Monday, September 04, 2017

Happy Labor Day

If you have a job that gives you this holiday, I hope you are having a great day off. I do have some thoughts.

I remember the last time minimum wage was being discussed. Many small business owners were complaining about how their employees had it so good while the owners couldn't even do... followed by some thing that they wanted to do.

I get the frustration of not having enough money for the things you want. I will even grant some understanding for frustration that your employees are doing better than you, assuming that's true. I do question whether it's true.

No one lives really high on the hog on minimum wage. That's why there are all of these discussions about raising the minimum wage, and a living wage, and how even the new minimum wage they talk about may not be a living wage.

It is certainly possible that the employee has fewer expenses, which could look like a more comfortable life. Many of the employers I have seen complaining have homes and children, and that takes money. As we are not talking about basing wages on how many people you support (and as doing so would certainly lead to a hiring bias against family people), we should not take that greater need into consideration.

It is also possible that the employee is making more. If you are living out of the profits while they get an actual wage, they could be doing better. That would be frustrating.

Here's my problem: if you can't afford to support yourself and the labor you require to keep your business going, maybe it's not a viable business.

If it is something where there are customers, so you know there is a demand, but you can't clear enough profit while still adequately compensating for labor, maybe you are not the best person to run that business.

Maybe it's not you. Maybe there is something set up in the system where the big guys are able to get price breaks or skip certain expenses, and it can be very hard to compete with them -- that would be very frustrating. That doesn't give you a right to send it rolling downhill, where devaluing another person becomes the answer.

And they do devalue the other person -- that becomes so clear as the arguments go on. "That's for an entry-level job. If they don't move on, it's their own fault."  Nope, not as much as you might think. Most companies pay as low as they can legally manage, and they like it that way. A high demand for employees can raise that, but with increasing automation, that is unlikely. (Though more spending power for the low-paid could help.)

It's not even anything new. Yes, much of what happened with U.S. slavery was a response to servants of different races uniting for Bacon's Rebellion, but the inhumanity of that response had a strong foundation in the already present dehumanization of the indentured servants. It was already common to add years to the contract, or to overwork or to starve the servants. Do they really need time to grow and cook food for themselves when it takes away from their duties?

Greed does that. It doesn't even require particularly bad people starting out to do that. Little by little, it is so easy to think about what should be yours and resent anything that you don't get to keep, no matter how much you need employees to keep things running.

That's not even talking about corporations. They are bigger and able to do a lot more damage, and most efforts for equality and environmentalism probably do need to be directed at them. But still, when the small businesses take the corporate attitude, when that small step up they have becomes a reason to step on someone else, that keeps us all down.

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