Great Moments In Corporate PR History

Just a quick tip to all of you young, budding entrepreneurs out there.  Probably best if your corporate holiday giving program doesn’t make headlines that read like this:

Ohio Walmart Criticized For Holding Food Drive For Own Employees

 

On the plus side, this early bad publicity will probably keep Walmart from going with their annual Trade Your Children’s Hair for Cheap Toys employee-benefit program this Christmas.

(H/T: TPM & @joshtpm)

 

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274 thoughts on “Great Moments In Corporate PR History

  1. Playing a bit of devil’s advocate, how much control do local managers have over wages? If they are more or less set top-down, it seems like criticism is the wrong response.

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      • Right. This is the same issue as McDonalds telling/showing their employees how to go on food stamps.

        This is not very hard to understand and there are countless stories about the dire economic conditions that many Wal-Mart workers find themselves in.

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      • Just reading the headline, specifying that it is the “Ohio Walmart” gives the impression that that specific Walmart is receiving the criticism. I didn’t click through.

        But let’s look at the broader implication of this statement: “…Walmart itself is being criticized for paying its employees a wage that necessitates that they need a food drive at all.”

        This implies a pretty stark binary: people who earn wages and people who need a food drive. There is far more overlap between those groups than that sentence allows for. And not all of them employed at Walmart.

        Assuming the critics are proponents of a mandated living wage, exactly how it is to be calculated? Because a single, childless person working at Walmart probably doesn’t need a food drive. But an employee with a wife and four kids earning the same salary probably does.

        As such, a legitimate question: Is it proper for employers to consider the family needs of an employee when setting salaries? There appears to be something fishy about an employer saying, “We’re going to pay Bob 10% more than Bill — even though they do the same job equally well — because Bob has kids and Bill does not.”

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      • “As such, a legitimate question: Is it proper for employers to consider the family needs of an employee when setting salaries?”

        No, but it’s how it used to be done quite frequently, if am not mistaken.

        (& fwiw, the military still has some differences in allowances – pay that’s on top of salary for housing and food – that varies with marital & kid-raising status)

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      • So the fact that someone earns less than they can live off indicates there is a problem with the employer?

        This is economic illiteracy. If I offered to pay someone ten dollars a day to watch my dog am I to blame they can’t afford health care?

        Said in a nicer way, you are making assumptions on the role of an employer that is just silly.

        I call foul.

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      • I think an argument could be made that the military’s system is superior (which also accounts for geography/cost-of-living). What sets it apart is that it is standardized. However, for many folk, it would seem far too communist.

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      • As I have said previously, I think we have the right basic model in this country, even if execution is flawed. Paying employees according to their need strikes me as a bad idea. However, as a society, we do generally want people who are working to be able to support themselves or have sufficient support. The latter part is where the government comes in.

        Which is why I don’t really like the idea of holding employers accountable or raising minimum wage to a livable wage for a single-earner-two-dependent household or anything like that and why I don’t have any objection to food stamps (and why I don’t put it on the employer when the government helps out).

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      • Is it proper for employers to consider the family needs of an employee when setting salaries?

        It used to be done a lot. “Joe’s got a wife and kids, so he needs to be paid more. Jane’s got a husband and kids, so she doesn’t need to be paid as much.” Of course that’s not exactly the outcome folks these days would be looking for.

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      • Interesting this comes on the heels of a few (obviously going nowhere) discussions of replacing the hodgepodge of programs like food stamps and the like with a flat out low-level income.

        Which, while I find the idea interesting, I would not want to see without some serious trial programs to see how real people reacted. (I doubt, given the minimal sums involved, people would be that disincentivized to work — however it would make part time work more appealing to many, and low-paying but ‘personally fulfilling’ jobs more of a draw).

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      • I think my thoughts are in line with yours. Though I might go a bit further. Personally, I see programs like food stamps as more of a stop gap solution than a long term plan. Ideally, they are used by the woman who had a job wherein she could support herself, had an unplanned pregnancy, and hasn’t yet reworked things to account for the extra mouth to feed but has that extra mouth to feed and we should make sure it is fed. Sure, sure, we can talk about personal responsibility and blah blah blah, but we shouldn’t let a baby starve. However, ideally that woman isn’t still on food stamps when the kid is 10.

        I wonder how you (and others) would feel about more long-term solutions: perhaps reduced tuition at state universities for folks with dependents and who make under a certain income. Or vocational training limited to such people. Something that will have a more long-lasting effect and will move people away from needing government support. There will be some whiffs… some guy who gets a degree and does nothing with it… but nothing will ever be perfect.

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      • Kazzy, I have some mixed feelings about your proposal. A couple I know – great people* – has declined to get married simply because doing so would eat into her college benefits. Also because it would eat into her financial benefits. I don’t know exactly how to handle this because need-based welfare programs should take marital status and incomes into account… but I also don’t want to go overboard with the benefits here.

        The numbers from the days before welfare reform suggested that AFDC was, wonderfully, a pit-stop for most of its recipients and the vast majority of them movedo off the rolls. But honestly, as long as people are working I am increasingly of the mind of not freaking out about the benefits being more than a pit stop. I have a fear that people would use government benefits to avoid working altogether. I do not have much fear that they would use government benefits to keep working at McDonald’s instead of trying to move up the earning ladder.

        * – I mean that without an ounce of sarcasm.

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      • This is economic illiteracy.

        No. It’s a different view about how to judge and define value. Your (and most economists’) view certainly goes a long way to explain certain things, but it’s not the only way to look at it. I’m not saying it’s the wrong way to look at it, mind. But I am saying that with someone who doesn’t start with your view of what value is is not going to be convinced by being called “economically illiterate.”

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      • I generally agree that the “Joe needs to be paid more than Jane because Joe has a wife and Jane has a husband” is how that type of taking family needs into consideration has been (or used to be) used.

        However, and I suppose this is more my liberal friends on this blog than you, what about things like family medical leave or subsidized day care? Aren’t these also a continuation of paying based on perceived need, inasmuch as paid leave or subsidized daycare is a compensation given mostly to families with certain needs and not to others? Again, this is probably more directed at the liberals here than not.

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      • I can’t say I blame your friends. I think we are entering a period of long-term economic and job stagnation with an increasingly smaller number of people getting decent jobs with benefits, vacation.

        I’m 33 and make a decent living. All things considered I have so far (knock on wood) done better in the law school crisis than many of my classmates. Not as well as others but if the goal of going to law school was to practice law, I am doing better and making okay money.

        But I can’t let it rest that I am still freelance and can be told at anytime that I am no longer needed. I’ve gone from freelance job to freelance job since graduating law school. I pay my own insurance and everything seems to be going up except salary and job prospects.

        I can do okay by myself so far with only looking out for myself.

        The idea of providing for a wife and/or children scares me. How am I supposed to think of that as perma-freelancer.

        No one seems to be able or willing to help me come up with alternative careers or a way forward. I just get generic advice of hang in there and everyone seems to think things will work out in my favor. I would like to see some indication of that.

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      • I don’t blame them, either. You know how I feel about “College for everybody!” but both they and society would have been well-served if one or both of them had gone straight to college out of high school. I’ll even go a step further and say that even leaving aside their intellectual capabilities, the Shazbot rationale (send them to college just to get them out of their environment) would easily apply to them.

        That said, college as a way of avoiding the working world is not good on a societal level. I’m hoping that she can get the degree she needs so that she can support them. Or that he bites the bullet, gets his CDL, and heads to North Dakota as he has talked about. They’re both the kind of people I want to bribe with the Kansas City Plan, but it’s hard when their families and roots are in Deseret. It’s an unfortunate (and economically inefficent!) situation all-around.

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      • Your assumed solution does not solve the problem. The problem is that people of our tribe cannot live a good life in exchange for their labor. I concur this is a problem.

        This is not the employers problem. Indeed they are the closest thing going to a half solution. An employer by definition is doing more for the employee than any other person at helping them make a living. You and I are not doing anything.

        By demanding employers pay more than the employee economically sustains basically is passing a law that employees should not hire this person.

        Blaming Walmart for living wages not only does not solve the agreed problem. It makes it much worse. This is not just silly. It is harmful. It destroys lives.

        There are better ways to protect members of our tribe than by feeling good about ourselves while harming them.

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      • So the fact that someone earns less than they can live off indicates there is a problem with the employer?

        The fact that people cannot earn enough money to live indicates that there is a problem somewhere. I’m perfectly willing to lay the blame on the system in which the employer operates, and not the employer itself (Walmart has other issues relating to the way it treats its employees and the way its contractors treat theirs, but that’s another discussion).

        Also, I have absolutely no problem with what this Walmart did. Even a living wage doesn’t guarantee that a person or a family will be able to support him or herself. Life has a way of presenting holes for people to fall in, whether they dug those holes themselves or not, and sometimes even people with more substantial incomes than most Walmart employees will need help. The reason this bites Walmart in the ass is because they’re famous for being less than generous with their employees, particularly with hours and manipulating full-time/part-time status.

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      • Let’s say Wal Mart shifted to a model of full time employment, using part time labor obly minimally to fill in around the edges of the busiest hours. This means it needs fewer total employees.

        So we have an increase in the number of people holding full time jobs with benefits, and simultaneously an increase in the number of people now unemployed. We can presume the newly unemployed will be the least productive, so those likely to have the hardest time finding new jobs, particularly well paying full time jobs.

        Is this, on net, a better or worse outcome? Why? From whose perspective?

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      • I don’t think I actually disclosed my “presumed solution,” although I would probably favor something like more robust welfare state rather than a living-wage mandate. My bias is to think that it’s better for more people to have work at a lower wage than for fewer people to have work at a higher wage, assuming a choice between the two has to be made at all. (I’m not sure exactly how far I’d carry this bias…..if we have people working at 50 cents an hour in 2013 dollars for what they now earn $8, I might change my view….but in general, I wouldn’t place the responsibility on employers.)

        Just to be clear, I mostly agree with where you’re coming from. I agree that the employer doesn’t necessarily bear a responsibility for ensuring his/her employee has a living wage, and I find your (and economists’ in general) definition of value very useful in answering the types of questions its used in service to answer.

        I said what I did because saying “you’re economically illiterate” is a poor way to get others who don’t already see where you’re coming from to actually see where you’re coming from. I get that yours is a somewhat minority viewpoint on this blog, but its not a viewpoint that gets no hearing here or never gets met at least halfway. Several, though perhaps not a majority, of the blog authors are someone nearer to your side of the spectrum than the liberal side, and sizable number of the commenters at least like to see themselves as libertarian-friendly enough to entertain a point of view congenial to yours as a starting point. I was just arguing that maybe there’s a better way of interacting rather than going in with full guns a-blazin’.

        I should have added that the rest of your comment–about paying someone $10 to walk your dog–is much better and spot on. It illustrates why a living wage mandate is at the very least problematic and (in my opinion, and apparently yours) not the solution to the problem.

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      • Let’s say Wal Mart shifted to a model of full time employment, using part time labor obly minimally to fill in around the edges of the busiest hours. This means it needs fewer total employees.

        So we have an increase in the number of people holding full time jobs with benefits, and simultaneously an increase in the number of people now unemployed. We can presume the newly unemployed will be the least productive, so those likely to have the hardest time finding new jobs, particularly well paying full time jobs.

        Is this, on net, a better or worse outcome? Why? From whose perspective?

        Assuming that the employee pool overall is largely comprised of folks who would benefit from the structure of a full-time job (i.e., people other than say high school/college kids who never intend this to be full-time employment) this is a likely better outcome for everyone, I’d say, on a raw efficiency basis.

        Even accounting for the additional people we’d have on the dole, we’d have better morale among the workers, a more stable income for them, the employers would be benefited by increased problem domain experience, since the cost-cutting performance incentives would be minimized (presuming, of course, that all their competitors are under similar constraints), and the price difference in the goods sold would be (I suspect) rather small given the economy of scale.

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      • Close enough for it not to matter.

        Granted, there’s probably a limited subset of the population who (a) requires steady work (b) thrives on an environment where context-switching in extremely high and (c) really wants to hold down multiple part-time jobs rather than a single full-time one, but I doubt this is both (a large population) and (one particularly suited to working at Wall-Mart).

        Part of this, I’ll admit, is based upon my own bias about retail and efficiency. Retail, being a seasonally-impacted job sector, has a tendency to err on the side of providing part time employment (even though part time employees will be less efficient than full time ones) because the profit margins are so thin and they’re basically playing a Prisoner’s Dilemma against each other, winding up with the least optimal outcome but the predictable one because of defection.

        Maybe I’m missing something, though. Who do you think benefits from this norm, James?

