How Conservatives Learn Lies

Ever wonder how your friends, family, and co-workers cite out-of-this world crazy statistics and make claims you understand to be completely out of sync with reality.

Introducing PragerU, whose motto “Undoing the damage of the University… five minutes at a time” fits squarely into the anti-intellectualism promoted by extremist conservatives. PragerU isn’t actually a university, or a school, just a website created by Neo-Conservative talk show host Dennis Prager, which pumps out five-minute videos on various topics filled with Republican talking points, skewed facts, and rarely gives quality academic citations.

There are literally hundreds of videos on the PragerU website that cover many right-wing favorites such as, learning how to deny the fundamentals of science, ignore systematic racism in police departments, recognize it’s a compliment when women are sexually harassed, and making anti-Semetism palatable to the public.

For a deeper dive let’s review one of their latest five-minute course on why freshman Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and progressive politicians are wrong about raising the minimum wage to $15 dollars per hour.

First, watch the video. Don’t worry your face won’t melt and your kids won’t turn into little Ronny and Nancy Reagans, but it will help set the stage for the rest of the article and understand their “facts”, but before you do, notice the video’s thumbnail. A sharp, smiling professional CEO Andy Puzder vs. an out-of-focus no-nothing stupid bartender AOC. (Who actually graduated cum laude from Boston Univ. in economics.)

It’s an ugly personal attack right off the bat to prime the viewer the two are not on equal levels, which will set the theme for the classism highlighted in the entire video.

The premise of the video hosted by former Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. CEO and a failed nominee for Trump’s Labor Secretary, Andy Puzder, boils down to two parts:

  • A raise in the minimum wage will result in a massive loss in jobs.
  • If you are lucky enough to still retain employment your hours will be cut.

As far supply-side economic theory goes, Mr. Puzder’s beliefs are very run-of-the-mill. He goes on by making the following claims:

  • Economists everywhere are all in agreement to not raise the minimum wage.
  • A $15 dollar an hour minimum wage is too steep of an increase.
  • A Harvard Business study found for every $1 increase to the federal minimum wage 4 to 10% of restaurants will close.
  • A 2014 CBO study found raising the federal minimum wage to $15 dollars per hour would result in 500,000 jobs lost.

The first problem with these claims, is the same problem all PragerU videos have, there are no citations. Not in the videos themselves, not at the end, not in the video description, and not in the “course” transcript. For instance the host will mention a “Harvard” study, but frequently will neglect to mention the name of the study, the authors, the year, what scientific journal published it, or provide any link or other information about the study. This makes it extremely hard to verify their statements, and because it’s so common it means PragerU is either sloppy or intentionally deceptive.

See for yourself:

Look Mom, no citations!

The second problem with PragerU’s video is it is highly partisan with several politically-charged comments, which makes it hard convince an objective observer that the ideas being presented is coming from a place of honest information sharing.

Some of the partisan comments include:

  • “Progressive politicians love talking about the minimum wage. It makes them sound caring, compassionate, and concerned.”
  • “The left casts the minimum wage debate as a war between employee and employer.”
  • “The progressive politicians mislead voters that it is the right thing to do.”

The only way this information appears to be on-the-level is if you are coming from a far-right ideology, where there are already negative assumptions on the motives of left-of-center politicians baked into your beliefs.

A more intentionally informative video would have explained the different approaches to a federal minimum wage. It would explain the methodology of Democrats in increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, closer to the national living wage of $16 dollars per hour, is to increase the amount of disposable income available to low skilled workers, which would then increase access to health care, food, education, as well as increase consumer spending, which drives an economy.

It could have reviewed some of the alternatives to minimum wages used in other countries, such as a Basic Income, Guaranteed Minimum Income, or Refundable Tax Credits.

But instead the video only focuses on the Republican belief that an increase in the federal minimum wage will increase a business’ costs of production, therefor leading to greater unemployment.

It’s just delivering talking points, nothing else.

Claim: Economists everywhere are all in agreement to not raise the minimum wage.

The video makes this statement in its description and as an overall theme that raising the minimum wage is just a no-brainier, and such a no-brainier it should already be assumed, with some really up-front graphics telling you raising the federal minimum wage is calculated to be “not worth the risk.”

This would be true, if not for the vast body of scientific papers published in respected peer-reviewed journals. The reality is far more complicated.

Many studies find that minimum wage laws reduce employment, and many other studies on the exact same laws find they have little or no effect on jobs. Some 60 years and hundreds of research papers from prestigious universities, government agencies and private organizations have created little consensus on the subject, academic or otherwise.

For example we can take a look at Seattle, which in many ways was the guinnia pig of minimum wage increases, and see one study by Berkeley found a net positive and another found a net negative looking at the same data.

Bottom line, there is no agreement, and this makes this statement by PragerU a lie.

Claim: A $15 dollar an hour minimum wage is too steep of an increase.

The PragerU video puts up a few graphics and makes several statements designed to shock the viewer into believing in the danger of a $15 dollar an hour federal minimum wage.

“It’s more than double the current federal rate of $7.25.” Good God!!!

What is not explained is minimum wage laws, on the local, state, and federal level, all have stages spaced out over several years, giving businesses and organizations the time to adjust.

For example Seattle’s minimum wage gradually increased only by $0.50 per hour for the first five years for small businesses with under 500 employees, and the state of California would increase their minimum wage by $0.50 cents the first year then by $1 over the next five years. This is not at all the dramatic incline like a steep mountain as communicated in the PragerU video.

