Nobel prize winning Canadian-born economist David Card (Photo: Video still/David Climenhaga).
Nobel prize winning Canadian-born economist David Card (Photo: Video still/David Climenhaga).

It’s not every day they award a Nobel prize in economics on a topic directly relevant to the political discourse of Alberta, so it is our duty to note Monday’s announcement that Canadian-born economist David Card was accorded the honour for his pioneering work using “natural experiments” to show that raising the minimum wage won’t cause jobs to disappear. 

Paul Krugman, the New York Times‘ economics columnist and a former winner of the prestigious bauble himself, noted that Card got the prize for his methodology for how to study things like minimum wages, not necessarily what the effect of minimum wages might be, which has been a topic of lively discussion for a long time. 

Card and his research partner Alan Krueger, who has since passed away, had the bright idea back in the 1990s of comparing what happened in neighbouring U.S. states when one raised the minimum wage and the other didn’t, and then thinking of it as a natural experiment.

Card teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. Krueger served as chair of president Barack Obama’s White House Council of Economic Advisors from 2011 to 2013. He was briefly president Obama’s assistant secretary of the treasury. 

I’ll leave the fancy technical commentary to the professional economists. Nevertheless, what the two economists found, as Krugman pointed out in his column, “was that the increased minimum wage had very little if any negative effect on the number of jobs.”

So, Krugman went on, “these results make the case not just for higher minimum wages, but for more aggressive attempts to reduce inequality in general.”

Now, this isn’t exactly a shocker. 

For well over a century a parade of iconic figures on the right have predicted civilization’s end as a result of higher wages — and every one of them has been proved to be wrong.

The preponderance of evidence, economics columnist John Cassidy wrote in a useful piece in the New Yorker in 2012, shows minimum wages in North America are low by historical standards, that there are no obvious links between rising minimum wages and unemployment, and that the potential costs of raising minimum wages are small.

Part of that evidence would have been Card’s and Krueger’s 1993 study, which showed what happened at fast food joints in New Jersey, which raised its minimum wage, and eastern Pennsylvania, which didn’t. What happened was nothing — at least, nothing different — as far as the number of employees went.

But even back in 1865, two years before Canada became an official country, Karl Marx himself took time out from his busy schedule fomenting international communist revolution to write a pamphlet debunking the claims of those who insisted better wages for the working class would spell the doom of civilization as we knew it. 

But you never would have known this was a topic of debate from local media coverage of the screechy claims made by business owners and their favoured political parties in Alberta after 2015, when the NDP came to power promising to raise the minimum wage to $15 (Canadian) per hour.

The piercing howls of outrage and horror from all the usual suspects on the right, including Restaurants Canada, sundry fast-food businesses that swore they would have to close up shop or at least have to stop serving Big Macs at 3 a.m., and, of course, the various conservative parties of the day, are still ringing in our ears. 

If they managed not to close their businesses, fast-food franchise owners threatened, they’d be forced to lay off workers and whip the ones they kept even harder to keep them pouring the midnight grease. 

The president of the Chamber of Commerce in the town where your blogger resides said she was in “a state of disbelief” at the NDP policy — not surprising, I suppose, since she may never before have experienced a moment in her adult life when an Alberta government didn’t shout “how high?” when the business crowd yelled “jump!”

Restaurants Canada — the lobby group that got its start under a different name complaining about prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s plan to keep a lid on menu prices as part of the fight against Hitler — begged the NDP not to raise the minimum wage until the economy improved, whereupon, of course, it would have come up with a new reason for delay.

A spokesthingy for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business darkly prophesied that if the minimum wage hit $15, many businesses would close their doors.

Of course, none of these dire predictions came true. 

By 2019, after the NDP had implemented the $15 minimum wage, Alberta’s restaurant owners were in such dire straits that they were able to invest their hard-earned dollars in a high-profile PR campaign to make sure we all understood just how rough they had it — and to help Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party defeat premier Rachel Notley to put an end to rising minimum wages.

In the event, as Albertans now know, this province hasn’t actually been a booming economic nirvana since the UCP was elected that year.

If the NDP returns to power in 2023, as nowadays seems like something that could happen, those who want to argue for higher minimum wages will have another arrow in their quiver for the debate that will surely follow, thanks to the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, as the Nobel prize for economics is awkwardly known to those few who care about such details. 

Never mind what Jason Kenney said, vaccine passports are here in Alberta, now

They still won’t call it a vaccine passport, but Alberta now has a vaxxport just the same. It even has a QR Code! 

Officially now called an “enhanced vaccine record,” the vaccine passport announced yesterday by Premier Jason Kenney comes complete with an “AB Covid Records Verifier app,” so your COVID-19 vaccination records can actually verified. 

“Albertans and businesses asked for a safe and secure app to make it easier to check proof of vaccination and today we have delivered,” Kenney said in the government’s news release yesterday. “Enhanced vaccine records with a QR code and easy-to-use validator app are important tools in support of our commitment to protect the health-care system, slow the spread and increase vaccination rates.” (Emphasis added.)

Alert readers will recall that Kenney didn’t always say this kind of thing. Indeed, just days ago he said the opposite. 

In an old news clip circulating on social media last night, Albertans could hear their premier telling a reporter who asked if his government would support a vaccine passport: “Opposed! We have been very clear from the beginning that we will not facilitate or accept vaccine passports.

“I believe that they would in principle contravene the Health Information Act and also possibly the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” he glibly rambled on. 

Nodding in the direction of an anti-vaxx protest nearby, the premier continued: “So these folks who are concerned about mandatory vaccines have nothing to be worried about, and there will be no vaccine passports in Alberta.”

While the introduction of the vaccine passport is no bad thing, it is nevertheless clear that Kenney will say whatever pops into his head without much regard for what he might say or do the next day.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...