Think tank data

By Megan McArdle

Have I said this before? I think I have. But let me say it again. You are not allowed to argue in favor of school choice if the only evidence you can come up with is two links from Cato. You are not allowed to argue against global warming if you are relying entirely on a report from CEI. You are not allowed to talk about the recording industry based only upon press releases from the Progress and Freedom Foundation. And you are definitely, definitely not allowed to talk to me about the minimum wage if the best evidence for your position comes from EPI.

We can argue back and forth about whether think tanks buy scholars who agree with them, or pay scholars to agree with them; I'd argue for the former. And in fact, I think many think tanks do very good work, and I take figures from everyone at one time or another. But EPI is not, on the minimum wage, a serious institution. It is funded by unions who want the minimum wage raised because it makes their labor more competitive, and because there are union contracts pegged to the minimum wage. The evidence against the minimum wage could be overwhelming, and EPI would still be publishing surveys showing that it raised middle class incomes by 300% and also, made workers 17% thinner without diet or excercise.

For example, saying that most of the benefit of a minimum wage increase accrued to adults is not a good argument. This is exactly what you would expect if it caused disemployment among teenagers.

The main thing to remember about the minimum wage is that it is trivial. If the minimum wage actually made a substantial improvement in worker's conditions at the expense of employers, it would also almost certainly cause substantial disemployment. But it doesn't, so it won't. Anyone who tells you anything different, on either side of the debate, is trying to sell you something.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2008/05/think-tank-data/3432/