Thursday, August 22, 2013
I bought a new pair of pants last week. (The world continues to twirl away on her axis with this amazing revelation.) I opted to use an on-line store as I’m not much of the try-it-on type at a bricks-and-mortar place. On-line I can choose the exact color, the unique waist and inseam combination that I swear will invert at some point. They arrive, fit and I continue to marvel at the wonders of what our capitalist society has built. My choices weren’t limited by where my neighbors thought I should shop or what the government thought I should pay for them. To top it off I got to avoid an encounter with a surly or sullen teenager.
Retail is largely made up entry level workers earning minimum wage. According to the Bureau ofLabor Statistics 80% of these workers are under 25. The recent argument that many make to justify increasing the minimum wage is based on an erroneous assumption that people who actually earn that wage are supporting a family – and the vast majority are not.
No matter where I bought my pants – online or in a shop – the wage issues are the same. In the event that I wanted to buy pants in the physical world, my choices are actually much more limited. Communities and government have decided that only certain types of companies are allowed to do business in their regions – and then only when they meet certain criteria.
Governments make businesses feel welcome (or not) through special regulations that they pass, providing tax credits, etc. Boston has now joined Los Angeles and other major metropolitan cities in essentially banning Wal-Mart from doing business in the actual boundaries of the city. Retail outlets with 100,000 square feet must meet a different set of standards than other retailers who have 90,000 square feet. They have to pay their workers more, provide certain benefits, etc. In Los Angeles hotels that are on one street actually have a different mandated wage they must pay than the hotel a few blocks away.
If Government, in its wisdom, believes that a certain wage is needed for society’s good (or whatever reason) – then it should be equally applied across industry, across geography. We can argue the merits of assigning wage controls and benefit mandates – but they must at least be consistent. That’s just basic fairness.
Minimum wage laws are obsolete. Without a minimum wage would some companies pay their workers less than $8.25 an hour? Absolutely. Would they get work quality consistent with the lower pay? Undoubtedly. Would some be taken advantage of? Probably. Would many fight for higher wages? Unquestionably. That’s how capitalism works – it’s not always nice, but that’s what we purport to have.
Chik-Fil-A last year had a debacle with the gay community after the founder made many derogatory statements. In the furor many mayors, including Boston’s, discouraged the company from doing business in their city. The company wasn’t actually discriminating against anybody or violating any laws. The owner made statements that many (including me) disagreed with. Loathsome as that may be, that is also a foundational guarantee in America – to be stupid and to say stupid things. For a government official to insinuate that a business isn’t welcome because of the statements of their owner is quite dangerous.
We see in Russia today what happens when a government changes its mind and institutes a different set of rules than existed before. As uncomfortable as it can be – we are best as a people and as a society when we adhere to a minimum of fairness. And that includes business.