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      • Sorry to be so harsh. I am a member of NAATDOE. The National Association Against the Discrimination of Employers.

        We believe that discrimination and bias against employers is wrong and needs to be stamped out with zero tolerance. We actually believe employerism is every bit as bad as racism sexism and homophobia. Actually worse in some ways.

        We have meetings now every Tuesday night, with entertaining speakers and awesome tchotchkes.

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      • Seriously, it seems to translate into a hypothesis that society would be better to outlaw part time work as it canibalizes full time work. This does seem to run into the lump of labor fallacy. It also assumes that social engineering has not biased the relative advantages of hiring full vs part time.

        That said, I am all ears on your argument. I am not saying it is wrong, just that it seems like something is wrong and I can’t fix my groggy brain around it .

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      • Seriously, it seems to translate into a hypothesis that society would be better to outlaw part time work as it canibalizes full time work.

        No… well, you could carry it to that conclusion, but full time work isn’t always indicated.

        However, many jobs that would probably be performed more efficiently by full time employees are instead moved to part time positions due to both structural incentives (in this case, there’s usually government interference problems on the bad end) and/or problem domain incentives (in this case, there’s market failures).

        This does seem to run into the lump of labor fallacy.

        It would if you took it to that absolute conclusion, yes.

        It also assumes that social engineering has not biased the relative advantages of hiring full vs part time.

        Oh, it has in many cases, I won’t dispute that.

        That said, I am all ears on your argument. I am not saying it is wrong, just that it seems like something is wrong and I can’t fix my groggy brain around it .

        Well, it’s not served well by trying to detail it in the combox, so I’m not surprised.

        I’ll see if I can make the time to flesh it out a bit more.

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      • James, there is an inefficiency caused by having two part-time employees when you can have a full-time one, wouldn’t you agree? which is to say that if Walmart and K-Mart are both hiring someone two people for twenty hours a week, I would expect that it would be better for the employee to have only one job in one place. Absent government interference, I’d expect it would actually be better for both Walmart and K-Mart as well. Instead, (as I understand it)employers are rewarded for having the two part-timers and given extra responsibilities when having one first-timer.

        Arguably, anyway, if employers weren’t relying on the part-time crutch, you wouldn’t have “collateral damage” cases where a twice-part-timer cannot align two jobs and works only one. Maybe they’d be unemployed at first, but would be more likely to find a full-time job being better off past the most immediate short term.

        Or maybe not, I don’t know. I do suspect that the part-time incentive we seem to give employers shoulders some of the burden here and that without that (if we found a way to remediate it) a lot of these employees would actually be better off.

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      • Will,

        I’m mostly in agreement, but liberals aren’t talking much about changing the system to change Wal Mart’s incentives (except to the extent they support national health care, perhaps). What they’re arguing for is Wal Mart acting differently under the current set of incentives and the current economy/economic structure. The prospect for low-paid part-time Wal Mart employees to find other minimally decent jobs, by their own arguments about how bad things are these days, is negligible.

        So I want to know their thoughts about those folks in a full-time-Wal-Mart-employment world.

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      • Squee,

        Labor is a cost of production. It is not a privileged cost of production If a producer can lower a cost of production all else equal, it can and should do so.

        The fact that other producers follow suit is also a feature not a bug of markets.

        The point of free markets is to serve the needs of CONSUMERS not producers or privileged components of the production process.

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      • You said I would have to keep trying but I wonder how many times when I see that error message. I guess maybe I will try removing the link to Cornell researc?

        Roger no. No. Very much no. An employer might try to minimize their cost of labor but it should not come at the cost of putting the employees into poverty or into situations where those who pay taxes are ending up subsidizing the employer’s insufficient wages on the back end.

        Wal-mart engages in systematic abuse of people on both the physical and psychological level.

        They have been caught deliberately scheduling workers to prevent anyone from having second jobs, while refusing to allow those workers enough hours to qualify for full-time and thus health and other benefits. I personally know people Wal-Mart has forced to work unpaid “overtime” despite being at less than 20 hours in a week under threat of losing their jobs.

        There needs to be a solution and a stop to this kind of abuse. This is why unrestrained, unregulated capitalism is barbaric and inhuman.

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      • I mean you will have to keep trying until a comment goes through. It usually takes more than one link for a comment to be held up (and even then, it usually goes to the moderation folder). This is more likely related to your IP address(es).

        The fact that your comments aren’t going through, I mean. I have no idea why it’s sending the comment twice.

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      • I’m wondering why the now-laid-off-former-part-time workers don’t matter.

        Well, people keep telling me that laid off workers will find new jobs and to think otherwise is to fall to the lump of labor fallacy :)

        Less pithily, if those workers are also the types of workers who would benefit more from a full-time job than two part-time jobs, they’ll fall into the social safety net until such a time as there are full time jobs available for them to fill.

        That’s what we have the social safety net for, in principle, right?

        I’m unconvinced that “having a job” that doesn’t meet your basic economic needs… is in-and-of-itself a net good.

        If I did think such a thing, I’d probably advocate for breaking up more full time jobs for part-time jobs during times of high unemployment.

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      • J@m3z Aitch,

        I guess if you don’t count support for unions, increased minimum wage, tax cuts and credits for lower brackets, and all the ways progressives push to help low income workers like those at Walmart, I guess they don’t!

        Why you wouldn’t count those rather fundamental aspects of the Democratic platform — hardly the final word on progressives, is beyond me.

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      • @morat– I’m questioning whether minimum wage laws really help, so you can’t use support for them as proof of caring about things that help. That’s pretty basic logic. Also, you simply ignore whether your preferred policies actively reinforce the incentive to use part-time labor.

        @Pat–it’s not the lump of labor fallacy, it’s about whether in the current economy the least productive Wal Mart employees have other good job opportunities. And to the extent we shift some people from half-welfare to no-welfare and others from half-welfare to full-welfare, it’s not obvious how there’s any net win there.

        Frankly, I’m not seeing a meaningful response from anyone here. Full time employment would be better for those who got it, no doubt. But so far the only response I’ve gotten about those who lose their jobs is, “let them go on welfare,” when what liberals are bitching about is Wal Mart workers qualifying for welfare.

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      • Widespread human prosperity depends upon viewing wages (among many things) as expenses which need to be minimized to reduce costs and optimize consumer benefits.

        Economic progress comes from creative destruction of not just minimizing wages and production costs but eliminating them if possible.

        The workers — which is all of us — then do something more productive. Low wages is the market signaling us we are doing something of low value for consumers.

        When you screw with market signals you screw with prosperity. Keep yer mitts off da market signals.

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      • Really Roger, there is absolutely no other way of looking at wages other than what you have said? If we don’t see The Truth as you have written than human prosperity is chasing the Dodo. There is one correct view or we’re boned? Do systems that have holy truths that cannot be questioned or adjusted for reality seem free or can they even adapt?

        Just playing Satan’s Sidekick since we can all handle it.

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      • Conservatives love to fetishize the days of the single-income family that may or may not have existed. The more part-time abuse is allowed, the less likely a family survives on a single income.

        The more families have to rely on multiple part-time jobs by both parents, the less likely families are able to move in order for the primary income earner to find better employment since there is risk involved in the secondary income earner not finding work.

        The trend to make part-time employment the norm also falls into traps where companies like Wal-Mart deliberately keep their employees from managing to get a second job. This keeps the employee downtrodden and unable to fight back against the employer’s worse abuses, such as off-the-clock forced work or forced under the table kickbacks or failures to abide by workplace safety laws. In the worst cases it allows management and shift supervisors to be downright abusive and engage in harassment or discrimination, knowing that the employees are too downtrodden and desperate to keep the job to do anything about it.

        This is the world a Wal-Mart employee lives in. I know people who live it. I have lived it for a time.

        you ask “Frankly, I’m not seeing a meaningful response from anyone here. Full time employment would be better for those who got it, no doubt. But so far the only response I’ve gotten about those who lose their jobs is, “let them go on welfare,” when what liberals are bitching about is Wal Mart workers qualifying for welfare.”

        Here is my answer.

        First off, full time employment at a level able to sustain a family, at least for basic needs, allows for less stress upon the other members of the family. The other spouse can do less and take care of the kids’ needs. The other spouse could also work, but not be as fearful of losing their job and if one or the other of the spouses finds an opportunity to work in another city that necessitates moving the family, the risk of uprooting is lessened because the family is not reliant on the multiple income scenario.

        Second full time employment negates the waste problem of people being in need of two jobs just to make ends meet but unable to reconcile the scheduling. This reduces the overhead problem of people losing jobs and/or being denigrated for failure to keep jobs due to scheduling issues in later job interviews.

        Third full time employment frees the employees to a normalized, regular schedule and allows them to actually enjoy some of the leisure activities that will employ other people, creating more jobs for the other people you are concerned about to apply for.

        So let me sum up the benefits.
        = Less employment stress on the marketplace
        = More mobility for those who are seeking employment
        = More ability for families to have one spouse focus on family matters instead of both spouses fighting just to make ends meet
        = Less problems for people needing to try to juggle multiple jobs
        = Less problems for people trying to interview for new employment and having to account for how they lost jobs due to conflicting part-timer schedules

        The health benefits of “less stress in people’s lives” cannot be underestimated either. Heart disease, sleep deprivation, and the long term effects of being overstressed week in and week out destroy people’s lives and put them at risk of extended hospitalization or worse and most of the people put through this are going to wind up in the ER on taxpayer dime since they have no health insurance.

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      • @Pat–it’s not the lump of labor fallacy, it’s about whether in the current economy the least productive Wal Mart employees have other good job opportunities.

        Um, why do they need other “good” job opportunities? Are we presupposing that the Wal-Mart job is a good one or a bad one, here?

        And to the extent we shift some people from half-welfare to no-welfare and others from half-welfare to full-welfare, it’s not obvious how there’s any net win there.

        I would consider full time employment at supportable wages to be the “win” scenario. Barring the ability to have that, shifting some people from half-welfare to some of them having no-welfare and some of them having all-welfare, including job training and the unencumbered ability to find a no-welfare job, I can see an upside to that.

        Frankly, I’m not seeing a meaningful response from anyone here.

        Well, I didn’t claim that my idea was going to be well-spelled out in the combox.

        Full time employment would be better for those who got it, no doubt.

        Awesome, we agree on that!

        But so far the only response I’ve gotten about those who lose their jobs is, “let them go on welfare,” when what liberals are bitching about is Wal Mart workers qualifying for welfare.

        But… James… okay, explain to me how it is that I’m not having the conversation here where the libertarian who dabbles in economics is the one telling me the lump of labor fallacy. Inverted, granted, but if the total work isn’t fixed, it isn’t fixed.

        Because that’s sure how it looks to me, at the moment.

        If limiting the work day by reducing hours can’t increase unemployment, then limiting the work day in the other direction by increasing hours can’t, either, right?

        Someone in the situation where they are on two part time jobs or a part time job and work assistance is in a constant state of income uncertainty. From experience, this is a shitty way to live.

        If the alternative is looking for a full time job without income uncertainty and taking the dole in the meantime (including basic support and job retraining if necessary), I see that as a win, myself.

        Because your exit scenario is to a sustainable personal economy, as opposed to running on two treadmills that are sitting next to each other on different speeds while juggling nitroglycerin.

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      • I can’t believe anyone here is seriously calling this the lump of labor fallacy. Y’all ought not use words if you don’t know the meaning.

        Liberals are the ones claiming part-time Wal Mart jobs are about the worst out there. So we can assume that those who stick to part-time Wal Mart jobs are those who can’t get anything but the worst jobs out there. If they lose those jobs, well, they’re not going to get something better presumably, or they would already have been shifting to those (and remember, we’re talking about the least productive of the people in the worst jobs out there, because if Wal Mart shifts people to full time, it’s going to be the more productive ones, not the least). They presumably can’t find anything much worse, because they’ve already got the worst jobs. Possibly they can find jobs equally bad, but with a stagnant economy and an unemployment rate that’s not budging much, there’s probably not many of those either, at this time. Sure, over time the economy should recover and create jobs for them to fill (although how fast depends upon many things, including whether we mandate living wages and employer-paid health plans), but I’m talking about what those people do until then.

        It’s about the laid-off-workers’ productivity and the current state of the economy. It’s not about lump of labor at all.

        Or are you claiming Wal Mart doesn’t have a fixed quantity of labor that it needs to have performed, so it could actually shift all part-time workers to full-time, not letting any of them go, and not have a bunch of them standing around diddling themselves? Because that’s not the lump of labor fallacy, either (because that fallacy is about the economy as a whole, not a particular firm or even industry), and we run into the issue of short, medium, and long-term adjustments by firms in response to demand, which is a whole separate issue.

        shifting some people from half-welfare to some of them having no-welfare and some of them having all-welfare, including job training and the unencumbered ability to find a no-welfare job, I can see an upside to that……If the alternative is looking for a full time job without income uncertainty and taking the dole in the meantime (including basic support and job retraining if necessary), I see that as a win, myself.

