What can labor ministers in the developing world learn from the heated debate on minimum wages that Seattle’s dramatic reforms reignited? The answer may be confusion. After more than 6,000 scientific articles, the discussion on the costs and benefits of raising minimum wages is still one of those unresolved million-dollar questions: Many economists claim that it is a very effective way to guarantee decent jobs for workers and to reduce inequality, but other economists and policymakers seem convinced that it would do just the opposite. The recent experiment in Seattle, unfortunately, adds little clarity.
For China, the minimum wage is a useful tool to reduce wage and income inequality, and in recent years, the minimum wage has risen rapidly in many provinces. We recently asked Shi Li (Professor of Economics, School of Economics and Business, Beijing Normal University) about the economic impact of the higher minimum wages. He cautions that enforcement was lax until 2009 and the results of the initial studies are inconsistent and sometimes contradictory.