Just a semantic issue?

At Cato Unbound, Dan Klein explores the distinction that is often at the core of classical liberal’s world view, the distinction between voluntary and coercive action. Liam Murphy, Edward Glaeser, and Richard Epstein respond, and then there’s more from Klein. The interesting confab can be found here, and begins with this:

In 2006 there appeared a “raise the minimum wage” statement signed by 659 economists. I wanted to know why they favored the minimum wage, so I wrote up a questionnaire and sent it to them. But I also used the occasion to get their views on a very important matter: Did they view the minimum wage law as coercive? Ninety-five graciously completed the survey. Very few of them simply accepted that the minimum wage law is coercive. More than half said the law is not coercive in any significant sense. But the minimum wage law (and concomitant enforcement) threatens the initiation of physical aggression against employers who pay less than the minimum wage. It threatens physical aggression against people for engaging in certain kinds of voluntary exchange. To me, that is coercion. Just imagine if your neighbor decided that he would impose a minimum wage law on us. Wouldn’t we all agree that he was coercing us? If it is coercion when he does it, why isn’t it coercion when the government does it?

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.