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Labor Markets and Eugenics


This paper by Thomas C. Leonard is making the rounds on Facebook (HT to Steve Horwitz, who started this fire); I don’t know how I missed it when it was published in 2005. It is making me revise my understanding of the debate over minimum wages, for example. I have always thought that it’s a question of understanding economics versus not understanding economics. As Leonard argues, however, many eugencists understood that minimum wages would cause unemployment but saw this as a feature of the policy rather than a bug. It would make it easier to identify “defectives.” In addition, according to some eugenicists, “compulsory education and child labor bans…were desirable because the unfit poor would be unable to put their children to work and thus would have fewer children, a eugenic goal” (p. 218). It’s a very accessible paper that is worth a careful read. It tells a very dark story about our intellectual legacy, and it helps me understand the urgency with which scholars like Mises and Hayek wrote.

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