        Two huge problems here. First, how do they not have an unemcumbered ability to find a no-welfare job now, that they will have when they’re on welfare? Second, if it’s such an upside for them, why are they sticking to their crappy part-time Wal Mart jobs instead of taking that path? Maybe they’re just too stupid to figure it out on their own and need some good caring liberals to tell them what’s best for them?

        Such an upside that they’re all choosing to avoid it like the plague by hanging onto their lousy part-time Wal Mart jobs? Well, it’s good you know better for them than they do. But, wait, what do you mean by “unemcumbered ability to find a no-welfare job”? How do they not have that now? Maybe you actually don’t know better for them than they do. Maybe a lot of those people prefer to work part time so they’re not completely on the dole, so they feel at least partly self-sufficient instead of completely dependent upon others–pride matters, too, and sometimes particularly for those who don’t have much else.

        I’m just absolutely amazed that after all the bashing of Wal Mart for not paying people enough to get all the way off welfare, the only answer I’m getting is, “well, at least some people will be better off, and the ones Wal Mart fires can just go on welfare.” It’s a pity cognitive dissonance doesn’t come with louder warning bells.

        Anyway, I’m off to bed now. I’m not sure if I’d find these arguments any less irritating on a good day, but it’s not a good day and I’d rather quit before I get too unpleasant.

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      • Let me clarify a point before I hit the sack.

        Assume three possible outcomes for the currently-part-time Wal Mart employee.

        1. Be promoted to full time work.
        2. Retain the status quo.
        3. Become unemployed and go full time on welfare.

        I think we can agree most would list #1 as their top outcome. (Some proportion will prefer part-time work for various reasons having to do with family, health, sufficient spousal income, what have you, but most I assume would prefer to work more.)

        Unfortunately for them, they don’t really control that, so that outcome remains out of reach (at least at Wal Mart, but they don’t seem to be finding full-time work elsewhere, either). The question then becomes, which of the other two choices they most prefer. You argue they would prefer 3 to 2. Perhaps some do, and don’t stick around working part time. Perhaps you would. But simply the fact that so many of them stick to the status quo suggests they’ve revealed a preference for 2 over 3.

        You have to get around that brute empirical fact to make your argument.

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      • I can’t believe anyone here is seriously calling this the lump of labor fallacy. Y’all ought not use words if you don’t know the meaning.

        Oh, I know what it means, James. I’ll just quote Wikipedia right here to show that I at least read that much: “In economics, the lump of labour fallacy (or lump of jobs fallacy, fallacy of labour scarcity, or the zero-sum fallacy, from its ties to the zero-sum game) is the contention that the amount of work available to labourers is fixed. It is considered a fallacy by most economists,[1] who hold that the amount of work is not static. Another way to describe the fallacy is that it treats the demand for labour as an exogenous variable, when it is not.”

        The money line in there is, “Another way to describe the fallacy is that it treats the demand for labour as an exogenous variable, when it is not.”

        If an economist is going to make that claim, saying that it then follows that altering the amount of work in a day by reducing the workday will not necessarily lead to an increase in unemployment, then the same exact reasoning follows that increasing the workday will not necessarily lead to an increase in unemployment, because labor either is or is not an exogenous variable, and the assertion is … wait for it… made by most economists is that it is not. I’m on board with that. That cuts both ways.

        Liberals are the ones claiming part-time Wal Mart jobs are about the worst out there.

        Um, really? Let me turn this contention on its head… can you show me someone who says that Wal-Mart jobs aren’t about the worst out there? I think it’s pretty commonly held that Wal-Mart jobs suck? Why do you have to bring “Liberals” into it? Do I need to state again that I’m not one? Maybe we should throw another gun post up so I can comment on that and be cast out by the Liberal Cabal again?

        So we can assume that those who stick to part-time Wal Mart jobs are those who can’t get anything but the worst jobs out there. If they lose those jobs, well, they’re not going to get something better presumably, or they would already have been shifting to those (and remember, we’re talking about the least productive of the people in the worst jobs out there, because if Wal Mart shifts people to full time, it’s going to be the more productive ones, not the least). They presumably can’t find anything much worse, because they’ve already got the worst jobs. Possibly they can find jobs equally bad, but with a stagnant economy and an unemployment rate that’s not budging much, there’s probably not many of those either, at this time.

        Why should we assume any of these things? Here, let me toss some other assumptions your way (not all of which I agree with, mind you, but if we’re throwing out assumptions let’s go for the grab bag)… we could assume that there used to be full-time employment and there isn’t any any more because Wal-Mart moved into town and (using their rent-granted if not rent-seeking behavior) they used their ability to leverage price cuts at a temporary loss to drive everybody else out of business, shuttering those full-time job providers. We could assume that Wal-Mart, given the edict to give full-time employment, given that their competitors would also have to give full-time employment, would keep the vast majority of their workforce and pass costs along to the customers. We could assume lots of other things too.

        Sure, over time the economy should recover and create jobs for them to fill (although how fast depends upon many things, including whether we mandate living wages and employer-paid health plans), but I’m talking about what those people do until then.

        Now you’re sounding like a liberal.

        It’s about the laid-off-workers’ productivity and the current state of the economy. It’s not about lump of labor at all.

        Now you’re really sounding like a liberal.

        Or are you claiming Wal Mart doesn’t have a fixed quantity of labor that it needs to have performed, so it could actually shift all part-time workers to full-time, not letting any of them go, and not have a bunch of them standing around diddling themselves?

        Um, I would say that Wal-Mart does not have a fixed quantity of labor that it needs to have performed, and so would you. Wal-Mart’s labor requirements are a function of how much buying people do at Wal-Mart, right? This is influenced by a number of factors, seasonal ones, general state of the economy, sure… and also how much money people who shop at Wal-Mart have to spend. Which, yanno, would go up if places like Wal-Mart actually paid full-time competitive employment labor prices, right? I mean, not just Wal-Mart, but all of the job providers in that section of the economy?

        Because that’s not the lump of labor fallacy, either (because that fallacy is about the economy as a whole, not a particular firm or even industry), and we run into the issue of short, medium, and long-term adjustments by firms in response to demand, which is a whole separate issue.

        Sure.

        Two huge problems here. First, how do they not have an unemcumbered ability to find a no-welfare job now, that they will have when they’re on welfare?

        Uh, have you tried looking for a job when you have a job vs. when you don’t have a job? The first one is a lot less stressful, but the second is orders of magnitude easier for the simple reason that you don’t have to juggle your job demands with your actual looking for a job activities.

        Second, if it’s such an upside for them, why are they sticking to their crappy part-time Wal Mart jobs instead of taking that path?

        Well, I can think of all sorts of grab-bag reasons why. Maybe their state Welfare construct limits payouts to people who work. Maybe some well-meaning GOP legislators demand workfare instead of welfare? Maybe if they make more money than what they make at their Wal-Mart job they’ll lose their welfare benefits? You know, there’s all sorts of perverse incentives that have been created in the welfare system by well-meaning folks who are just inspired by the Puritan ethic of work. And by people who just want their not to be a welfare system at all, as well.

        Maybe they’re just too stupid to figure it out on their own and need some good caring liberals to tell them what’s best for them?… Well, it’s good you know better for them than they do.

        James, it’s pretty rare that you lose your shit and just start projecting like this to me, so I’ll let this pass, but this is strike two. Knock it off.

        Maybe a lot of those people prefer to work part time so they’re not completely on the dole, so they feel at least partly self-sufficient instead of completely dependent upon others–pride matters, too, and sometimes particularly for those who don’t have much else.

        See, now, if I’m being snarky I’d… oh, never mind. No, I’ll say it anyway. I think the Puritan work ethic is just as much a millstone on public policy discourse as blanket anti-corporatism.

        I don’t give a flying rat fuck how people feel about policy, James (this is one reason why I’d make a terrible liberal).

        Well, no, let me amend that… I care about how they feel only to the extent that it affects the ability to implement policy, which I realize is a very real thing, especially in this country where every policy stance has to have a polar opposite that is picked up by the other side and everybody relies on negative marketing.

        I care about outcomes. If the measurable outcome of disincentivizing part-time work to the extent that it becomes problematic for corporations to rely upon it… is that people get sustainable employment when they are employed and the people who aren’t employed get access to resources that get them sustainable employment, I really don’t give two shits if someone has to go through some self-doubt and self-assessment because they take public assistance.

        And yes, I’m fully aware that this means that we need good safety net construction particularly in down economic times. I’m okay with that.

        If the measurable outcome is that things get worse, then I want to change the policy.

        That’s just me. I realize not everybody is like me, but if you want to go argue with them, do that.

        I’m just absolutely amazed that after all the bashing of Wal Mart for not paying people enough to get all the way off welfare, the only answer I’m getting is, “well, at least some people will be better off, and the ones Wal Mart fires can just go on welfare.” It’s a pity cognitive dissonance doesn’t come with louder warning bells.

        Jesus Christ, dude. Okay, let me spell this out for you in “I’m not giving you the liberal argument” clarity:

        My objection to Wal-Mart isn’t that they’re paying people too little. I think that they are, but that’s not my objection.

        It’s that they’re using the existence of the welfare state and government assistance to pay people less than they otherwise would have to pay them to do the same job. They’re passive rent-seekers, basically. They’re gaming/free-riding on the social support mechanism that was originally implemented to help people who weren’t working (I have another objection, but I can’t talk about that here, although if you want to chat about it some day fire me off an email).

        And my objection to Wal-Mart’s business practices really doesn’t have anything to do with the discussion I’ve been having here, so I’m not even sure why it’s relevant.

        Anyway, I’m off to bed now. I’m not sure if I’d find these arguments any less irritating on a good day, but it’s not a good day and I’d rather quit before I get too unpleasant.

        Too late!

        Assume three possible outcomes for the currently-part-time Wal Mart employee.

        1. Be promoted to full time work.
        2. Retain the status quo.
        3. Become unemployed and go full time on welfare.

        Okay, no problem.

        I think we can agree most would list #1 as their top outcome. (Some proportion will prefer part-time work for various reasons having to do with family, health, sufficient spousal income, what have you, but most I assume would prefer to work more.)

        Awesome, we agree on that too!

        Unfortunately for them, they don’t really control that, so that outcome remains out of reach (at least at Wal Mart, but they don’t seem to be finding full-time work elsewhere, either).

        Sure.

        The question then becomes, which of the other two choices they most prefer.

        Wait, what? Um, no.

        You argue they would prefer 3 to 2.

        No, I would argue that they would prefer the surety that most of them would get (1) if only some of them get (3). Well, sure, some of the crappier members of the workforce would vote for (2), because the status quo is they get to keep their job until some other pressure convinces their boss to let them go, but given the fact that most people over-value their own contributions, I’m guessing that still plenty of terrible Wal-Mart workers would go with it. Assuming of course that (3) in their locale hasn’t been totally engineered to suck, which is a huge assumption, granted.

        But simply the fact that so many of them stick to the status quo suggests they’ve revealed a preference for 2 over 3.

        I think you put far, far too much faith in the fact of their current employment status reveals some preference for the conditions under which they work, which discounts so many contributory factors to their decisionmaking that might be economic and tied to our system of welfare or simply loss aversion or any one of a number of other factors. I mean, c’mon, James, people worked in the early 20th century under conditions that we’d all agree now were horrible, and when they had the option not to do so, they all took it, right? Not by quitting their jobs, but… this is how we got unions in the first place? And then labor laws?

        You have to get around that brute empirical fact to make your argument.

        I don’t find that fact particularly brutal.

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      • Patrick, one quibble:

        Uh, have you tried looking for a job when you have a job vs. when you don’t have a job? The first one is a lot less stressful, but the second is orders of magnitude easier for the simple reason that you don’t have to juggle your job demands with your actual looking for a job activities.

        After age, the strongest predictor of the time it takes to get a new job, and the quality of the job you get, is having a job. Specifically, having a job makes it a lot easier to get a job. It might be a pain to look while you’re working, but employers like to hire the employed. I know in Texas, employers have been reluctant to hire people on unemployment, to the point that, during the downturn, the state began subsidizing employers who hired low-wage workers who were on unemployment. That is, the state was paying employers to hire them.

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      • “After age, the strongest predictor of the time it takes to get a new job, and the quality of the job you get, is having a job.”

        There’s way too much discarding of circumstance going on in that sentence. I know a hell of a lot of people who still get up every morning and go to work in risk management, and I’m pretty sure if I were to look for work tomorrow I’d be more hirable than the vast majority of them.

