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Turning a Blind Eye: Costly Enforcement, Credible Commitment and Minimum Wage Laws

  • Basu, Arnab K.
  • Chau, Nancy H.
  • Kanbur, Ravi

In many countries, the authorities turn a blind eye to minimum wage laws that they have themselves passed. But if they are not going to enforce a minimum wage, why have one? Or if a high minimum wage is not going to be enforced one hundred percent, why not have a lower one in the first place? Can economists make sense of such phenomena? This paper argues that we can, if a high official minimum wage acts as a credible signal of commitment to stronger enforcement of minimum wage laws. We demonstrate this as an equilibrium phenomenon in a model of a monopsonistic labor market in which enforcement is costly, and the government cannot pre-commit to enforcement intensity. In this setting we also demonstrate the paradoxical result that a government whose objective function gives greater weight to efficiency relative to distributional concerns may end up with an outcome that is less efficient. We conclude by suggesting that the explanations offered in this paper may apply to a broad range of phenomena where regulations are imperfectly enforced.

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File URL: http://purl.umn.edu/127081
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Paper provided by Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management in its series Working Papers with number 127081.

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Date of creation: 2005
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Handle: RePEc:ags:cudawp:127081
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  11. Stephen Machin & Alan Manning & Lupin Rahman, 2003. "Where the Minimum Wage Bites Hard: Introduction of Minimum Wages to a Low Wage Sector," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(1), pages 154-180, 03.
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  13. Neumark, David & Wascher, William L., 2007. "Minimum Wages and Employment," Foundations and Trends(R) in Microeconomics, now publishers, vol. 3(1–2), pages 1-182, March.
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  19. T.H. Gindling & Katherine Terrell, 2004. "Legal Minimum Wages and the Wages of Formal and Informal Sector Workers in Costa Rica," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series 2004-647, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
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  23. Walter Y. Oi & Todd L. Idson, 1999. "Workers Are More Productive in Large Firms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 104-108, May.
  24. John R. Lott Jr. & Russell D. Roberts, 1995. "The Expected Penalty for Committing a Crime: An Analysis of Minimum Wage Violations," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(2), pages 397-408.
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  28. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1977. "Rules Rather Than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(3), pages 473-91, June.
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