Equitable Growth in Conversation: An interview with David Card and Alan Krueger: Hoisted from the Archives

stacks and stacks of books

Hoisted from the Archives from 2016: David Card, Alan Krueger, and Ben Zipperer: Equitable Growth in Conversation: An Interview: Zipperer: "At the beginning of this discussion, a lot of arrows seemed to point back to Orley Ashenfelter. Could you talk about his influence on your work and maybe the field generally?"

Card: Well, for me it’s very strong because he was my thesis adviser and really the reason why I went to Princeton as a grad student. And even as an undergraduate, the two professors who I took courses from that had the most influence on me were students of Orley’s...

...So my connection to him goes back a long time. And we wrote a bunch of papers together over the years and advised many students. But also many of the people of my generation of labor economists, like Joe Altonji, John Abowd, or other people like that, were strongly influenced by Orley.

Right from the get-go, he was a very, very strong proponent of “experiments if you can do them” and “collect your own data if you can do it” and “spend the money if you can.” One time, he and Alan went to Twinsburg Twins Festival and collected data on twins.

Krueger: One time? Four summers in a row we went to Twinsburg, Ohio, with a group of students. We brought a dozen students. (Laughter.)

And it was actually classic Orley because he spent a lot of time choosing the restaurant for dinner, a lot of time chatting with some people, and not too much time collecting data, as I recall.

I read Orley’s work when I was an undergraduate. And a big part of the attraction for me to come to Princeton was Orley, and then David was just really a bonus who I ended up working with so closely for a decade.

And I think Orley kind of set the tone for the Industrial Relations Section. He had done work on the minimum wage with Bob Smith at Cornell, on non-compliance and how much non-compliance there was—which made us think that, if you really want to look for the effects on minimum wage, you need to look in places where it’s binding and companies are complying.

He had a healthy dose of skepticism about the research that had come from the National Minimum Wage Study Commission. Which sometimes he called, as I recall, the National Minimum Study Commission.

Card: Minimum Study Wage Commission.

Krueger: The Minimum Study Wage Commission. (Laughter.)

Card: You can quote me on that.

Krueger: We’re just quoting him. (Laughter.) And he used to like to tell a story, which I remember vividly, where he met with some restaurant group when he worked, I think, at the Labor Department. And they said, we’ve got a problem in our industry: The minimum wage is too low and we can’t get enough workers.

And that’s inconsistent with the kind of view that the market determines the wage, and you get all the workers you want at the going wage, and you can raise the wage if you can’t get enough workers. And I think he was always sympathetic to the famous quote, in “A Wealth of Nations,” where Adam Smith said that employers rarely get together when the subject doesn’t turn to how to keep wages low; that there’s a tacit and constant collusion by employers. So I think he kind of set a tone where it was acceptable if you found results that went against the conventional wisdom.

And I came from an environment where even Richard Freeman at the time, who was a somewhat heterodox economist, had written that there’s a downward sloping demand curve for low-wage workers and a higher minimum wage reduces employment, but not all that much, but you get the conventional effects. So that was my background coming in...