        I know if I were to to put all of my own hires over the years in columns, I’d have more being hired from a non-emloyed situation than from a working for someone else situation. And given the choice between someone who had worked somewhere for five years and had not worked for the past three months or someone who was employed but whose resume showed them with a new employer every 18 months that it wouldn’t be the one coming straight from home I’d be raising my eyebrow at.

        I think the whole “am I working now or not” job seeking question is one of those things that people looking for work think is a life or death issue to struggle with, but in most cases (but not all) it’s pretty far off a potential employers radar.

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      • Well, I know for a fact that in the tech industry, if you’re working for a tech company they care first for your referral and second for your demonstrated history, and not at all about whether or not you are currently working unless you’ve been out of the game long enough that your skills might atrophy, and even then the referral and the demonstrated history probably trump that all to hell.

        Working in the tech industry for a non-tech company is different, but I don’t see tech interviewers caring much about where you work now.

        But that’s the one industry with which I’m reasonably familiar enough to make an assessment.

        In education (the second one industry), they don’t seem to care much either, all of the major driving factors in education have very little to do with how long you’ve been working and everything to do with other things, depending upon what job you’re taking.

        But I haven’t worked for a blue collar job in forever and the last time I went cold with no documented work experience into a blue collar job application I was fifteen.

        Still, it’s food for thought. There’s a lot of potential confounding factors involved in Chris’s contention, but that doesn’t mean I can discount it out of hand.

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      • & ,

        Actually, as long as we’re on the subject (and because I don’t know that it deserves a separate post), let me expand…

        The phenomena your describing, Chris, is a commonly believed fallacy — but it is a fallacy.

        Consider:

        Acme Widgets Conglomerate has a sales force with 100 employees. Among those 100 EEs,

        * 5 were just laid off for indirect economic reasons, and 3 were just fired for poor performance. All 8 of these employees go looking for another job the next day.

        * 15 employees were hired at an entry level sales job, but they have been there for a while and aren’t moving up the ladder as quickly as they’d like. But they don’t feel like they can afford to quit, so they begin to look for work elsewhere while they are working for Acme.

        * 10 employees are longer term salespeople who want to be managers, but recognize that the person everyone is assuming will likely get a management job is not them. So they begin to put out feelers — but like the young salesmen, they do not feel comfortable leaving until they know they have another job.

        * 10 people just hate their jobs and they hate working for Acme, so they are sending resumes to anyone and everyone.

        *Four of the top sales people are currently being pursued by competitors.

        Over the next three months, all of the laid off people fine jobs, and two of the three terminated employees find jobs as well. Five of the fifteen entry level people have gotten jobs elsewhere, as have two of those middle rung people looking for management jobs. Six of the ten that hate working at Acme have found something, and one of the four top producers was given a package large enough to convince them to start over with another company.

        If you’re looking at who does better as a percentage, the people not working at Acme have done far better. But because of the way HR departments tally hires (and employment coaches read the data) the people working at Acme when they are hired look like they are twice as likely to be hired than people who have all day to network and job hunt.

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      • There’s a point at which a comment is too long, and contains too much incoherence to be effectively countered. There’s a reason why misinformation can be too hard to counter. And I think your last post hit that point. You still mistakenly believe I’m talking about the lump of labor fallacy when I’m talking about short and middle run economic effects, which have to do with how businesses adjust their inputs to respond to changes in demand. If you can’t distinguish those concepts, then you need to stand down.

        You don’t seem to grasp that I am doing an internal critique, working from the liberals’s own economic complaints and concerns about Wal Mart. If you don’t get that, then you’re missing my point.

        But you’ve done a good job of demonstrating the incoherence of the liberal position about part-time work, I think. Here it is in a nutshell.

        1. At any given time, Wal Mart has a fixed amount of labor it needs to have accomplished. (This is not lump of labor fallacy, it is the economic short run, in which a firm’s demand for a particular labor input is relatively fixed–if you call this the lump of labor fallacy you are failing Econ 101.)

        2. Wal Mart can either spread that labor out among
        2a: a set of workers, x, with each working part-time, or
        2b: a set of workers xn.

        3. In the case of 2a, the set of workers em all are receiving partly private income and partly public support (at least in the short run).

        4. In the case of 2b, the set of workers xn are receiving all private income and the set of workers n are receiving all public support (at least in the short run).

        (Beyond the short run, Wal Mart’s choice has no effect on the availability of other jobs in the economy, which will either be available for anyone in set of workers x to pursue or will not, so that can be set aside from the analysis.)

        Is one of these outcomes obviously better or worse than the other, from either a social perspective or the “collective” perspective of workers? That (many, not all) liberals complain about 2a and not about 2b indicates that they think 2a must obviously be worse. But nobody–and not you, Patrick–has made a coherent argument in support of that. Put another way, none of the liberals here has made a coherent argument about why putting some people out of work so others can have more work is a net social win, or a net win for current Wal Mart workers as a group.

        Note that I’m not arguing that 2a is necessarily better. I’m just arguing against simplistic assumptions and feel-good beliefs that aren’t thought through.

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      • Re: Unemployment effect on job search.

        Here’s a report on a nice study that finds mixed results. A negative effect up through 6 months of unemployment, then the effect levels off, and less effect in cities that were hard hit by the recession (presumably since being unemployed in those cases was less likely to be an indicator of quality).

        The researchers used sets of identical resumes with different lengths of unemployment indicated and counted the number of responses, the same methods used to study gender/ethnic bias in hiring.

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      • Ah, I was misremembering the data (sorry, it’s been 3 or 4 years since I looked at this stuff, when I did some work with an economic consulting firm working for the DOL). James has the effect right. The strongest predictor, in the data I worked with, after age was employment in the two quarters prior, with the next strongest being employment only in the previous quarter. And it looks like there’s a bunch of data on the length of unemployment effect. But I had the actual effect wrong. This is why I’m not an economist.

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      • I’m questioning whether minimum wage laws really help, so you can’t use support for them as proof of caring about things that help. That’s pretty basic logic. Also, you simply ignore whether your preferred policies actively reinforce the incentive to use part-time labor.

        Um, yes I can. I was pointing out examples of programs and policies by liberals designed to alleviate the problem to object to your statement of “but liberals aren’t talking much about changing the system to change Wal Mart’s incentive”

        Of course they are! Their support for an increased minimum wage is one such example. It doesn’t matter if you disagree on it’s efficacy. The issue at hand was whether liberals were trying to “change the system” not whether “liberals were doing things YOU think will change the system”.

        The part of your claim I objected to was your statement that liberals “weren’t doing much”. They’re doing a great deal. You simply happen to think it won’t help (or is counterproductive or is wrong), but that doesn’t change the fact that THEY are pushing policies THEY believe will be effective.

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      • Morat,

        Fine, whatever. For pete’ss sake, I explicitly mentioned an item I thought of because I didn’t want to come off as thinking liberals aren’t saying anything, but are you charitable to give at least a little credit? Not a fucking chance apparently. And meanwhile you piddle around the edges, quibbling with whether I listed every policy liberals support, instead of dealing with the actual substantive challenge to your ideas that I put out there.

        Color me unimpressed at the liberal response to the challenge. I’m frankly disappointed, because you liberals here are, for the most part, bright folks.

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      • You do realize everyone can read your original post, the one I replied to? Wherein you said:

        , but liberals aren’t talking much about changing the system to change Wal Mart’s incentives (except to the extent they support national health care, perhaps). What they’re arguing for is Wal Mart acting differently under the current set of incentives and the current economy/economic structure.

        That is factually incorrect. Blatantly, factually incorrect. I have no idea wherein you thought you gave liberals “some credit” and that my objection was that you didn’t list “every program”.

        Which is obvious BS. Half the Democratic Party’s platform boils down to such proposed changes to the system.

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      • Sigh, you’re right, Morat. My mis-spoken sideline point is exactly what everyone should be focusing on, and not my main point that liberals–in the absence of any larger economic/social policy changes that would change Wal Mart’s incentives–think Wal Mart should act differently anyway.

        Because poorly developed tangents are always the most important issue…or perhaps just the most convenient ones when the real issue is stumping you.

        Fine, you’re right, actually. Although I do think emphasizing liberal support for national health care, as I did, should count for something, at least (did you overlook that), overall I spoke poorly and inaccurately, and underplayed the amount of structural policy changes liberals favor.

        Now, can we get back to the issue I was really addressing?

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      • This conversation got off-track because I am relatively certain that “the system” James is referring to here is specifically in reference to the regulatory system that incentivizes the hiring of part-time employees over full time employees. That was what I wrote about, and what he was responding to. While Morat was looking at “the system” more broadly.

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      • “Really Roger, there is absolutely no other way of looking at wages other than what you have said? If we don’t see The Truth as you have written than human prosperity is chasing the Dodo. There is one correct view or we’re boned? Do systems that have holy truths that cannot be questioned or adjusted for reality seem free or can they even adapt?”

        I sense the outrage, but note you fail to back it up with an argument. Yes, I can explain how economic progress works, and the short version is not “let’s arbitrarily just raise wages.”

        Economic progress comes about via humans cooperatively solving each other’s problems better, faster, cheaper and more efficiently. It comes about by solving more problems better.

        It does not come about by doing so more expensively even when the expense goes to workers. Economics makes no sense when it is about the workers, investors or producers. It is about the consumers.

        I await your argument, Greg.

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      • Will,

        That may be. “System” is a regrettably vague word, and I doubt I was thinking very precisely about its contours when I used it, so it naturally lent itself to an interpretation different than the one I had not-too-concretely in mind.

        But it’s not the differing interpretation that has irked me.

        And to be fair to Morat and others, I’m particularly irkable the last couple days (for reasons having nothing to do with OT, and I should probably just step away for a couple days so I don’t take it out on folks here), so most of the blame for my irksomeness rests on me.

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      • This conversation got off-track because I am relatively certain that “the system” James is referring to here is specifically in reference to the regulatory system that incentivizes the hiring of part-time employees over full time employees. That was what I wrote about, and what he was responding to. While Morat was looking at “the system” more broadly.

        Ah, that changes the context for me. Thank you.

        I see where James is coming from, although I tend to think that Democratic push for unionization is probably a pretty big counter-point to the current system than he thinks. (Albeit most likely a doomed one. Despite the fact that I can see no other mechanism but unions — or very detailed regulation and enforcement — to counteract an employer’s advantages at the bargaining table, I do not see unionization coming back in the US).

        It might be doomed and futile push back, but it’s push-back. :)

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      • There’s a point at which a comment is too long, and contains too much incoherence to be effectively countered.

        This is your third strike. James, I’m not going to play your new Blaise. If you’re going to engage with me, please do so thoroughly and without dismissive language. I’m a reasonably smart guy, okay? If you think something is incoherent, there are four possibilities:

        One, I’m an idiot (can we agree that there is sufficient evidence in our previous interplay to suggest this isn’t the case?)

        Two: I’m having an embolism (I think we can discard this one)

        Three: I’m communicating with some assumptions you don’t understand (which is on me, sure, but then the right thing to do is ask for clarification, not be a jerk?)

        Four: I’m missing something important (which is totally possible, but then investigation might be in order, which will be made more difficult if you’re going to be a jerk?)

        If I’m going to the trouble of writing a long comment, at the very least, you could respond to the more important parts of the long comment, instead of writing your own long comment that barely addresses those important parts? If you don’t recognize the important parts, maybe I’m communicating badly (and that’s on me), but if you don’t recognize an important part, maybe that’s an indicator that something’s missing from the conversation?

        And when you respond to a long comment with a long comment that clearly misunderstood something, (note, I said specifically “No, I would argue that they would prefer the surety that most of them would get (1) if only some of them get (3)”, a possibility that you hadn’t included in your response, so clearly something was missing, right?) try getting a the heart of the lack of communication that’s clearly going on, instead of being a jerk?

        You still mistakenly believe I’m talking about the lump of labor fallacy when I’m talking about short and middle run economic effects

        I am going to step aside for a moment and offer an observation:

        I understand your position. Fully. On board. Okay? I think I made that quite clear, right here:

        * If the measurable outcome of disincentivizing part-time work
        * to the extent that it becomes problematic for corporations
        * to rely upon it… is that people get sustainable employment
        * when they are employed and the people who aren’t employed
        * get access to resources that get them sustainable employment

        See, I’m totally aware that in the short term, we might cost someone some part time work.

        You don’t seem to grasp that I am doing an internal critique, working from the liberals’s own economic complaints and concerns about Wal Mart. If you don’t get that, then you’re missing my point.

