are relatively conclusive for the tough field of economics, take a look at how the survey has turned out for a few other recent issues (1 2 3 4 5).

Economists are capable of coming to reasonable consensus; they haven't done so on the minimum wage.

UPDATE, 2/28/2013: Klein is still making his claim that "economists think the minimum wage is worth it," this time on the popular "Wonkbook" story aggregator. What I find most amusing is that Klein has pioneered the idea of journalist-as-wonk, where a "wonk" is someone who, ostensibly, likes and understands the use of data in analysis of policy. The charitable reading of these IGM-based claims about the minimum wage is that Klein is in too much of a hurry to actually read a graph. Given his known political preferences, though, a cynic might think he's being disingenuous. In any case, this kind of sloppy use of data does not reflect well on the "wonk" brand.


  1. "58 percent of economists surveyed are either uncertain, have no opinion, or believe"

    Unbelievable. Reminds me of that great razor commercial:

    "51% of men either prefer ours to the competitor's, or have no preference!"

    Do the math.

    Ignoring uncertains, economists are split evenly on the first question and agree on the second question by a 4:1 majority.

  2. I think you may be missing my point. I'm not making an argument against the minimum wage. I'm suggesting that, given the amount of economists who are either uncertain or doubt the benefits of the minimum wage, Klein's assertion is misleading. The fact that there is a lot of uncertainty about the policy is highly relevant.