Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Minumum Wage

Capitalism is a hot topic in this country at the moment, thanks in no small part because of it's failings. There are obvious shortcomings with a system that sees 1% of the population hoarding 42% of the nation's resources. This has resurrected the old debate between capitalism and communism, but I don't rightly see why. Communism has shown to be horrifying when compared to its wealthy cousin and no sane man should want such a thing.

It's been said, perhaps most famously by Whoopi Goldberg, that communism is a great system until you inject people in it. Though cataclysmically stupid, it's true. Just as Christianity is a peaceful religion if not for the people. However, seeing that we live in a society that is populated in no small part by human beings, pipe dreams won't be of any use to us. The same could be said of capitalism, though. On paper, it's a perfect system. In practice, it's still a perfect system...for a few people, at least.

Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average of 9% unemployment rate. Think about that for a second. Nearly a tenth of the nation was on unemployment and many were working minimum wage jobs. The fact that a minimum wage has to exist shows the inherent flaw of capitalism.

It's a slap in the face, the job's way of saying that if there was a legal way to pay any less, they would. Most people who work these jobs make less than $10k a year, meanwhile it's not uncommon to see their superiors making $50-150k a year. Such was the case at one job that I worked. There are commonly two justifications for this.

The first is that they do more work and so earn their keep. Sometimes this is the case, but more often a store manager will force his managers to shoulder his work. They, in turn, will make their underlings shoulder a portion of what they were given. In the end, the man at the top does the daily work of a secretary. Every worker notices this. If they complain, people will tell them that with his pay rate comes greater risk. If someone else screws up, he gets in trouble. I can think of several of those underlings who would gladly shoulder that kind of responsibility for even a fraction of his pay. The implication is that the responsibility makes the position so much more precarious, but as anyone who has been down-sized can attest, their own positions are far less secure.

The second response is far more insulting: Whoever said life was fair? It's the equivalent of telling your workers "Tough shit." Of course, life isn't fair. But if you tried to take a portion of that manager's salary and distribute it evenly among the workers, what's the first thing he'll say? "That's not fair!" Fairness and equality are only there for people who have it.

The obvious solution to getting out of the soul-crushing trap of minimum wage is to go to college. If you ask anyone what to do, that's their fall-back position. "Go to school and all of your dreams will come true." This past year bore witness to Occupy Wall Street, where the downtrodden workers and unemployed took to the streets in protest. Alot of people make the mistake of comparing them to the hippies of the 60's, but there's one big inaccuracy to that view: Most of these protesters are college graduates. They're not protesting work, they're protesting NOT work.

What we see in this country is a few disgustingly wealthy entrepreneurs, their less wealthy managers, and their impoverished workers. Though a few of that 9% doesn't have a job because they're lazy, the majority plain and simply can't find work. The wealthy elite look down on them with contempt and tell them to get a job and stop being lazy. But here's the coup de grace: Those people telling everyone to get jobs are the very same people who won't give them jobs in the first place!

Here we come to the source of the problem: Employers aren't employing. They say they can't afford to create new positions to hire workers without lowering their own pay. And...your point? A painter paints, a writer writes, and an employer employs. It's literally their social responsibility to provide jobs, but they instead choose to live in comfort and decadence. That sounds like a stereotype, but there is enough of a market for Glace Luxury Ice to be a business. What does this company provide? I'm not going to pretty it up with marketing semantics, it's pretty much spherical ice cubes. It is a ball of ice that costs $5 per chunk of ice!

But back on to the subject of employers not employing. I'll use Wal Mart as an example, since they're everybody's favorite punching bag. I don't have to go into detail about the imperialistic business practices of the company as it has been the subject of much debate for years. In public opinion, a gargoyle swoops down from the volcanic cliffs of Mount Walton and plants a little Wal Nut in an empty field. Lightning strikes and, come morning, a new Wal Mart has been born. I don't know if any of that is factual, but who am I to question the public? So there's a new Wal Mart in town, a single convenience store that provides everything the public needs. Everybody goes there, sucking the smaller local businesses dry of patronage. The Wal Mart hires its workers and then...stops. It has just destroyed the livelihoods of three hundred people and opened up fifty positions. You now have 250 unemployed people, thanks to one business.

But what can be done about that? Not everyone can work at Wal Mart, unless they open up a second store. But then they would be their own competition and whether or not it would pull enough business is questionable, seeing the town's recent spike in unemployment. Maybe they should have thought about that before gobbling up the town's resources.

In the end, that's exactly what people boil down to in a free market: resources. This is a widely accepted view among the business and political world, but the nature of the resource is often lost. Humanity may well be the world's only fully renewable resource, if treated properly. Modern corporate America has lost sight of one of the best lubricants for the economic machine and that's morale. The company's image is very important, not just to the consumers but to the providers. If your workers all say they hate their job, you're not doing your own. Happy employees are the best advertising a company can have.

This doesn't mean to force them to smile, this means to let them smile on their own. Anybody who has eaten at a fast food establishment can vouch for me when I say that a fake smile is very disconcerting. It's an expression often faked and rarely fallen for. How do you make your workers happy? Stop treating them as a disposable resource, for one. They have entered a social contract with you. They need money and you need workers. While you can fill their position with someone else, they can just as easily go work for someone else. With that out of the way, everyone should lower their metaphorical guns and start talking.

As it stands, whether they do a bad job or a good job doesn't matter to them. If they make you money, they won't see a single dime of it. This isn't a problem that can be solved with writeups and terminations, as any negative reinforcement will only worsen the situation. Profit sharing, employee discounts, benefits, all of these will cost you money. But as the saying goes, you need to spend money to make money. Your workers happiness goes beyond a smile, it will also net you their business. In grocery stores and restaurants alike, perks will get an employee to utilize your services. They, in turn, will recommend your services to others. If being socially responsible and kind to your fellow man doesn't get a rise out of you, think of what your paying them as advertising.

If your workers aren't buying from you, they're buying from someone else.

This has just been some random thoughts by a casual observer. If you agree or disagree, that's your prerogative. These observations are casual and so I wouldn't be surprised to find them inaccurate and in the end, grossly off-topic. But they're my thoughts and it's boring to keep them to myself.

No comments:

Post a Comment