        James, should I point to the 9,345,321 times on the blog where you have said – and rightly so – that you’re tired of liberals telling libertarians what they believe, and that you wish people would just engage you, standing right there?

        If you want to offer a critique of an argument, I would say the best thing to do is write a guest post that lays out the argument and then critiques it. Because you’re critiquing an argument that hasn’t been explicitly made, which has led us down into the weeds.

        If you want to have a discussion with me, here in the combox, then let’s do that.

        If you want to offer a critique of an argument that I’m not making and then get all huffy with me when I start talking to you, then we’re probably wasting our time.

        (I will, however, cop to some culpability here since the tangent that we’re on is partially due to me offering an oblique critique of the lump of labor fallacy argument, as an argument.)

        But I’ll respond in good faith, one more time:

        1. At any given time, Wal Mart has a fixed amount of labor it needs to have accomplished.

        This is misleading (retail work isn’t like that) and overly restricts the conversation, but okay let’s go with it for a minute. And yes, I’m totally 100% aware that this isn’t the lump of labor fallacy. In fact, let’s stop talking about that altogether.

        2. Wal Mart can either spread that labor out among
        2a: a set of workers, x, with each working part-time, or
        2b: a set of workers x-n.

        Yep, sure, I think we all knew that already.

        3. In the case of 2a, the set of workers em all are receiving partly private income and partly public support (at least in the short run).

        Yes, see, that’s the point I made when I talked about exactly this, right here:

        * It’s that they’re using the existence of the welfare
        * state and government assistance to pay people less
        * than they otherwise would have to pay them to do the
        * same job. They’re passive rent-seekers, basically.
        * They’re gaming/free-riding on the social support
        * mechanism that was originally implemented to help
        * people who weren’t working

        4. In the case of 2b, the set of workers x-n are receiving all private income and the set of workers n are receiving all public support (at least in the short run).

        Yep! Great, we’re doing fine so far, you’re telling me stuff I know.

        Beyond the short run, Wal Mart’s choice has no effect on the availability of other jobs in the economy, which will either be available for anyone in set of workers x to pursue or will not, so that can be set aside from the analysis.

        Um, hold on. This is a big part to set aside, dude. I see the disconnect.

        I’m pretty sure “the liberal argument” here would be something along the lines of:

        Yes, we’re aware that Wal-Mart cannot just simply adopt business practices that put it at a disadvantage relative to its competitors and thus it will go out of business. We’re neoliberals now, not howling college communists, we get basic business economics. We recognize this is a collective action problem, that’s why we’re proposing government intervention, to correct our earlier government intervention.

        See, when we implemented the social safety net, the original idea was to have it help people who didn’t have jobs while they find a new job. That has changed (particularly with changes from our friends across the aisle, who believe in a Puritan work ethic and can’t stand the idea of people not working, parenthetical included because I’m playing a liberal here and I can’t pass up the opportunity to swipe at the GOP) so that now the system supports not only people who don’t work, but people who work in unsustainable jobs.

        But, see, this has had the unfortunate consequence of alleviating the pressure on the companies that offer unsustainable jobs… they would likely not be able to find someone to do the job at that wage if there wasn’t government assistance covering the difference. An unintended consequence, regrettable. We’ve learned a lesson.

        Well, in fact, there’s more than a little evidence that many companies – Wal-Mart included – have actively worked both to change the welfare system so that it is more advantageous to their business model, offloading more of their costs onto the public dime, so perhaps “unintended” isn’t quite accurate. But I digress (again, liberal, can’t help the dig at corporate America).

        In any event, we’re not talking about just “bitching about Wal-Mart”. That’s what those howling college communists do. We’re talking about a recognized effect of a government intervention. Just to get this out of the way, we believe that getting rid of the welfare state is something we find unacceptable, because the welfare state is there for a reason, which even crazy ol’ libertarian Roger recognizes (still in liberal voice, here, Roger, I don’t think you’re crazy myself – ed note).

        So the alternative is to legally bind the decisions available to companies like Wal-Mart such that they cannot take advantage of the government safety net to subsidize their labor costs.

        Because, that’s basically rent-seeking, right? Something the libertarians don’t like? You should be on board with our objection, even if maybe you don’t like our proposed solution?

        One possibility would be to limit the number of part-time jobs companies like Wal-Mart can offer, something you yourself mention here. We can get into the details once we first agree that there’s something to be done, here. Yes, we’re aware that there will be consequences. Again, we can get into the details of the consequences once we agree there is a problem.

        Do we agree that there’s a problem here? (ed note: this would be one of those questions that is an important one to answer, if you choose to respond to this comment)

        Is one of these outcomes obviously better or worse than the other, from either a social perspective or the “collective” perspective of workers?

        I happen to think so.

        That (many, not all) liberals complain about 2a and not about 2b indicates that they think 2a must obviously be worse. But nobody–and not you, Patrick–has made a coherent argument in support of that.

        James, a “coherent” argument would require… what?

        Because I’m confessing, right now, dear sir, that you’ve jumped into a conversation with a critique about an argument that you don’t find compelling (largely based upon a hole you think you’ve found in “the liberal argument” that most reasonably intelligent liberals actually recognize is a hole, thus making it not so gobsmakingly stupid) possibly because you hold different normative assumptions, and you’re being quite dismissive of what other people are saying, probably because you don’t really grok their normative assumptions – or really, as demonstrated, even get what they’re pissed about… and now you’re saying that this is on them.

        Sounds to me like a classic two-way communications problem.

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      • Third strike, eh? Well, then I guess I’m out and don’t need to respond. ;)

        Seriously, off-blog stuff is stressing me so that I will not be able to respond with the respect you deserve, so I’m going to beg off. I’m not claiming victory, I’m ceding the field.

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      • Patrick,

        I haven’t been around here for a while, so maybe this has already been discussed, but is there any evidence for this theory:

        But, see, this has had the unfortunate consequence of alleviating the pressure on the companies that offer unsustainable jobs… they would likely not be able to find someone to do the job at that wage if there wasn’t government assistance covering the difference.

        Offhand it doesn’t seem self-evident — it suggests the availability of a higher-paying job for that someone in the absence of subsidies, but where would that job come from, and if it’s an option, then why wouldn’t that someone still take the higher-paying job even with subsidies? If the subsidies are allowing that person to take the Walmart job over the other one, then there must be some benefit to the Walmart job that the person is receiving.

        I could see it actually working the other way around — without subsidies, a person would be more desperate to take whatever he/she can get, but with subsidies, he/she could be more selective.

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  2. “That Walmart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers — to me, it is a moral outrage,” Norma Mills, a Canton resident, told the Plain Dealer.

    Luke 21:4

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  3. No worries. Sooner or later these “what to do about companies that pay low wages?” conversations won’t be happening anymore because most of our retail interactions will be automated. The all of the folks feeling moral outrage can relax, because a good portion of these workers will be unemployed and no longer being exploited by the evil corporations.

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    • If I (or another liberal) had said this, we’d immediately be accused of believing in the “lump of work” fallacy. But as long as we’re slamming workers instead of defending them, apparently it’s not a problem.

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      • Nothing I’ve said relies on the lump of labor fallacy.

        Labor force participation rates are falling. An aging population is partly responsible for those falling rates, but the other part is due to very real structural changes in our economy. Having lots of machines displace low-wage workers will create new jobs for people who build, operate and maintain those machines. The good news is that some of those displaced workers will be the ones working on the machines. The bad news is that the lowest of the low-skilled workers won’t be among that group.

        By the way, I am a liberal. I’m just not a progressive. And I’m not sure why you would accuse me of slamming workers. If I told you it was going to rain, would you accuse me of trying to get you wet?

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    • Yes, and within a few decades the people who pay for all that “social service” plus the folks who just got their medicaide and SS cut are going to start bitching hard. Then there’s going to be some “excitment”.

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  4. But really, other than obviously having a better PR machine behind them, what’s the difference between stories like the one linked and something like this . Or what this organization does on an ongoing basis, which is the one of two organizations (the other being CFC) allowed to hit up every single active duty and reserve service member for money every year in the workplace.

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    • I’m not even sure this is a PR issue. This was meant to be an in-house drive… employees helping employees. It was setup in an employee-only section of the store. While perhaps not confidential, it was probably not intended to be “public”.

      We have had various faculty/staff members deal with unique hardships. In their time of need, others have rallied by preparing meals. The hardships weren’t financial, but the reduced burden of worrying about who was putting dinner on the table was no less valuable. When prolonged hardships arose (a cancer diagnosis; a miscarriage), admin set up a system to organize these efforts, so that all days would be covered without doubling up. This seemed like a GOOD thing.

      I’m confused as to why what seems like very much the same thing is seen so differently.

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      • It has to do with the scale and persistence of the problem.
        At my work, people aren’t being regularly paid enough to
        not need a food kitchen.
        And then, we’re asking their coworkers to pay into the food bank!

        It’s rubbing salt on the wounds.

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      • I will say there’s the devil in the details which I really don’t trust any partisan press source to suss out, unless prompted. (and ‘mainstream’ sources, like the Plain Dealer, are a combo of too lazy, too resource constrained, and too wedded to a daily cycle to handle nuance’)

        Specifically, while this came to light as the result of one employee finding it ‘depressing’ and ‘demoralizing’, but what was the culture of that particular store around these donations? Were they implemented by senior management? Junior management? 1st line supervisors? Senior employees? Were they genuinely voluntary, or wink-wink not required? (like, for instance, the recent case in a different industry of junior employees paying for a Vegas vacation?)

        Because all that makes a big difference in the ethics of this particular bruhaha. Or one can just reflexively bash Walmart.

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  5. “”The company needs to stand up and give them their 40 hours and a living wage, so they don’t have to worry about whether they can afford Thanksgiving.””

    This makes me tempted to ask if Thanksgiving is a “right”.

    But then Jaybird will pop in and ask if Thanksgiving is a right for everyone or just for Americans.

    And then I will have to tell him that IF it is a right, it would probably be limited to Americans.

    And then he will ask me why I won’t extend Thanksgiving rights to everyone.

    And then I will give a piss poor history lesson on how Thanksgiving came to me.

    And the whole time everyone else will be thinking about Thanksgiving food and hating whichever person it was who recently said he hated stuffing/dressing.

    Which, in a way, would bring us all together.

    Fine:

    “”The company needs to stand up and give them their 40 hours and a living wage, so they don’t have to worry about whether they can afford Thanksgiving.””

    Is Thanksgiving a right?

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  6. Regardless of whether or not employer’s have an obligation to pay a living wage, its horrible optics to announce that we pay our employees so little that we need to organize a food drive for them for the Holidays. Especially, if your a store that prides itself on providing goods at low prices.

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    • Translation. It is bad PR to announce you are helping people when a significant portion of the population is so economically naive and politically brainwashed that they will blame the employer for the situation.

      I agree. Know your audience.

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      • “Translation. It is bad PR to announce you are helping people when a significant portion of the population is so economically naive and politically brainwashed that they will blame the employer for the situation. I agree. Know your audience.”

        Roger, with all respect, it is never good PR to have it reported that your employees need corporate food-drive programs to put food on the table for Thanksgiving or any other meal.

        It doesn’t really matter how that story is written, or who the audience is, or what political stipe you happen to wear.

        Some things are just inherently terrible, terrible PR. Your own employees needing a food drive for food is one of them.

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      • That changes nothing for me. Asking your employees to chip in to help out other employees you pay poorly. It is one thing to help out a fellow employee in a crisis, which i am all for. If Walmart wanted to really help out i think i might be able to figure out where they have a lot of good food they could give to their workers. Seriously a food drive is a good thing, but it is asking other people to help out. Walmart could give their employees food, they wouldn’t have to ask other employees to help out.

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      • To be precise Rog, a food drive, while a nice thing, isn’t doing something yourself, its asking other people to do it. It’s asking other people to help out. Walmart has lots’o’food stuffs they could just give to their workers if they wanted to directly help out. What they did was ask other people to do most of the helping out. Heck they could have given each worker boxes of Twinkies and Ding Dongs for Tgiving. What would have been better then that? They lose more in breakage and theft then they would if they just gave each worker food.

        BTW, you really are sounding like the actions of corporations should never be questioned or critisized.

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      • Roger,
        You appear to have no sense of humor or mockery.
        So let’s try this on for size:
        “Hai guyz! You payz your workers so little, you ought to run a food drive.
        But, but but, — get this! You don’t pay for the food, you get your OTHER
        employeez to pay for it. And you staff it with volunteerz!”

        … you’d actually do this? I’m sorry, you’re about as hard of hearing as Walmart.

        In other news, did you actually get a potsmoking elmo to work your twitter feed?