And $15 dollars an hour isn’t really that big of an increase in the federal minimum wage, because it has fell behind productivity over the past 50 years. This is called the “Productivity-Pay Gap,” and what it means is we are doing more, but getting paid less relative to our output. If wages have kept up with productivity since 1970, the minimum wage would be about $20 per hour.

Again, there is no shock. There is a gradual increase over years. Just another complete misrepresentation of the truth by PragerU, otherwise known as a lie.

Claim: A Harvard Business study found for every $1 increase to the federal minimum wage 4 to 10% of restaurants will close.

This was a claim that was made without any citations, but a little searching of rightwing sites that parrot this exact claim word-for-word made it easy to find the original study which you can read for yourself here.

Reading over the Harvard Business School study entitled “Survival of the Fittest: The Impact of the Minimum Wage on Firm Exit” authored by Dara Lee Luca and Michael Luca, first we have to recognize this is a “working paper,” meaning it is a draft that contains preliminary information and had not yet been submitted to the important step in the scientific method of peer review.

This doesn’t mean because PragerU is citing a working paper means the data and conclusions being presented are invalid or wrong, but needs to be placed in context that the data and conclusions have not yet gone through the rigor and process of being double-checked by other experts in the same field that comes with every scientific study.

This important distinction is something that PragerU does not communicate to the viewer, hiding the fact that this is a draft.

Moving on to the contents of the Harvard Business School study, the premise and conclusions are actually not accurately represented in the PragerU video, which claims the study’s findings are “Each $1 increase in the minimum wage results in a 4-10% likelihood of restaurants closing.”

What the study actually did was break out restaurants in the San Francisco area depending on their Yelp reviews and see what each group’s likelihood of closing compared to if there was no minimum wage increase. What the study found was those with 5-star Yelp reviews had no impact on employment when the minimum wage increased. Those restaurants with a 3.5-star Yelp reviews were 14% more likely to go out of business when the minimum wage increased. And those with a 1-star Yelp review were 50% more likely to go out of business.

Compare the study’s actual findings with what the PragerU’s claims about the study and the two simply do not match. Restaurants with lousy Yelp reviews that were already on the verge of closing is not the same thing as all restaurants. This means that PragerU was intentionally misrepresenting the findings of the Harvard study. They are purposefully lying to the viewer.

The most telling chart in the entire Harvard Study actually helps undercut the entire premise of PragerU and conservatives on the minimum wage. When comparing restaurant closings in cities that raised their minimum wage with those that have not, the trends are virtually identical, showing no effect on employment. (Figure 2, Page 29)

Claim: A 2014 CBO study found raising the federal minimum wage to $15 dollars per hour would result in 500,000 jobs lost.

The Congressional Budget Office is an excellent source to cite, legally required to be non-partisan, used by both political parties for policy making decisions, and was a rare instance of a good citation by PragerU.

We can read the 2014 CBO report here titled, “The Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income“.

Again, the information contained in the CBO report does not exactly match what is being presented in the PragerU video. Only the information that is beneficial to the host is being repeated, this is a dishonest debate tactic known as “cherry picking.”

Increasing the minimum wage would have two principal effects on low-wage workers. Most of them would receive higher pay that would increase their family’s income, and some of those families would see their income rise above the federal poverty threshold. But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly.

The CBO is saying with “two principal effects” there will be winners and losers, but the PragerU video is only reporting on the negative effects, and not mentioning it is only to “low-wage workers.” Again, withholding information is the same as lying.

The PragerU video said 500,000 jobs would be lost but is also not telling its viewers the CBO projected multiple scenarios, a $10.10 dollar minimum wage, and a $9 minimum wage. The host only gave the job loses for the worst-case $10.10 scenario, where the $9 scenario had a much better sweet spot that minimized job losses, and even possibly job increases.

Information that would devastate their entire premise… not included.

And while any job loses in the hundred-thousand range would be painful for those families, who are more than just numbers on a chart, the CBO found that 16.5 million workers would see more money in their paychecks. That is a huge net positive that PragerU is simply refusing to inform their viewers about. By withholding key information, they are lying.

Again no one wants to be on the side that loses with a minimum wage increase, but there is a 33:1 net positive ratio PragerU is simply refusing to tell its viewers.


Out of the hundreds of videos on its website, the only PragerU video found so far that presents an accurate set of facts is this “course” on “Was the Civil War About Slavery?” hosted by the head of military history at West Point. And to PragerU’s credit the host correctly walks viewers through the evidence of “YES OF COURSE IT WAS!” and was even released during the height of a national argument on Confederate monuments.

However after reviewing each of the claims made in this PragerU video, it is highly partisan, highly deceptive, and should not be trusted. This is not the only PragerU video that goes out of its way to push a false narrative in order to maintain negative political assumptions, provide “talking points,” instead of presenting a honest argument.

This comes to no surprise, because Andy Puzder at the time of making this video was a CEO of companies that rely on low wage workers who would be directly impacted by a minimum wage increase. It would cut into his corporation’s billion-dollar bottom line, which would make its investors not happy. So Puzder has a strong motivation to ignore key information, and present the half of the story that financially benefits him.

The sad reality is wages have remained low in this country, lagging far below every other developed nation, while the United States’ productivity has greatly increased. Meaning we are doing more while working for less.

This is a problem.

What PragerU and Puzder are deftly doing by injecting highly partisan rhetoric and only repeating the facts that suit them is turning an up/down argument against labor and management, into a left/right argument, meanwhile
CEO pay, like Puzder’s, has increased 90 times more than your average working over the past 30 years.

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