Saturday, August 31, 2013

What to make of the fast-food and Wal-Mart protests over the living wage?

Well, I haven’t been to a fast food place since Aug 29, and I always have trouble remembering that “McDonald’s” doesn’t have an “a” in the prefix (like a “Big Mac”).
   
In Washington DC, the mayor considers whether to sign a law requiring Wal-Mart and other large companies to pay at least a “living” wage ($12.50 an hour, or a 50% premium over the supposed minimum).

And in fifty cities around the country, non-unions workers picket for $15 an hour, more than double the federal minimum.  That did not include the DC area, but I thought avoiding fast food places was morally appropriate.

Various studies show that if workers were paid the $15 an hour, fast food meals would typically cost about 50 cents more per person.

And some price increases would happen at stores like Wal-Mart and Target if they paid “living wages”.
So what makes everybody better off?
  
The libertarian says, let the market set the price.  It says to a worker, you can’t make a living wage because your own personal work skills are not worth that on the open market.  In the professional world (including IT, to the point that we view it as professional) that’s how it has always been.  It’s particularly true in salaried, exempt employment.
  
So if you want to take care of yourself, get the education, develop the skills so you are “worth” the living wage.  And don’t have a baby (and “complain” about being a single mother) until you can or have a husband (or wife) who can. It’s “your” problem.
  
Of course, it really doesn’t work that way.  We all live off the labors of people who make below subsistence wages, especially overseas.   And if we expected complete economic self-sufficiency from every parent, we really would experience “demographic winter”.  (Some of that is driving the current crisis over gay rights in Russia.)
  
It’s not hard to see where this style of thinking leads in the Obamacare debate.
  
How does someone respond?  By joining in a boycott?  By joining in a picket line?  (By grabbing a hammer?) Or is this just something like “Occupy Wall Street” a year or so ago?
  
Or maybe one looks at this from a Maoist viewpoint and imagines working a shift at minimum wage and getting yelled at all the time.
  
A lot of  high-school teens find  fast food or grocery store work as their first summer job.  I see that all the time, even people I recognize from local churches.  Is there something wrong with that if it starts at minimum wage?
  
After my December 2001 career-ending (so to speak) layoff, I did taste the minimum wage world.  My next job then was $6 an hour plus commissions.  It was “telemarketing”, so-to-speak.  And yet I don’t take telemarketing calls now myself, or accept door-to-door, for security reasons in large part.
  
Life sure isn’t fair.  Donald Trump preaches that.  But I don't think you can have a reasonable debate about "personal responsibility" without looking at underlying fairness. 

Remember, "Don't be a coward" is itself a double negative.  



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