        (Rule number one of hiring PR consultants: understand sarcasm. do not implement sarcasm).

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      • I have to say, your line of argument here is surprisingly similar to the arguments this site’s liberals make regarding corporations all about time: that corporations should somehow do things against their financial interests because of love and goodness and so forth.

        As it turns out, there are actually possibilities other than either asking some of your employers to pay for other employees’ food, or having some of your employees go without food. One obvious one might be to pay the ones that can’t afford food more money, but there are still others.

        For example, if that store’s employees needed a few hundred benjamins to be able to make a Thanksgiving dinner, how about Walmart donating some food rather than asking it’s employees to do so? Especially considering the PR troubles Walmart has with this particular issue anyway.

        In fact, I’ll bet you anything that if Walmart execs could go back in time and donate $500 worth of write-offable food in exchange for not having to deal with this bad PR, they would do it in a heartbeat.

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      • Wall-Mart isn’t helping people. They are asking Wall-Mart employees to help other Wall-Mart employees. The problem is that everybody is probably receiving about the same wage, so if nearly everybody working receives too little money to pay for Thanksgiving dinner than how could Wall-Mart employees “help” each other?

        Roger, it sometimes seems that your generally principle is not only is life hard but it should be purposefully designed to be a harsh as possible for the maximum number of people because that sort of self-reliance is good for you. That sort of self-reliance isn’t really good for anybody, it just increases bitterness, frustration, and resentment.

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      • I don’t, no. Mainly because when you are proactive rather than reactive with corporate PR you can largely control the narrative.

        Look, some people are going to say anything Walmart ever does — no matter how benign — is Evil, and some people are always going to say that no matter how badly Walmart has stepped in it — regardless of how embarrassingly — that f–k-up is a symbol of Walmart’s patriotic goodness. I have no idea why Walmart has become such a perennial political symbol in a way, say, Sam’s Club or K-Mart have not. But it has.

        So it’s up to Walmart to know how its actions are going to be perceived by the vast majority in the middle. “WALMART PAYS FOR THANKSGIVING DINNERS FOR EMPLOYEES FACING HARD TIMES” simply plays differently to that majority than does “SOME WALMART EMPLOYEES CAN’T AFFORD FOOD, WALMART ASKS OTHER EMPLOYEES TO GIVE THEM THEIRS.”

        Is it fair? Maybe, maybe not — but ultimately it doesn’t really matter. The way good and bad PR effects corporations is part of the real world, and the real world is where Walmart either succeeds for its investors or doesn’t.

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    • Tod, I think this is mistaking the liberal’s argument. No liberal on this site has ever argued that corporations should be made to act against their own financial interest out of love and goodness. Most of us are too cynical about corporate good will to ever believe that they will do this. What we argue is that corporations should be made by force of law to act against their own financial interest for the greater good of society.

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      • I agree Lee although i’d phrase it differently. Of course corporations are going to act in their own best interests, that is obvious. So it should also be obvious that is there are things that a society needs ( laws, regs, services) assuming businesses acting in their own best interests will just naturally provide them is silly. They won’t regulate themselves to protect common goods or in the public interest , they won’t provide services unless it makes them money which means some services ( like those aimed at poor people, homeless, mentally ill, indigent, etc) will never, or almost never, be provided.

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  7. “… it sometimes seems that your generally principle is not only is life hard but it should be purposefully designed to be a harsh as possible for the maximum number of people because that sort of self-reliance is good for you. That sort of self-reliance isn’t really good for anybody, it just increases bitterness, frustration, and resentment.”

    Lee, Would you care to elaborate on your logic?

    Mine is that the living-wage argument being placed as a burden on employers is counterproductive to the well being of millions of low skilled workers. It makes those that say it feel good about themselves at the expense of those they pretend to help. It is pathological altruism.

    Mine is also that an employee starting a help -your-coworker drive is not a force of evil. Tin eared perhaps, but no harm done.

    How does that translate into what you accuse me of above? Help me out here…

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    • Mine is that the living-wage argument being placed as a burden on employers is counterproductive to the well being of millions of low skilled workers.

      Coincidentally, Scott Sumner had this recently:

      Regarding the minimum wage, here is some data for Western Europe:

      There are nine countries with a minimum wage (Belgium, Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Luxembourg). Their unemployment rates range from 5.9% in Luxembourg to 27.6% in Greece. The median country is France with 11.1% unemployment.

      There are nine countries with no minimum wage (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland.) Five of the nine have a lower unemployment rate than Luxembourg, the best of the other group. The median country is Iceland, with a 5.5% unemployment rate. The biggest country in Europe is Germany. No minimum wage and 5.2% unemployment.
      … Germany used to have really high unemployment. Then they did labor reforms to allow more low wage jobs, combined with subsidies for low wage workers. Now they don’t have high unemployment.

      Hence the question I asked above, which, paraphrased is, is it better to have fewer people working but makong more, or more people working but making less? Why?

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      • Correlation is not causation and there are a million (hyperbole) other things that cause Greece and Spain to have staggering unemployment rates. Minimum wage laws is probably the least of their concern in terms of long-term unemployment or the causes of long-term unemployment.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/16/world/europe/youth-unemployement-in-europe.html

        The youth unemployment rates through out Europe are very bad.

        There are too many variables to your question. How many people are we talking about? How much more and how much less?

        Are we talking about a situation where certain industries have bubbles and the people in those bubbles do well while everyone else stagnates?

        I think my answer is that it is better for more people to be working but making less but the solution is not a race to the bottom with gutting minimum wage laws and social safety net requirements. Or as was said of Paul Ryan’s desire to cut food stamps in wonderful PR:

        “Paul wants people to dream again,” Holloway said of Ryan. “You don’t dream when you’ve got food stamps.”

        That Holloway would be Bishop Shirley Holloway. I’m disgusted by this kind of thinking. They won’t be dreaming because they will be dead! Or living in abject terror.

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      • ND,

        That you can say with a straight face that getting rid of minimum wage laws is a race to the bottom demonstrates that you are making just as strong a conclusion about that data as you chastise me for.

        As the kids would say, epic fail.

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      • Of course, there’s also the small fact that in most of the countries mentioned with no minimum wage, especially the Nordic ones, there is strong unionization and collective bargaining that establishes a de facto minimum wage for most industries.

        So, yeah, give me the unionization rates of those Nordic countries and I’ll happily give up the minimum wage, James.

        A

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      • I agree. But we’re being told higher wages will be good for workers. Is that definitely true?

        If the price of goods typically consumed by the workers affected by the wage increase doesn’t rise correspondingly, then I’d be hard-pressed to imagine how it was false.

        If the price of goods typically consumed by the workers affected by the wage increase rises disproportionately, then I’d be hard-pressed to imagine how it was true.

        I suspect that these two markers of success/failure, when measured in the real world, don’t support a universal policy of abandoning wage support or enforcing it universally, either.

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      • Pat,

        Come on, you’re really missing the point. Are higher wages necessarily “better for workers” if it means some of those workers lose their jobs?

        I swear guys, you’re making Roger’s point about the well-being of low-skilled workers brilliantly. But I don’t have the energy to continue arguing a point y’all are going to continue dodging around. Maybe I’ll call Al Gore and he and I can chat about inconvenient truths.

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      • – If you’re talking reasonable things, pass card check, beef up the NLRB, and actually have politicians not afraid of saying unions are good. On the probably not going to happen front, a return to newspapers with a ‘Labor’ and ‘Business’ section and a repeal of Taft-Hartley. On the insane I’m a dictator front, votes on unionization in every business with more than 10 non-family employees. :)

        – I don’t know. Do you think honestly think day-to-day life is better for the chronically unemployed in Nordic countries, Germany, and France or in the United States where those people might be employed, but in crappy part-time jobs with no chance for advancement? A job isn’t automatically a good thing.

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      • The relationship between minimum wage and unemployment is complex, but the actual research shows that the correlation James cites is definitely not indicative of causation. Minimum wage laws affect unemployment in small increments, and over short periods. Roger and I have had this conversation like a dozen times, though, so I don’t feel the need to rehash it.

        Also, I’ve pointed out to Roger before that I’d happily exchange minimum wage for Northern European unionization rates and employment laws. I guarantee you American companies would rather have minimum wage laws, though.

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      • Oh, and why we have lower unionization rates? Culture (everybody’s an embarassed millionaire), regional politics (ie. Strikebreakers in North Carolina and members of the AFL-CIO being in the same party), post-WWII politics (Unions going hardcore anti-Comminist and as a result, rooting out their more strident leaders) and of course, race. The usual in American politics.

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      • James,

        That depends on whether there is a 1:1 ratio. Does having a 80 $10/hr minimum wage mean 20 fewer jobs than having an $8 minimum wage? It’s unlikely that it would be exactly that. It could be even less jobs if it pushes the needle towards automation, putting 40 of those people out of work. It could mean closer to 100 because the jobs are necessary and prices go up, profits take a hit, or it spurs an effort to lower costs elsewhere (“We’ll use these kinds of cups instead of those kinds of cups, which we don’t want to do because they don’t conserve temperature as well, but maybe the customer will make due…”).

        This isn’t a defense of raising the minimum wage (I’m pretty ambivalent) and on the whole I actually agree with your main point that more jobs at lower wages are preferable to me than fewer jobs at higher wages, but with a fair number of caveats (including ratios most specifically).

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      • Re: Unionization rates

        That is a very, very difficult questions. It is part cultural, part legal, and part of an on-going way against unions that has existed since the passage of Taft-Hartley and with various forces in the far right that is also cultural. Books have been written about this.

        Unionization has existed in the United States since the early days of the Industrial Revolution. The women who worked in the early mills tried to unionize without much success.

        Unionization also happened more frequently among non-Anglo workforce and was always seem as a bit of foreign menace. The strongest Unions formed in the Northeast and West among German, Italian, Irish, Jewish, and Scandanavian communities. Anglo communities in the South and West always had much lower rates of unions.

        During the 20th century, the unions learned to become a natural part of the Democratic party thanks to the rise of the Northern liberal wing and pro-union legislation in the New Deal. WWII and heavy Government monitoring taught the Unions and Big Corporations to play nice with each other somewhat and the biggest American companies learned to accept union dealers as equal members.

        However, there was also a small-bunch of second tier industrialists and factory owners that hated unions and refused to deal with them at any time. Kohler (maker of bathroom appliances) was one. These people supported Bob Taft over Dewey and Eisenhower and eventually gave rise to Barry Goldwater.

        Check out:

        There is Power in a Union by Philip Dray

        and

        Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of American Consensus by Rick Perlstein if you want further reading.

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      • and

        Thanks. I’m not particularly well-informed on labor and related topics, so I didn’t know how much had to do with laws and legislation and how much had to do with culture. The former is certainly something we can (theoretically) do something about; the latter not so much.

        It never made sense to me when supposed free-market types* are anti-union, enough so as to suggest legislating against them. It always seemed to me that unions were a somewhat naturally occurring phenomenon in the market place. Now, unions and their advocates can be similarly anti-free-market at times, so neither side can really lay claim to the mantle. I should also note I’m not a free-market absolutist, but generally tend to favor giving individuals (which includes both employees and employers) more power and ideally cajoling a decent balance between the two.

        * This is not true of all free-market advocates; some are quite sincere. But many are really pro-business or pro-corporate masquerading as such.

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      • – To put a cynical point on it, everybody loves the free market, until it begins to cost them money. The only “true believers” in a real free market, and this isn’t slamming those people, exist on the Internet and in academic journals. Everybody else tries to gain an advantage in whatever way they can, whether it’s passing laws, lobbying, or whatever else they can do.

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      • Personally, I’d reject the question as a false choice. First of all, it appears to endorse the ‘lump of labor’ fallacy that there’s only so much work to go around. Second, it appears to ignore that the labor market (and, for that matter, the market for capital) are deeply woven into our societal structure. The very word choice of “market” for labor is, at some level, indicative of how effectively a very specific idea of capitalism controls how we think about the role of labor in this country.

        (If there is actually a “market” for labor, then the suppliers of jobs have so radically failed to meet demand that in any other market we’d be talking about persistent market failure and the need for substantial government intervention to address the failure.)

        So how about: It’s better to have labor capturing more of the profits and capital less. It’s better for the richest country that has ever existed (and, given the likely impact of global warming, the richest country that will ever exist far into the future) to have a more equitable distribution of both wealth and income. It’s better to have trade deals that create an equitable playing field as regards both labor and the environment (the loss of comparative advantage would be far outweighed by the gains made by the poorest Americans in economic power). Since the largest private employer is incapable of conducting itself with the tiniest amount of dignity, it’s better to have a much larger, powerful and activist regulatory structure that comes down hard on the pattern of abuses shown by that employer. It’s better to have an anti-trust policy that includes the wielding of political power in its considerations.

        but a higher minimum wage would be a start.

