Economists like to promote the idea that increasing the minimum wage results in fewer jobs. The law of demand states that when the price of a good goes up, demand goes down. But a welfare State has a role not just to encourage people to work, but to improve overall welfare.
The job loss textbook response is only fair if we cling to the unreasonable ceteris paribus assumption – that minimum wage increases and all else stays constant. But that is not reality.
For example, offsetting effects of an increase in the minimum wage include
- people choosing to study instead of work
- businesses investing in capital equipment to improve labour productivity
Both of these indirect effects of the minimum wage are good for society’s welfare in the long run via increased productivity.
Apart from being a good long run policy, I see the minimum wage as a tool to control possible market power of employers. Uninformed and low skilled workers are easily vulnerable to manipulation, and are unlikely to access legal guidance or negotiate their wage with vigour. Not all people are fully informed, perfect knowledge homo economicus. Asymmetric information and the resulting market power of employers of low skilled workers are justifiable reasons for government intervention.
One needs to exercise extreme caution when applying economic principles to reality. Most mainstream economic theories are based on completely unreasonable assumptions (an upward sloping supply curve and an ignorance of time for example).