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Weekend Ponderance

Riddle me this. Employers such as Walmart and many small mom-and-pop shops and restaurants and the like are routinely excoriated for not paying (some) of their workers a “living” wage. For now, never mind all of the other things folks gain from job experiences that are not captured by the wage. And there is always pressure from some interest group or “concerned” citizen for these companies to do the right thing and pay all workers $15 an hour or even more.

Let’s not here examine the basic economics here. Accept it. Let’s examine a very awkward position.

Walmart and Applebees and Timmy’s Taco Shack and the like are all bad guys because they are actually employing people and producing things for bums like me. But the rest of us are given a 100% total free pass. I haven’t employed a single person (meaningfully) in my entire life. Not only do I not pay a living wage, I don’t pay minimum wage, indeed I pay less than zero. All I do is “take” from other workers. Yet if I slapped together some bumper stickers and signs, I would be viewed as a champion of workers’ rights?

What kind of logic is this? I am in every real sense an enemy of workers by refusing to employ them myself. Calling me a champion of workers is a bit like a tick the champion of deer.

6 Responses to “Weekend Ponderance”

  1. Harry says:

    Very many people are trapped in the Marxist idea of the Worker, the strong-armed oppressed one, exploited by the man who gave him a job. In the mid-nineteenth century, in the England where Marx lived, from Marx’s distance , this was an appealing story which eventually led to the murder of the Czar and his family and the rise of Lenin, whom many in our country still find an appealing figure. Just get into a conversation with someone who teaches history (Social Studies) at the local high school and ask him about the USSR, Cuba, North Korea, and the Ayatollah Khameni’s pedigree, and one gets a defensive fusillade like the Star Wars they feared from Ronald Reagan.

    So, you ask, “What kind of logic is this?”, when we revile entrepreneurs, who have been everywhere in our free country since before the American Revolution?

    A few points :

    1) Because we have money, WC and I have the opportunity to earn it and exchange it for what we need. There is not a moral need anywhere for Wintercow to employ anybody.

    2) I have both been on someone else’s payroll, and have had people on my payroll. Between the two, nothing concentrates one’s mind more than having the job of meeting a payroll, especially if you own the business and therefore are the last one who gets paid.

    3) Let us be happy that we are able to start businesses, have rights to property , and employ anyone who wishes for success with us. Sadly, much of the World does not share that attitude.

  2. Alex says:

    I think it may come from some vague sense of what “we” owe each other. More specifically, I’ve heard people start from the premise that “we as a society have come to accept that employers owe their employees.” And therefore, WC does not. There seems to be this strong belief in a sacred bond between employer and employee…one that evil capitalists like Walmart ignore.

    Alternatively, some people claim that employers are in the best position to provide what is owed to each and every person in society. (These claims may be made under the Marxist assumption of employers with exploitative power over employees.) People are entitled, the argument goes, to a certain standard of living, one which money can buy. Therefore people are entitled to a “living wage”. WC could not hope to sustain so many people simply by teaching them economics (or paying 90% of his income in taxes?). Walmart has a comparative advantage. “Walmart”–with “its” $466B in revenue– can bear the burden of providing for so many people, and at lower cost than can WC. WC would starve before providing 100,000 people with a living wage.

    • Alex says:

      In sum: with great power comes great responsibility

      • Harry says:

        Glad to see you are still around, Alex. Maybe you can help WC keep up his blog so he can write a few textbooks and a bestseller that will enable him to buy a large tract in the Adirondacs, and employ many to care for his canoe and dock.

        Having employed some really great kids over the years, paying them cash (legally), even though I tried not to overpay them, I can say that many, many of them got a life experience cleaning out pens and bucking bales that changed their lives beneficially.

        Most of these kids were very smart, and most big and strong. But my brother and I employed two people, both in our class in school, who had roughly 80 IQ’s, too. We employed other adults, who had a wide range of abilities.

        When I worked for another company, a great company, I did some work in personnel, and had the privilege of hiring some great people, and to witness success. Then I had my own company, and had to worry about paying others before me.

        All of this has never been an exercise in altruism, although my upbringing, a Christian one, demanded that I treat everyone fairly. Maybe it was a hunch they would treat me fairly, too.

        I never worried about great power, Alex. I worried about whether I had made the right decision, and whether I had made enough effort, to get the project completed, to get the hay cut and baled before it rained, to not lose my client’s money, to make them a lot of money so I would find success and have a good sleep. Many have not have had my opportunities, but I think many people think the same way as I.

        To the contrary, Marx and his philosophical children have a completely different view of human nature, one that assumes inherent venality, except among the enlightened but paradoxically rootless few who have omniscient epistemological power to determine what is good for everybody.

        For more than a century, these ideas have repeatedly failed to deliver their promise, and beyond that have led to monstrous human suffering and death. I find it difficult to make an ironic remark to leaven what is a sorrowful result.

        So, what do we owe each other? How about respect for others’ freedom to live?

        • Alex says:

          I would if I could “keep up”. Like always, I have more questions than answers.

          Philosophers have made many attempts to clarify what it is we owe each other. The most recent and prominent ones are Rawls’s “Justice as Fairness” and Tomasi’s “Free Market Fairness”. Though both treatments take an institutional approach, they and other Rawlsian theorists, such as Ronald Dworkin, show that it is by no means clear that all we owe each other is respect for freedom to live. Nor do they make clear which obligations and duties respecting that freedom entails. For example, if a man in an expensive business suit notices a child is drowning, should the man save the child if it means ruining his suit? Do we “respect” the man’s freedom to live as someone unwilling to sacrifice a business suit for a child’s life? Is it even the case that respecting each other’s freedom to live is MORE IMPORTANT than helping create and sustain a just society? Should we be respecting each other’s freedom to live, or seeking to create a social world where all can develop and exercise their “two moral powers”, which may require ensuring that everyone has a minimum level of material wealth?

          I’m certainly not saying that employers are any more responsible than you or me or WC. In fact, I’m partially inclined to think they are not (except when I analogize them to the man in the suit, and their employees to the drowning child). I quite liked Tomasi’s book. But an entire strand of political philosophy has led many people to conclude otherwise.

          • Harry says:

            Alex, if I continue this thread, I fear it will go down to single words on my phone, and force me to boot up the damn computer.

            I think it is very likely a man dressed in an expensive suit will first shed his coat and quickly jump in to save anyone’s life, especially a child, without shedding his Gucci loafers (you can always shed the loafers in the water).

            I say this not because I believe there are no truly evil people in the world, or that men cannot do evil voluntarily. Valueless men do it all the time, maybe once a second or more throughout the world.

            However, my practical, empirical experience suggests the opposite.

            Had we humans been wanton aggressors among their species, they would have never survived, and would never invented property law, agriculture, or writing, to name a few basic ideas that rose above killing the man who threatened to eat your kill, or drink from your water hole.

            It took three thousand years for men to challenge the divine right of kings and emperors to do their will. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he started with the idea that all men ( let’s not get into gender studies) are created equal.

            This was not a statement that all people should have an equal amount of property, as in everybody should live in a city apartment of 458 square feet per person, and that they should work accorded to their abilities, and be provided according to their needs.

            Rather, it was a philosophically revolutionary idea that no man had a claim on another’s life.

            So revolutionary is this, that it means not Caesar, not the Pharoah, not the Kaiser, not Hitler or Mussolini or the Emperor of Japan, not Mao, nor Castro, not anyone, is more equal than other men, and there exists no natural right for that to be so.

            The result of the American Revolution is, of course, has been unimagined prosperity throughout the world, setting we who live here free, and keeping the hope of freedom alive for others.

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