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      • , what you say might be true but there is still a very important difference between low wage jobs in Europe and low wage jobs in the United States. Nearly every nation in Europe, including Switzerland, has a much stronger social safety that more than partly offsets the down-sides of a low wage job. A low wage job earner in Sweden will have access to universal healthcare, guaranteed time off with pay, social housing of decent quality, and more. We simply do not have that in the United States.

        So I agree with you partly, all things being equal, it is better to have more people working but making less but only if the short comings are matched by a comprehensive and well-funded welfare state. In the absence of a welfare state, you need to make sure that people have the highest wages possible in order to make ends meet.

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      • there is still a very important difference between low wage jobs in Europe and low wage jobs in the United States. Nearly every nation in Europe, including Switzerland, has a much stronger social safety that more than partly offsets the down-sides of a low wage job.

        So just like Wal Mart, all those European firms are using the public purse to subsidize their low wages? I don’t know that you were one of them, but I seem to remember a bunch of liberals here talking about how wicked that was, and now it turns out that’s actually what they want after all?

        Man, I just can’t keep up.

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      • Fnord–succinct, but the most serious answer I’ve gotten.

        Francis–not lump of labor fallacy, as I’ve already explained, but thanks for not paying attention because it makes the game so much more satisfying.

        Will–I fully agree, but I’m amused at how few of our liberal friends are willing to deal sincerely with the question of the effects on the lowest skilled workers. I haven’t seen this much dodging, diving, dipping, ducking and dodging in a long time. (Yeah, that’s inflammatory; suck it, libs; I like most of you anyway.)

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      • , essentially yes. Its not something I’m thrilled about but the difference between Wall-Mart and its European counterpart is that the European counterpart or American corporations doing business in European countries do not lobby to dismantle the welfare state or support politicians that call for it. At least the accept the existence of the welfare state.

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      • Germany … did labor reforms to allow more low wage jobs, combined with subsidies for low wage workers. Now they don’t have high unemployment.

        I imagine most liberals would happily take this deal, depending on how the subsidies are funded. But the deal isn’t remotely available here because of the power of the right. So minimum wage laws it is.

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      • “Let’s say Wal Mart shifted to a model of full time employment, using part time labor obly minimally to fill in around the edges of the busiest hours. This means it needs fewer total employees.”

        As to whether this is good, bad or indifferent, the answer is that it depends on the needs of the labor pool at the time.

        In times of low unemployment, insisting that everyone works at least 30 hours a week is likely being unnecessarily cruel. Lots of people in a healthy economy want part-time work: students, primary caregivers, artists, the elderly. But if you’re trying to churn your workforce (possibly to keep unionization at bay, or prevent demands for raises), then demanding lots of hours may be a good corporate strategy. People who might otherwise work for you for extended periods of time quit, and are replaced by the next cog.

        (Don’t worry about unemployment getting too low; you’re Walmart. The first hint of inflation in the air — as shown in demands for higher wages — and the Fed will raise interest rates.)

        In times of high unemployment, WalMart has essentially endless opportunities to screw its workforce — low hours, ever-changing schedules, “voluntary” overtime, etc. As a corporate strategy, it’s hard to argue with success. As a way to allow large numbers of people to live with a shred of dignity, not so much. If I were King, I’d encourage WalMart to fill its slots with full-time employment first, along with a mandate to pay a living wage, then provide the part-timers with a guaranteed income in lieu of EITC, Medicaid, SNAP and whatever other programs that are currently out there.

        Even though I’m not, I still think that the culture of “the dignity of work” is so strong in this country that I strongly prefer employers being pushed hard to offer full-time work to everyone who wants it.

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      • If I were King, I’d encourage WalMart to fill its slots with full-time employment first, along with a mandate to pay a living wage, then provide the part-timers with a guaranteed income in lieu of EITC, Medicaid, SNAP and whatever other programs that are currently out there.

        I’m on board with the guaranteed basic income. The living wage, however, that is a different story. For one thing, how would you derive it? Labor raised the costs of goods for which labor is a significant input. You’re essentially raising nominal wages but either not changing or decreasing real wages. How would you avoid that?

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      • It never made sense to me when supposed free-market types* are anti-union, enough so as to suggest legislating against them.

        Largely to offset the privileges that unions are given under current law. For example, management can’t fire workers for unionizing. Forget your preconceptions for a minute and think about just how insane that is: Workers can’t be fired for conspiring against their employers.

        I don’t like unions any more than I like any other cartels, but I wouldn’t object to those which could successfully operate under a truly neutral legal environment.

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      • Telling someone you will give them a “job” and then using abusive behavior to keep them trapped in substandard wages and conditions is inhuman.

        Your argument reminds me of the historical arguments by slaveowners to why slaves in the South “had it good” under the slave system.

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      • You need to understand I’ve lived on welfare. I am insulted when people claim welfare is something we want or something we would ever be content with. I am insulted when someone claims we lived high on the hog or somehow had a bounty when we were desperate every month trying to make ends meet and desperately trying to keep our health insurance going so that my daughter’s medical needs could be met. I am tremendously insulted when people like Roger claim that anyone being offered poverty level wages and trapped into a situation of having to choose between poverty level wages and total dependence on welfare is being done a favor. Those who have not lived it can not ever understand it.

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  8. OK I am trying this again because when I hit “Post Comment” this time I saw some very strange page with a type-the-word sign in thing and then my comment did not appear.

    Conservatives love to fetishize the days of the single-income family that may or may not have existed. The more part-time abuse is allowed, the less likely a family survives on a single income. But they don’t see why requiring businesses to pay a real wage that would allow families to survive and stay together or else they really don’t care about families they just like to talk about it.

    The more families have to rely on multiple part-time jobs by both parents, the less likely families are able to move in order for the primary income earner to find better employment since there is risk involved in the secondary income earner not finding work. The more families have to rely on multiple part-time jobs by both spouses the more stress in their lives and much more likelihood of the family splitting apart as well.

    The trend to make part-time employment the norm also falls into traps where companies like Wal-Mart deliberately keep their employees from managing to get a second job. This keeps the employee downtrodden and unable to fight back against the employer’s worse abuses, such as off-the-clock forced work or forced under the table kickbacks or failures to abide by workplace safety laws. In the worst cases it allows management and shift supervisors to be downright abusive and engage in harassment or discrimination, knowing that the employees are too downtrodden and desperate to keep the job to do anything about it.

    This is the world a Wal-Mart employee lives in. I know people who live it. I have lived it for a time.

    you ask “Frankly, I’m not seeing a meaningful response from anyone here. Full time employment would be better for those who got it, no doubt. But so far the only response I’ve gotten about those who lose their jobs is, “let them go on welfare,” when what liberals are bitching about is Wal Mart workers qualifying for welfare.”

    Here is my answer.

    First off, full time employment at a level able to sustain a family, at least for basic needs, allows for less stress upon the other members of the family. The other spouse can do less and take care of the kids’ needs. The other spouse could also work, but not be as fearful of losing their job and if one or the other of the spouses finds an opportunity to work in another city that necessitates moving the family, the risk of uprooting is lessened because the family is not reliant on the multiple income scenario.

    Second full time employment negates the waste problem of people being in need of two jobs just to make ends meet but unable to reconcile the scheduling. This reduces the overhead problem of people losing jobs and/or being denigrated for failure to keep jobs due to scheduling issues in later job interviews.

    Third full time employment frees the employees to a normalized, regular schedule and allows them to actually enjoy some of the leisure activities that will employ other people, creating more jobs for the other people you are concerned about to apply for.

    So let me sum up the benefits.
    = Less employment stress on the marketplace
    = More mobility for those who are seeking employment
    = More ability for families to have one spouse focus on family matters instead of both spouses fighting just to make ends meet
    = Less problems for people needing to try to juggle multiple jobs
    = Less problems for people trying to interview for new employment and having to account for how they lost jobs due to conflicting part-timer schedules
    = Workers who are put into abusive situations by the employer actually have more potential to fight back against it than they would in the current abuse laden model

    The health benefits of “less stress in people’s lives” cannot be underestimated either. Heart disease, sleep deprivation, and the long term effects of being overstressed week in and week out destroy people’s lives and put them at risk of extended hospitalization or worse and most of the people put through this are going to wind up in the ER on taxpayer dime since they have no health insurance.

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  9. All of a sudden everything I wrote said it was awaiting moderation and then when I refreshed the page it vanished? And then I see some cloudflare sign in page thing?

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  10. Did anyone happen to read the article beneath the headline? Those in need are employees who have experienced a disaster in their lives. For example, house fire,death in the family, one spouse becoming unemployed, or any other major financial disruption. We used to do this all the time at work, we would donate our vacation pay to a fellow employee who had a disaster, they could then take more time off with pay or cash it out. My fellow employees were all making at least $13 an hour in an area where you can comfortably be the primary bread winner and live comfortably on that salary. Did that mean that our employee was underpaying us, we should have been making enough to be able to not need the kindness of others during a personal disaster?

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  11. There are completely valid comparisons between sharecropping, debt-slavery schemes perpetrated on coal miners and industrial workers, and the methods by which Wal-Mart keeps its employees under thumb and unable to complain about their working conditions and fearful of loss of even the meager employment they have.

    Wal-Mart’s system is perilously close to other forms of slavery in all but name. You might “work” there but you are prevented from the opportunities to leave, prevented from the opportunities to try to balance a second job even as you are denied hours enough to make a dent in basic necessities like shelter and food, and prevented from seeking alteration of abusive situations that their management employs all too often for fear of losing the meager hours you have. They have taken it to a fine art, and the internal documents leaked from within their headquarters have shown that the Waltons know precisely what they are doing to their “employees” and feel there is no problem treating human beings in such an inhumane manner. They would rather hire two people for 15 hours a week, with scattered 2-3 hour shifts on random days with no week-to-week regular schedule and forced to re-apply for the same position every 180 days than hire someone full-time and on a set schedule at reasonable pay.

    Roger’s assertion that giving someone a “job” is always doing them a favor is deplorable. This is trickery, deceit, and enslavement. The only way out is the risk of having no employment at all, the choice people have to make is between working at the world’s worst employer and putting up with the physical abuses, the forced under-the-table overtime, the randomly altered shifts to prevent their seeking a second job. OR sleeping on the streets.

    This is not doing anyone a “favor.” This is maliciously preying on the vulnerable.

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      • As you said to do I will keep trying until this comment shows up.

        You obviously never worked in a Walmart. I worked in one for 2 and a half years after my husband was laid off until he was able to find work as an electrician again and we were able to move. I had to put my college on hold because of it and am just now getting back to classes to get a degree so I can be a schoolteacher which is the job I have always wanted.

        Let me open your eyes to what actually goes on in Walmart at the hands of the thugs and abusers they call their management. I have witnessed all of these things.

        I have seen a woman in tears being shouted at by a manager who was telling her that her choice was either to reschedule her father’s funeral or miss it because he wasn’t going to reschedule her shift so she could be there.

        I have seen a woman fired from work for going to pick up her child from school after being called to say that the boy had been in a fight, hit with a rock and looked like he required stitches.

        I have seen a 70 year old vietnam veteran who normally uses a wheelchair told that he was assigned to be a greeter and that he would have to either do the entire shift duty on crutches to be at eye level or else be fired.

        I have been in the store when managers locked all the doors and told everyone, no matter what time their shift ended, that they would not be let out until door unlock in the morning. Walmart claims we were never in danger because they didn’t lock the fire doors but we were all told on the floor meeting that if we set off the fire alarm to leave we would be fired. Most of us ended up trying to sleep on wooden pallets in the back and those who had morning shifts got written up for not having clean uniforms the next day even though they did not let us go home overnight.

        I was personally told that I would have to either miss one of my exams or else be fired if I didn’t show up for an assigned shift that the management wouldn’t reschedule. I had to beg and plead and cry in the Dean’s office before they would make the professor give me an exception to take the exam at a different time. It was completely humiliating.

        All the time we had to try to make ends meet between unemployment checks that barely covered the COBRA payments so that our daughter would still have health insurance, the maybe 15-18 hours I could get from Walmart, and food stamps. My parents are retired and we had to give up our apartment and move in with them to their small house for a year and a half once our savings were exhausted.

        I know so many people who have gone through similar things to what I have experienced and what I have seen. The level of abusiveness of Walmart managers can’t be overstated. They deliberately hire the worst of the worst and promote them into positions of power because they believe management is about breaking people’s spirits and degrading them until they feel they can’t fight back.

