Andrew B. Wilson

As first appearing in the Weekly Standard:

As this father’s day coincides with the summer solstice, it is an appropriate time to recall the astonishingly accurate calculation of the circumference of the Earth that was made on this same day more than 22 centuries ago by one of the founding fathers of mathematics and scientific measurement.

Like other Greek astronomers and scholars at the time, Eratosthenes (276-195 B.C.), the head of the famous Library at Alexandria in Ptolemaic Egypt, assumed the Earth was round and revolved around the Sun. From his research, he discovered a fascinating fact: Every year, at noon time on this day (June 21) and no other, the Sun shone directly to the bottom of a deep well in the town of Syene (site of today’s Aswan Dam).

Syene was almost due south of Alexandria, and Eratosthenes estimated distance between the two cities to be 5,014 stadia (or 800 kilometers).

When the Sun was at its zenith in Syene—shining directly down a well and reflecting back up again—Eratosthenes surmised that it must cast a tell-tale shadow in more northern Alexandria. Using the obelisk located in front of the library (or using some other tall, vertical object), he calculated the angle of the Sun to be 7.2 degrees south of its zenith in Alexandria.

Since 7.2 degrees is 7.2 / 360, or one fiftieth of a full circle, Eratosthenes reasoned that the circumference of the Earth must be 50 times the distance made by the curvature of the Earth between the two cities. That worked out to 252,000 stadia, which is within 1 percent of the modern measurement of 40,008 kilometers.

Just as the Sun cannot be directly overhead two distant cities at the same time, it is impossible to think that suddenly doubling the minimum wage in the cities of Saint Louis and Kansas City (with the mayors of both cities strongly supporting legislation to mandate a $15 an-an-hour minimum wage) will not cast a long and dark shadow over the prospects for future employment in those same core city areas.

The law of supply and demand is as immutable as rules of geometry and the law of gravity. If you make something more expensive, demand for it will decrease. That holds true for lemons, lightbulbs, and labor. By dictating businesses double the pay of the lowest-paid workers, cities that pass such laws are making it less attractive for businesses to hire or to continue to employ inexperienced and unskilled workers.

Here are three entirely predictable consequences of artificially setting the price of low-skilled labor far above the market price. First, it will make sense to substitute capital for labor through increased automation. Second, it will depress earnings and cause businesses to raise prices or cut corners in striving to deliver the best value to their customers. Third, many businesses will consider moving to other locations—with ample opportunity for doing so in surrounding suburbs.

Summer solstice comes but once a year. Doubling the minimum wage would damage job growth in Saint Louis and Kansas City every day of every year. It’s a matter of simple math and logic.

About the Author

Andrew Wilson
Fellow and Senior Writer

A former foreign correspondent who spent four years in the Middle East and served as Business Week’s London bureau chief during Margaret Thatcher’s first two terms as Britain’s prime minister, Andrew is a regular contributor to leading national publications, including the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal.