Posts tagged with: Human resource management

gaplogoThe furniture store Ikea has announced they will begin to base their minimum pay on what’s considered to be a “living wage” in each local area, rather than on what competitors are paying. Similarly, the clothing retailer Gap says it will set $9 as the minimum hourly rate for its United States work force this year and then establish a minimum of $10 next year.

This makes good business sense — but will lead to a lot of bad economic reasoning.

A prime example is the latest column by Slate’s business and economic writer, Jordan Weissmann:

Notably, Ikea isn’t raising prices on its furniture to pay for the raise. Instead, the company’s management says it believes the pay hike will help them compete for and keep talent, which is of course good for business. The Gap used a similar justification when it announced it would raise its own minimum to $10 by 2015.

Which I think hints at something about what would likely happen if the U.S. raised the federal minimum. Conservatives who argue that higher pay floors kill jobs tend to assume that businesses are already running at pretty much peak efficiency, and so forcing them to spend more on labor will lead to less hiring. But left-leaning economists see it differently. They tend to argue that increasing wages can lead to savings for business by reducing worker turnover, for instance, and forcing managers to make better use of their staff.

Both the conservatives and the left-leaning economists are largely correct. Higher pay floors do tend to kill jobs and increasing wages can lead to savings for business by reducing worker turnover. But where Weissmann and other liberals go wrong is in assuming that businesses can still prevent worker turnover when the minimum wage is increased.

Because jobs can serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and communities, they are the most important part of a morally functioning economy. Workers dropping out of the labor force because they’ve grown discouraged is therefore one of the most pressing moral and economic issues in America today. Sadly, it is also one of the most overlooked.

Today, the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee released some stats showing the shocking decline in the male participation in the labor force, particularly men between the ages of 25-54:

Record 1 In 8 American Men In Their Prime Working Years Are Not In The Labor Force_0.preview


According to the committee members:


Terminator-2-Judgement-Day-posterI oppose implementing Skynet and increasing minimum wage laws for the same reason: to forestall the robots.

It’s probably inevitable that a T-1000 will return from the future to terminate John Connor. But there is still something we can do to prevent a TIOS from eliminating the cashier at your local McDonalds.

In Europe, McDonalds has ordered 7,000 TIOSs (Touch Interface Ordering Systems) to take food orders and payment. In America, Panera Bread will replace all of their cashiers with wage-free robots in all of their 1,800 nationwide locations by 2016. There is even a burger-making robot that can churn out 360 gourmet hamburgers per hour.

I, for one, welcome our new fast-food robot overlords. I’m just not ready for them yet.

mcdonalds“Clean up your own mess. Your mother doesn’t work here.”

That was a sign, printed on dot matrix printer paper, which hung in the breakroom of the McDonald’s where I worked. While that was nearly thirty years ago, I suspect that same sign is still there (though probably reprinted on a laser printer). But the idea behind it has changed. Your mother may not work at McDonalds, but the company—and others that hire low-skilled employees—are increasingly taking on the role of in loco parentis.

Lessons in basic life skills that were once taught by parents—such as punctuality, self-direction, basic personal hygiene—are increasingly being provided by the shift manager at the local fast food restaurant. That is why it’s absurd to claim that companies that are willing to hire people who are unqualified for the labor force are somehow getting over on the American taxpayer.

As Reihan Salam,

Seattle-mystWhen I was growing up I had a buddy—let’s call him “Bob”—who was constantly asking, “What happens if we do . . . ?” Bob’s curiosity, however, only led him to wonder about foolish actions. He never pondered, for example, what would happen if we all volunteered at the senior citizens center. Instead, his thinking ran more along the lines of what would happen if we jumped off the senior citizens center.

The reaction of me and the rest of my friends was always, “Let’s find out!” But we were more prudent than Bob (or maybe just more cowardly) so we’d encourage him to try whatever reckless idea he had in mind so we could learn from his experience. We learned, for instance, that if jump off the 3-story senior citizens center, a stack of cardboard boxes will not be enough to sufficiently break your fall.

