Economists Hit Back in the Minimum-Wage Wars

Last month, The New York Times published an article about the Employment Policies Institute, a nonprofit that has been aggressively campaigning against increasing the minimum wage.

Funded by the restaurant industry, a conservative foundation and unnamed others, the group has taken out full-page ads warning the public that increasing the minimum wage would worsen unemployment and poverty.

On Feb. 27, the group expanded its tactics to red-baiting. Six hundred economists, including seven Nobel laureates, had sent an open letter to President Obama and to congressional leaders urging that they raise the minimum wage and allaying concerns that such a move would create unemployment.

In a direct response, the institute took out a full-page ad in The Times that singled us out from the other 600 economists.

The ad — using excerpts from quotes from our work that identified us as Marxists, praised Hugo Chávez, the late president of Venezuela, and so on — tried to dismiss our expertise and impugn that of the other 592 economists who signed the letter.

We are outraged by the use of this McCarthyesque tactic to undermine informed public discourse and the democratic political process. Now more than ever — beset as we are by outrageous levels of inequality, political corruption and environmental destruction — economists, politicians and the broader public need to begin thinking outside the box.

The capitalist system has had more than 200 years to get it right; isn’t it more than reasonable, even imperative, to broaden our discourse about economic possibilities?