IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Optimal Minimum Wage Policy in Competitive Labor Markets

  • David Lee

    (Princeton University and NBER)

  • Emmanuel Saez

    (University of California, Berkeley and NBER)

Registered author(s):

    This paper provides a theoretical analysis of optimal minimum wage policy in a perfectly competitive labor market. We show that a binding minimum wage—while leading to unemployment—is nevertheless desirable if the government values redistribution toward low wage workers and if unemployment induced by the minimum wage hits the lowest surplus workers first. This result remains true in the presence of optimal nonlinear taxes and transfers. In that context, a minimum wage effectively rations the low skilled labor that is subsidized by the optimal tax/transfer system, and improves upon the second-best tax/transfer optimum. When labor supply responses are along the extensive margin, a minimum wage and low skill work subsidies are complementary policies; therefore, the coexistence of a minimum wage with a positive tax rate for low skill work is always (secondbest) Pareto inefficient. We derive formulas for the optimal minimum wage (with and without optimal taxes) as a function of labor supply and demand elasticities and the redistributive tastes of the government. We also present some illustrative numerical simulations.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Paper provided by Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies. in its series Working Papers with number 1099.

    in new window

    Date of creation: Sep 2008
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:pri:cepsud:178lee
    Contact details of provider: Postal: Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
    Phone: (609) 258-5765
    Fax: (609) 258-5398
    Web page:

    More information through EDIRC

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    as in new window
    1. Cahuc, Pierre & Michel, Philippe, 1996. "Minimum wage unemployment and growth," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(7), pages 1463-1482, August.
    2. Dreze, J. & Gollier, C., 1990. "Risk-sharing on the labour market and second-best wage rigidities," CORE Discussion Papers 1990067, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
    3. Hungerbühler, Mathias & Lehmann, Etienne, 2009. "On the optimality of a minimum wage: New insights from optimal tax theory," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(3-4), pages 464-481, April.
    4. David Neumark & William Wascher, 2006. "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Review of Evidence from the New Minimum Wage Research," Working Papers 060708, University of California-Irvine, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2007.
    5. Thomas Piketty, 1997. "La redistribution fiscale face au chômage," Revue Française d'Économie, Programme National Persée, vol. 12(1), pages 157-201.
    6. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:117:y:2002:i:3:p:1039-1073 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Rebitzer, James B. & Taylor, Lowell J., 1995. "The consequences of minimum wage laws Some new theoretical ideas," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(2), pages 245-255, February.
    8. Saez, Emmanuel, 2004. "Direct or indirect tax instruments for redistribution: short-run versus long-run," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(3-4), pages 503-518, March.
    9. Robin Boadway & Katherine Cuff, 1999. "A Minimum Wage Can Be Welfare-Improving and Employment-Enhancing," Cahiers de recherche CREFE / CREFE Working Papers 72, CREFE, Université du Québec à Montréal.
    10. Swinnerton, Kenneth A, 1996. "Minimum Wages in an Equilibrium Search Model with Diminishing Returns to Labor in Production," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(2), pages 340-55, April.
    11. Chone, Philippe & Laroque, Guy, 2005. "Optimal incentives for labor force participation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(2-3), pages 395-425, February.
    12. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Optimal Income Transfer Programs: Intensive Versus Extensive Labor Supply Responses," NBER Working Papers 7708, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Blundell, Richard & Macurdy, Thomas, 1999. "Labor supply: A review of alternative approaches," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 27, pages 1559-1695 Elsevier.
    14. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:102:y:1987:i:3:p:477-89 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Dolado, Juan J. & Felgueroso, Florentino & Jimeno, Juan F., 2000. "The Role of the Minimum Wage in the Welfare State: An Appraisal," IZA Discussion Papers 152, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    16. Diamond, P., 1980. "Income taxation with fixed hours of work," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 101-110, February.
    17. Maya Bacache-Beauvallet & Etienne Lehmann, 2008. "Minimum wage or negative income tax: why skilled workers may favor wage rigidities," Spanish Economic Review, Springer, vol. 10(1), pages 63-81, March.
    18. Acemoglu, Daron, 2001. "Good Jobs versus Bad Jobs," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(1), pages 1-21, January.
    19. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1976. "The design of tax structure: Direct versus indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 55-75.
    20. Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 175-208, April.
    21. Cahuc, P. & Saint-Martin, A. & Zylberberg, A., 2001. "The consequences of the minimum wage when other wages are bargained over," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(2), pages 337-352, February.
    22. Guesnerie, Roger & Roberts, Kevin, 1987. "Minimum wage legislation as a second best policy," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(1-2), pages 490-498.
    23. Tomer Blumkin & Efraim Sadka, 2005. "Income Taxation and Wage Policy: An Application to Minimum Wage," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 12(6), pages 713-722, November.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:pri:cepsud:178lee. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (David Long)

    The email address of this maintainer does not seem to be valid anymore. Please ask David Long to update the entry or send us the correct address

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.