Bob’s shenanigans would daily provide for us what social scientists would call a “natural experiment.” A natural experiment is a study of the effect of an independent variable, which has not been planned or manipulated by the researchers, on a dependent variable. (The word ‘natural’ in the term natural experiment therefore refers to an event that is not planned by the researchers.)

The city of Seattle is about to pull a Bob, by foolishly raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The effect on the citizens of Seattle will be almost entirely harmful. But it will provide a natural experiment on the effect of raising the minimum wage laws that the rest of American can learn from. Anyone who isn’t already convinced that increasing the minimum wage has a detrimental impact on employment and harm minority workers will, in a few years, have solid proof. We will all be able to look to Seattle to see the difference between good, albeit naive, intentions and sound economic policy.

Here are some of the effects I predict the policy will have in the next three years:

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.

In his latest column, Tyler Cowen points out that whatever economic recovery we’ve experienced has “largely bypassed young people,” arguing that such a development is bound to have an impact for years to come:

For Americans aged 16 to 24 who aren’t enrolled in school, the employment picture is grim. Only 36 percent are working full time, down 10 percentage points from 2007. Longer term, the overall labor-force participation rate for that age group has dropped 20 percentage points for men and 14 points for women since 1989.

This lack of jobs will damage the long-term careers of a big chunk of the next working generation. Not working after you finish school very often means missing out on developing the skills and habits that will serve you well later on. The current employment numbers are therefore like a telescope into the future labor market: a 23-year-old who is working part time as a dog walker, yoga instructor or retail clerk may be having fun, but perhaps will receive fewer promotions as a 47-year-old.

Cowen notes a higher minimum wage as one potential culprit, but argues that “the root causes run much deeper,” ranging from increasing uncertainty to expanding globalization to a newfound pickiness among employers. Arnold Kling offers some additional hypotheses, including the idea that decreases in child-rearing among the young-and-able will likely lead to decreases in a need or desire to work full-time. (more…)

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!”

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.

Solidarity designed by Thibault Geoffroy, from The Noun Project

Solidarity designed by Thibault Geoffroy, from The Noun Project

When I moved to west Michigan, one of the things that struck me the most were distinct cultural differences between the different sides of the state. While I was pursuing a master’s degree at Calvin Theological Seminary, I worked for a while in the receiving department at Bissell, Inc. I remember being surprised, nay, shocked, that a manufacturer like Bissell was not a union shop. (All those jobs are somewhere else now, in any case.)

Before attending Michigan State as an undergrad, I had lived in Detroit, and although I never had a union job myself, the cultural expectations of organized labor were (and still are) deeply ingrained on the east side of the state. My dad is a longtime editor at a suburban newspaper, and one of the reasons he still has a job amid the economic downturn and the upheavals facing that industry is his membership in the guild.

But things really are different on this side of the state. That’s one reason why the protests taking place today in Lansing, the centrally-located state capital, are symbolic of two sides of the state, in many ways divided by culture, economy, and politics. As to the latter, consider some statewide candidates for public office in recent memory that haven’t done so well when trying to move beyond west Michigan, including Pete Hoekstra, Dick DeVos, Dick Posthumus. The fight over Right to Work legislation in Michigan is, in this way, a tale of two Michigans.

It is also a tale about two paths forward for Michigan, though. On the one side is the state’s historic identification with Big Labor and the Big Three. On the other side is a Michigan that embraces enterprising innovation and entrepreneurial competition.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized yesterday on this topic (HT: Ross Emmett), and captures the essence of the choice facing Michigan: “Unions loathe right to work because they know that many workers would rather not join a union.”

I think that the right to organize and therefore unions are fundamental to flourishing societies. But what concerns me is that the argument against Right to Work is not about this fundamental right to organize, but rather about protecting the entrenched and embedded political interests of a particular kind of union.

There is a world of difference between voluntary union membership and mandatory, government-enforced, union membership. If the former is akin to something like the freedom of religion, then the latter is more like the government establishment of a particular religion or church. What we need is the separation of Union and State in the way that we have historically had free churches. We need to disestablish labor in the same way that we have disestablished religion in America, while simultaneously protecting the right to organize and join a union as well as the right to worship and express our religious convictions.