Forgetting the Humanity

Thursday night, I attended a debate at Dartmouth College on the minimum wage.  I will post later my reflections on the debate, but first I wanted to share a story.

After the debate, I was cornered in the bathroom by a man self-described as “an old liberal.”  He and I had a very interesting, albeit one-sided, conversation regarding the minimum wage, including the ambiguity of evidence the pro-minimum wage side presented and the lack of any real definitive empirical evidence one way or the other.  But at the end of the conversation, he said something that bothered me.  He said, “we need to run the experiments.”

Despite being a reasonable statement, why did this bother me?  Because the man making the statement seemed to forget we’re talking about people, about human lives here.  Specifically, we’re talking about the poorest, most vulnerable members of society.

Every policy, every action has winners and losers.  However, is it necessary to sacrifice people in order to conduct a political experiment?  I contend that, in the light of unconvincing or underwhelming evidence, that no such human sacrifice is necessary.

At the end of the day, we are talking about people’s lives.  It’s unfair to demand they be subjected to potential threats to their livelihood in order to test some person’s pet theory, especially when said theory has very little data to support it.

9 thoughts on “Forgetting the Humanity

  1. Jon, I actually agree with you on the minimum wage issue but let’s remember that ALL economic policies are experiments based on highly imperfect predictions about how an extraordinarily complex economy works.

    I often hear libertarians repeat the idea the Federalism is good because the individual states are “laboratories” where experiments will be run rather than imposed from Washington. Virtually all economic policies have unintended consequences. It’s not just the policies that you don’t like that are “experiments.”


    • Greg G, I am not sure those were libertarians. Libertarians oppose government intervention into people’s lives at the federal as well as the state and municipal levels. You are more likely talking to conservatives who think that all powers not delegated to the federal government were left to the state governments. They forget that those powers really were delegated to the people who are to remain protected in their lives, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness (including their property).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, self described libertarians vary a lot in who they they think the real libertarians are. But you do have a point. When the ratification debate was going on, it was the anti-federalists – the ones opposing the Constitution – who were the libertarians of their day. By that, I mean they were the ones who most opposed more centralized power in government. The Constitution was a substantial step towards relatively more centralization of power as compared to the Articles of Confederation.

        Of course, at that time, no one was using the word “libertarian” yet. Ironically, the first people to use that word were left libertarians of a fairly radical type.


    • Greg

      …ALL economic policies are experiments based on highly imperfect predictions about how an extraordinarily complex economy works.

      Which means we should be VERY reluctant to prescribe policies, all of which have uncertain outcomes or unintended consequences, and may have serious negative effects on real people.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jon

    The “old liberal” who cornered you in the bathroom to discuss min wage (an odd choice, in my view)
    didn’t realize that it’s no more possible to run meaningful experiments on the real economy than it is to run meaningful experiments on the real climate.

    Liked by 1 person

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