famous economist defends exploitation

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Fri May 4 07:06:40 PDT 2001

[What was it Mankiw got for his textbook, like $1 million, right? I had one of the students occupying the Harvard administration building on the radio last night; she said that it would cost Harvard $10 million - 0.5% of its endowment - to bring its workers up to the Cambridge living wage minimum of $10.25/hr.]

To the Editor:

According to Bob Herbert (column, April 30), student protesters have the upper hand in the debate over the "living wage" for Harvard's lowest- paid workers. But a high minimum wage hurts some of those it is intended to help. If Harvard has to pay higher wages, it will hire fewer workers and seek those with more skills.

Harvard is a charitable institution, but its mission is education, not income redistribution. Protesters would divert benefactors' funds to serve their own social goals. Also, many people are far poorer than these workers. Programs for developing countries - a longtime Harvard priority - would be a better use of resources.

Moreover, the school should not condone the takeover of the provost's office. A community like Harvard can function only when each group respects the right of others to disagree.

N. GREGORY MANKIW Cambridge, Mass., May 2, 2001

The writer is a professor of economics at Harvard University.

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