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The Minimum Wage and the EITC

From the Archives: The Minimum Wage and the EITC:

The Minimum Wage and the EITC: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: I like the EITC. Come the Day of Wrath, my best pleading will be the role I played in 1993 in the Clinton administration in expanding the EITC.

But the EITC is a program that uses the IRS to write lots of relatively small checks to tens of millions of relatively poor people who satisfy picky eligibility rules. This is not the IRS's comparative advantage. The IRS's comparative advantage is using random terror to elicit voluntary compliance with the tax code on the part of relatively rich people. The EITC is a good program, but it a costly program to administer, and it is administered imperfectly to say the least.

The minimum wage, on the other hand, is nearly self-enforcing: its administrative costs are nearly nil, for workers (legal workers, at least) have a very strong incentive to drop a dime on bosses who violate it. From a government-administrative and error-rate perspective, it's a very cost-effective program.

The right solution, of course, is balance: use the minimum wage as one part of your program of boosting the incomes of the working poor (being well aware of its likely disemployment effects of the wage floor and of its sending lots of money to the wrong households), and use the EITC as the other part (being well aware of its administrative complexities and errors and the disemployment effects of the phase-out range). Try not to push either one to the point where its drawbacks grow large. Balance things at the margin.