“Employment is like everything else: the more expensive it is, the less you get.” What is the best counterargument?

Ask an Economist

Regarding the great minimum wage debate, I found a quote attributed to John Boehner that goes something like this: “Employment is like everything else: the more expensive it is, the less you get.” What would be a bumper stickerable argument to counter that? I think Boehner’s point works because it is short, simple, and has economic cred. For my students’ benefit I'd like to find as effective a point to make in support of a higher minimum wage.


Are your students economists? If so, it will be difficult to fashion a legitimate bumper sticker in support of the minimum wage. Boehner’s quote is called the “Law of Demand” in economics. You might use:

“Because employers can pay wages no higher than the value of the output their workers produce, we can raise labor productivity by pricing the least productive workers out of the market.”

You might need a big bumper.

There are no policy panaceas. But if the objective is to raise the wages of low-income households, such households would be better served by policies that directly subsidize the wages of low-income workers, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, instead of policies that make it more costly to hire less-skilled workers. Most economists would favor an expansion of the EITC over an increase in the minimum wage, but the EITC costs taxpayer money while the costs of employer mandates are mostly hidden – and thus politically more palatable.

Answered by:
Brent Kreider
Peter Orazem photo
University Professor