It’s typical of MSNBC weekend anchor Alex Witt to invite guests on her show who only reinforce her opinions, and that is exactly what happened on Sunday’s Weekends with Alex Witt. For a discussion of Democratic efforts to increase the minimum wage, Witt brought on frequent contributor Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden’s former chief economist.
But that’s not all he is. Witt added these modifications to Bernstein’s introduction:
"Also a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the guy that I trust most with my economic questions. Once again, we tell folks that."
Is it any wonder that Witt’s most trusted economic analyst is a liberal whose pronouncements fit snugly into her worldview? Bernstein was clearly flattered by Witt’s trust in him. He piped up, “I’m gonna have you blurb my next book.” To which Witt replied, “Okay, I’ll do it. No problem. You got it.”
With the conversation off to such a cozy start, Witt made a half-hearted attempt at playing devil’s advocate:
"Alright, let’s talk about the critics who have a pretty simple argument against increasing the minimum wage, because they say the higher the minimum wage, the fewer employees businesses can hire and you may have to fire some. So what’s your response to that?"
It would have been nice to hear from an actual critic of the minimum wage hike rather than just hearing Witt present a simplified version of the opposing view. Anyone who has watched Witt’s show before knows that she is all in favor of an increased minimum wage, so she never intended to seriously challenge Bernstein on the matter. There are plenty of actual critics of a minimum wage hike out there, but none were present on this show.
As a result, the rest of the interview played out like a one-sided argument in favor of increasing the minimum wage. Sadly, such interviews are par for the course for both Alex Witt and MSNBC.
Below is a transcript of the interview:
ALEX WITT: The House and Senate will be back in session tomorrow, and they’re only going to have a few short weeks to address some major economic issues, because deadlines are looming for a budget deal, as well as an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, and now gaining traction is the Democrats’ push for a minimum wage hike. Joining me now is Jared Bernstein, former chief economist for Vice President Biden. Also a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the guy that I trust most with my economic questions. Once again, we tell folks that.
JARED BERNSTEIN: I’m gonna have you blurb my next book.
WITT: Okay, I’ll do it. No problem. You got it. Alright, let’s talk about the critics who have a pretty simple argument against increasing the minimum wage, because they say the higher the minimum wage, the fewer employees businesses can hire and you may have to fire some. So what’s your response to that?
BERNSTEIN: Well, the empirical record largely disproves such a broad, sweeping claim. That’s not to say that an increase in the minimum wage doesn’t lead to some cutbacks in some workers’ hours. There could even be some job loss. I think it’s wrong to say, you raise the minimum wage and nothing happens to workers’ prospects, but we’ve seen time and time again, with many increases over time and across different states and counties, that the beneficiaries of a moderate increase in the minimum wage far outweigh any costs. So it makes sense that low-wage workers are out there on the barricades saying, raise our wages. In many ways, they know best what’s right for them in this regard.
WITT: Absolutely. But should things be looked at community-community, like a local cost of living would get factored into all of this? Because there’s a huge difference between what you can get for $7.25 an hour in Little Rock and here in New York City.
BERNSTEIN: I think in a sense that kind of geographical variation makes sense because there are so many different labor markets. You and I often talk about the national economy. Of course the national is just an aggregate of all the locals, and they’re different. On the other hand, and this is why I think a national minimum wage that’s of a reasonable level, the kind that’s been proposed in Congress, makes sense. If you have one wage – one wage floor for the nation, that means no firm is at a competitive disadvantage to another firm. They all face the same wage floor, and I think that helps in a competitive framework.
WITT: Okay, the Senate bill that you’re referencing there calls for $10.10 an hour. What kind of a difference do you think that would make on either end, for workers and for the businesses?
BERNSTEIN: Well, it’s very important to understand first of all that that phases in over three years. So if that were passed, say, in 2014, it would go up in ’14, ‘15 and ’16. It wouldn’t hit $20.10 [sic] until 2016. And by then, according my own and others’ analysis, it would be very much in this range of a moderate minimum wage increase, the type that historically has lifted the pay of workers without causing the kind of unintended consequences that the opposition tends to scream about.
WITT: Right. I know you heard on Wednesday when the president gave that pretty impassioned speech about raising the minimum wage and narrowing the income gap. But his progressive critics say that he hasn’t done enough here, that it’s all been talk. Do you think the administration has made a substantive difference?
BERNSTEIN: Look, I think any time you’re criticizing the Obama administration on their economic record, you’ve really got to take into account not just what they’ve done, but what they’ve tried to do. Have they done enough to lower the unemployment rate to offset inequality? I don’t think so, but have they tried to do the kinds of policies that would in fact move in that direction? Very much so. I’m thinking of the American Jobs Act, the minimum wage increase that the president proposed back in the last State of the Union. The fact that they’ve been blocked along the way so many times by Congress is really important if you’re doing that kind of evaluation.
WITT: And you’ve got to make that point to so many other different topics, so that’s out there.