Ending slavery hurt the economy

My 7th grade  history class was taught by a burly white man who liked to do civil war reenactments and pretend the rebels had won. We talked a lot about the causes of the civil war. I didn’t learn that the civil war was about freeing slaves; I learned that it was about economics. Slaves only came into it because they were an integral – and profitable – part of the southern economy. Ending slavery hurt that economy.

This morning Dylan Matthews wrote that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a terrible idea. It would hurt the economy, maybe even make things worse for low-wage workers. But I wasn’t thinking about the economy when I read his article; I was thinking about what it’s like to live on minimum wage. I was thinking about the exhausting, humiliating grind of poverty.

Maybe Matthews is right and raising the minimum wage would hurt the economy. But if treating people with humanity hurts the economy, it’s time to change the economy.


  1. Mike says:

    Economists of all — and I hesitate to use this terms here — scientists are the most likely to attempt to fit reality to their models.

    Since this tendency is so pervasive in the field, I like to look for real-world examples rather than relying on models — like all the other countries that have high minimum wages and low unemployment.

    Of course raising minimum wage is not a panacea and might actually hurt in a way that the article does not discuss. This is due to the fact that replacing humans with automated labor has a break-even point of right now about $12/hour, and that is falling all the time. A higher minimum wage could cause automation to replace humans even more quickly.

    I think the real solution is a universal income (maybe $30K a year) for everyone over 18, and universal free health care.

    Avoids the whole issue — but will never happen no matter how absurdly rich the 1% become.

What do you think?

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