Posts tagged with: Employment compensation

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 6, 2014

The following is a letter written in response to a post from my friend Brad Littlejohn on the topic of the minimum wage

Dear Brad,

Thank you for your thoughtful and substantive engagement on the question of the minimum wage. I don’t think the conversation we had on Twitter earlier did justice to your work here, so I’m offering this response in hopes of furthering the conversation. I hope you find it fruitful. I certainly have. I should also note that I have been assuming the context of policy proposals to increase the minimum wage at the federal level in the United States. There are certainly aspects of what we’re discussing that apply to a greater or lesser extent in other contexts and at other levels of government, but at the level of individual states, for instance, the stakes are somewhat reduced and ameliorated by the realities of federalism.

You write that you “want to reflect a bit more fully on what’s wrong with one of the common conservative arguments against the minimum wage: that the laborer is only worth his productivity.” I have significant concerns with equating someone’s worth with the economic value of their labor in the marketplace. I do not argue that the laborer is only worth his or her productive work. I argue that a worker’s work is only valuable in a market setting insofar as someone is willing to pay for it. I agree that there is a subjective element to work that is in some ways intimately identified with and inseparable from the person doing the working. But I do maintain that the worker and the work can, and indeed must, be distinguished. Perhaps what we disagree about is that you think the wage someone is offered is primarily a signal about how much that person is valued. I think that the wage someone is offered is primarily a signal about how much that person’s work is useful to others.
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noun_project_8671For this week’s Acton Commentary, ahead of Labor Day weekend, I write about “working harder and smarter,” lessons we can learn from Ashton Kutcher and Mike Rowe.

One of the implications of connecting hard work with smart work is that the difficulty of work on its own does not determine its value in the marketplace. It isn’t a question of how hard you are working, but how hard you are working in productive service. This is why Lester DeKoster writes,

The paycheck follows upon work. Often the harder we work, the larger the paycheck—though, as many workers know, this unfortunately is not an invariable law. That is because, as we shall see, work and wage are not related as cause and effect.

He refers to money as the “bait,” which induces us to work and which tends to direct our work in service to others. But the bait can become a “trap” if we conflate the meaning of work with the wage: “Work endows life with meaning because of what work is, not because of what it earns. Paychecks buy goods and services provided to us through the gift of selves by others, but money buys no meaning. Life’s meanings are not for sale!”
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boss moneyIn light of the latest hubbub over the minimum wage, I recently wrote that “prices are not play things,” arguing that we do ourselves and our neighbors no favors by trying to subvert and distort market signals according to arbitrary whims. Instead, I argue, we should reach beyond such low-ball thinking, focusing on creation and contribution rather than sitting and settling.

Over at Think Christian, Jordan Ballor offers some related thoughts, including a helpful reminder that while prices matter, wages do not represent a “commentary on the value of the human person as such.” Tying our self-worth to marketplace value, he argues, “can be a misleading and potentially destructive identification.”

In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster pushes heavily in this same direction, going so far as to say that although work and wages move on “parallel tracks,” “neither track is the cause of the other or the goal of the other”:

What is a just wage? It is a paycheck that recognizes the personal relationships that underlie work and civilization. Involved are both the needs of the worker – at all levels – and success of the enterprise – in which all are involved…[T]hose whose work is concerned with the creation and administration of wage and price scales must be economic artists whose jobs bear heavy moral responsibility. What the traffic will bear or wage scales that only grim necessity will oblige the poor to accept are artistic guidelines that enjoy no endorsement from heaven. The search for just wage and fair price is never-ending, for the market is always changing and so are the forms required of work. Economic justice is by no means universal even in the best of civilizations.

How, then, do they relate? (more…)

Wizard of Id - Minimum WageThe protests organized by labor organizations to advocate for an increase in the minimum wage have garnered attention, most recently from the NYT, which editorialized in favor of such moves. Over at Think Christian, I weigh in with an attempt to provide some more of the complex context behind the moral evaluation of such mandates.

In the piece, I’m really less interested in the plight of current-minimum wage workers relative to those who might become minimum-wage workers with an increase, those who are currently priced-out of labor markets because of minimum-wage legislation, and those who will be priced out with an increase.

Earlier this week, Joseph Sunde discussed the issue with an eye towards the price of labor: “Prices are not play things.” I largely agree with Joseph about the significance of the price associated with various kinds of labor. The signal that minimum-wage workers should be receiving is that their work is not that specialized or valuable in the marketplace. You can rage against the values of the marketplace all you like, but that’s what the prices signal.
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A mere recital of the economic policies of governments all over the world is calculated to cause any serious student of economics to throw up his hands in despair. What possible point can there be, he is likely to ask, in discussing refinements and advancements in economic theory, when popular thought and the actual policies of governments…have not yet caught up with Adam Smith? – Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson.

These words continue to echo in the District of Columbia as legislators and activists once again choose to listen to their well-intended intuition over the lessons of basic economics.

6858535588_84f27f81ca_bOn Wednesday, D.C. Council approved the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), a bill which requires “big-box” retailers to pay their employees a minimum wage of no less than $12.50 an hour. The bill is backed by labor activists and some religious leaders who claim that employees who are paid the city’s minimum wage of $8.25 (a dollar higher than the federal minimum wage) are not being paid a ‘living wage.’ Should the LRAA be signed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and pass a congressional review period, all D.C. retailers that work in a space of 75,000 square feet or more and exceed $1 billion in corporate sales will be forced to pay their employees this higher minimum wage.

Wal-Mart has warned the city that the company will abandon plans for three planned stores in the district should the bill be passed into law. Such a statement is being taken as an ultimatum by labor activists.  Among the most outspoken is Rev. Graylan Hagler, a senior pastor of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and a leader of Respect DC – a local activist group that fights for what they call living wages.  In response to Wal-Mart’s proposal, Hagler stated, “If you allow a bully to bully you, it’s never going to end. There will be something else. There will always be another agenda. We’ve got some work to do.” (more…)

If your next date night costs you more, you can thank Obamacare. Regal Entertainment Group, the country’s largest movie theater chain, has announced that it is cutting employee hours due to Obamacare related costs.movie tickets

One Regal theater manager told FoxNews.com the move has sparked a wave of resignations from full-time managers who have seen their hours cut by 25 percent or more.

“In the last couple weeks, managers have been quitting on a daily basis from various locations to try and find full-time work,” said the manager, who asked not to be named. “Regal up until now has never restricted anyone to anything below 40 hours.”

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There was a good deal of discussion in the media over “unfair” executive compensation, especially in light of the bonuses, golden parachutes, and other forms of remuneration received by CEOs during the bailout.

I have yet to hear much complaint about CEOs being underpaid, though.

But this might change as it becomes apparent that under-compensation of executives might well be a way to wriggle out of higher payroll tax liability. Consider the case of CPA David Watson, who “incurred the wrath of the IRS by only paying himself $24,000 a year and declaring the rest of his take profit.” The Slashdot piece makes the compelling conceptual connection between Watson’s case and that of “the much ballyhooed $1 Executive club like Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt.”

The outcome of this? According to a WSJ overview of the Watson case, “Pay can vary—but it can’t be too low.”

I think if we follow the golden rule we’ll get a golden mean for the golden parachute so that it won’t strangle the golden goose.