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    • you are prevented from the opportunities to leave

      You may only work 15 hoursa week, but the rest of the time you’re locked up in the Sam Walton Memorial Barracks! Try to quit and Wal Mart will sue you for breach of contract instead of hiring one of the 7.5% of unemployed Americans. And they share a blacklist with other employers to prevent leavers from ever working again!

      “This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” (Horace Walpole)

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      • I don’t know who peed in your cheerios today or yesterday but you should try treating people with respect. You obviously have never lived in need and do not know what you are talking about. Stop trying to insult people and read what we have to say. Do some thinking if you’re capable of it and then respond after.

        Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

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  12. A lot (or “a non-trivial amount,” to put it in my obfuscatory prose style) has been said on this thread about “teh liberals” supporting a living wage law or hating on Walmart. And that doesn’t really apply to me. But then, I’m perhaps not the standard issue liberal, and on those issues, perhaps my views make me a non-liberal so I don’t have the privilege of claiming to speak as a liberal when it comes to them. My liberalism is probably reducible to my preference for a strong welfare state where aid is more like a right than like an allowance for the “deserving” poor (not that I don’t recognize there are real problems with my preference, but that I believe the costs are worth it).

    I probably oppose living wage ordinances and I’m ambivalent (but lean in favor of) minimum wage laws. I tend to think it’s better to have more jobs at lower wages than fewer jobs at higher wages, although I’m not sure how far I’d carry that bias (as Will Truman points out above, the correlation between higher minimum wage and unemployment might not necessarily be 1:1). If there were a real Walmart near me (and not the “just like Walgreens” Walmarts that are starting to pop up in Chicago’s downtown area), I would probably shop there.

    But I’d still have problems with Walmart’s treatment of its employees, and frankly, the low wages and part-time status isn’t really among my complaints. I’m much more concerned about the allegations of systematic discrimination and de facto requirements to work off the clock. If those allegations are true (and I don’t know how well supported they are), then even libertarians should be concerned because such practices (again, presuming they’re systematic and not the figment of anti-Walmart hysteria) go against the basic presumption of workers’ self-ownership and fairness. And yes, I know “fairness shouldn’t be a requirement for public policy” (except, apparently, when it comes to the fairness of outlawing or curtailing coercion) but my point isn’t that libertarians would agree with liberals on any given policy solution to remedy these practices (if true) by Walmart, but only that they’d probably share my objection.

    To Tod’s actual OP, I’ll say, I’ve finally read the article (after reading the comments here), and I think there’s a lot to both of the major sides this discussion has taken. The effort by this specific Ohio Walmart seems to me admirable, at least if we take the article at face value and have no more additional evidence (which I don’t). And in general, maybe it is a good thing to help out employees in this way. At the same time, even an admirable effort can be bad PR (and as Tod points out, there might have been a better way, from a PR perspective, for Walmart to help its employees, say, by donating provisions for a Thanksgiving dinner).

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      • I am one of the Walton brothers. Roger Walton. And I can assure you all that we love our employees and treat them with respect and dignity.

        Why, just last month some of our employees got together and did a fund raiser for fellow workers. We are like a big family.

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      • If you are Roger Walton my husband wants to punch you in your abusive face and I want to do far worse. You are horrible and abusive and one of the worst people to ever walk the earth. You obviously don’t care about your employees and I have experienced what you really think of us first hand.

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      • @j@m3z-aitch

        You obviously did not read my comments. I’ll try again. Please read my whole comment.

        I was trapped in the cycle many Wal-mart workers become trapped in for two and a half years. My husband is an electrician. He was laid off due to a plant closure. We have a young daughter and all of his unemployment funds had to go to paying for COBRA because of her health issues so that she could continue to be covered. This meant one of us had to find work, any work. The only thing I could find, because I have still not yet finished college having taken time off for her birth and having only been back for two semesters before he was laid off, was work in Wal-mart because Wal-Mart destroyed almost all the other local retail jobs in our area. I had a two month period where I was taking classes and working at the same time because my semester was already paid in full.

        I had to beg and plead with the Dean of Students to get the professor to give me an alternate exam time in one of the classes, because the Walmart management wouldn’t allow me a rescheduled shift to go to my exam. You probably have no idea how humiliating that alone was.

        I tried a number of times to get a second part-time job after putting my education on hold. My husband watched our daughter during the day and when he was out for job interviews, my parents would watch her. Even so it was only a year before we had to move directly in with my parents because our savings had gone to paying for our apartment in hopes that he could find a job and we’d be back on our feet and I could go back to school. Do you know how humiliating it is to be married, have a daughter, and have to try to explain to a 4-year-old why we are moving in with the grandparents? I bet you don’t. I’m willing to bet that the kind of luxury you live in means you haven’t had to make a tough choice in your entire lifetime.

        Most times I applied for a second job, I was told that I couldn’t be hired because I worked at Walmart. They couldn’t afford to hire full-time people and compete with Walmart’s wages and they couldn’t take the risk of Walmart rescheduling people and making someone miss a shift. One time I did manage to get a second job, working the drive through window at McDonald’s. That lasted 3 weeks before the Wal-Mart managers changed the schedule, made a conflict and refused to work with me to accommodate. When I told McDonald’s about it they just let me go because I was new and they didn’t want to bother with people who had outside commitments.

        Twice, Walmart managers found out that I had job interviews scheduled and deliberately changed my shift 2 days beforehand to make me miss the interviews.

        How did I get out? My husband found a job. He found it through a friend of ours who worked in a city 3 hours away, he drove there to get the interview and finally got employed again. We have now moved to that city away from my parents, which breaks my heart but is necessary to keep our family together so my daughter can see her daddy each day and I am going back to school finally to get my degree so I can be a schoolteacher.

        Now read all that and think about how often you’ve insulted me and people like me, you unreasonable person. Read my listings of the other things I’ve seen Wal-mart managers do above too that you obviously did not read before you insulted me. Then give me a response that isn’t yet another insult.

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  13. And just how many of these workers would like to work full time, but only receive part-time employment due to corporate policy? (Hint: I’ve had friends promised full-time employment, but never given it at Wal-Mart.)

    WalMart is one of the most profitable companies in the world; so there is a point where one has to wonder if it’s employment practices, where many workers (including full-time workers) qualify for public assistance, rises to the level of corporate subsidy. And that’s not even getting into issues of wages and working conditions in developing nations.

    I wish someone would develop a WalMart misery index; and help us understand just what the costs of its cheap goods means for others. Because inability of employees to afford to feed their families here in the US seems just the tip of the darkness at the heart of this monstrosity.

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    • If they are so bad why does anyone work there?

      Get a job somewhere else or become self employed.

      Oh that is right, progressives made it so low skilled workers can’t get job via licensure requirements, regulations against small business and self employment and mandatory benefits for FT workers.

      After taking a dump on the employment market I find it pretty rich progressives want to shift blame to Walmart. Bad form.

      And yes I know it was not JUST progressives who took a dump on employment markets.

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      • Because there’s nowhere else to go and sometimes you have to take horrible employment over nothing to make sure your daughter has something to eat.

        Get a job somewhere else? Walmart came in and destroyed so many of the other businesses in the area. Most of them were locally owned and now there’s this giant company paying people far less than they used to make at their own business.

        I want to know where you think you live and where you get off insulting people who live in the real world trying to keep their families together and make ends meet you horrible person.

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      • If there is nowhere to go, then they did you a huge solid by hiring you, didn’t they? And the fact that there is no where to go is not the responsibility of the better problem solver for consumers (aka Wal-Mart), it is the fault of progressive policies guaranteed to lead to unemployment. Systemic unemployment is a problem caused by interference with supply and demand. If you care about your daughter learn about economics and quit voting for people that interfere with it.

        As to Walmart destroying jobs, I must repeat that is the foundation of economic progress. Anyone who fails to realize this doesn’t get how economic progress occurs. And if you do not get how progress occurs, your advice is probably total garbage. You might as well be advising us to sacrifice virgins, as giving us your economic voodoo.

        As to the issue of ensuring your daughter has food, how does that translate into Walmart’s problem as opposed to Tod or Patrick’s problem? I would empathize with someone whose daughter really needs food, but Walmarts role in society is to bring cheap quality goods to humanity and thus lower the price of feeding your daughter. Their role is not to pay humanity a living wage. If you think this is your their role, please read up on this new fangled moral philosopher and writer named Adam Smith.

        Ensuring members of our tribe have enough to live on is not the responsibility of employers, and if you try to pretend it is you effectively discourage the act of employment. Cause and effect.

        Ignorance has costs. In your case it is leading to your ignorance in voting for politicians which create systemic unemployment. They then sell you a line of BS that the problem is the company which is actually contributing to progress. The problem is you! Think about that next time you look in your daughters eyes.

        Progressives need to wake up and drop this idiocy before they totally destroy this country for both themselves and their kids (blaming Walmart as they do so).

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      • I know i made a snarky comment yesterday regarding this kind of polemic. So i’ll make another. It’s so nice of you to come down from on high to dispense the Orthodoxy, the One and Complete Truth. I envy you having such a hard science, econ, to give you all the answers regarding human progress. I’m an astronomy nerd. Astronomy is mostly applied physics, chemistry and math. Boy i wish i liked a real science like econ instead of that soft squishy physics and chemistry crap. Now econ there is a hard as steel science with indisputable laws. I should be embarrassed for ever questioning The Truth, The Word.

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      • No, you detestable creature, no. They did not do me “a huge solid” by the hiring. They took advantage of someone in a horribly vulnerable state, made promises they did not keep of a certain number of hours, of promotion possibilities, of a friendly and supportive workplace and, once I was in the door, they proceeded to be abusive and interfere with every attempt I made to find secondary employment or to balance the life of a wife, mother, student, and worker.

        You say you are a Walton. Obviously being born with a silver spoon up your ass and never working a day of labor in your life means that you don’t understand what you’re talking about. The way you talk to others here makes you a detestable creature and the true ignorant fool in this discussion. The way you have treated your workers, including myself, means that if I ever meet you in person my husband will likely be holding me back from doing you bodily violence. Or else he might help me with it instead. I’m not sure which way he would decide to go.

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      • Actually I had one of my personal secretaries (Janet, the redhead) pull your personnel files. I note you neglected to mention the incident that occurred between you and that co-worker with the slurpee machine. And yes, we archived the video.

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      • You don’t even know who I am. And of all the filthy disgusting insinuations and insults you have left that is crossing a line.

        Either this site has a commenting policy or it doesn’t. I can’t believe they let you get away with doing things like that, you detestable vermin.

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      • Squeekole, I recommend taking a step back. I know how frustrating Roger can be, but you’ve ceased to hold any high ground whatsoever, now that you’ve called him “detestable vermin” and said things like, “Neither you nor Walmart has done even a single good thing for this world,” despite admitting that you and he do not know each other. I can see that you’re passionate about this, and that your personal experience makes it more than just a theoretical issue, but you’ve clearly begun crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

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      • you are right that I am angry. I think Roger was deliberately trying to provoke me and his comment about me, a coworker and a slurpee machine when I am a married and faithful woman is completely beyond any reason. He also admits to being a Walton and has said untruthful things about how they treat their employees.

        He also said “The problem is you! Think about that next time you look in your daughters eyes. ”

        What I see when I look into my daughter’s eyes is the sweetest little girl in the world. A girl who’s had very little but always wants to give me, her father, or her grandparents a hug just because she does. She is a ray of sunshine in a dark world and I am going to be damned if I let vermin like Roger ever treat her the way I have suffered being treated to give her life, food, a roof, and opportunities to grow and become the best person she can be.

        The problem is not me. The problem is detestable people like Roger who think it is right to use people, abuse people, mistreat people, and act without remorse or compassion or conscience. If I crossed a line he took a running jump over it first.

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      • As I said to your other comment, all you are doing is expressing outrage at my comments. You are not giving a rebuttal.

        I am laying my views out there in such a way that anyone else can either point out how I am wrong, or provide a better explanation. I am actually taunting you guys to do so.

        I have explained what constitutes economic progress. It involves solving more problems better for less for consumers. Tear this apart. Show me how it is wrong or at least incomplete.

        I am also suggesting (taunting?) that the view that paying employees higher wages is the antithesis of economic progress. Absent improved productivity, paying more for an input is a step backward.

        Again, show me I am wrong. It is an epic fail though to suggest I am wrong because of my overconfidence. This is a pseudo argument.

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      • I’m not outraged at you at all. I think you are passionate and eloquent with a good ability to express your views. I just find you to be an ideologue which seems to really limit a discussion. I can learn things from reading you, and i often think libertarians have good insights. Which you do. I don’t think our conversations go anywhere since you speak in ,well, Randish Speeches like all the theories you believe are, ummm…actually The Truth.

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    • More seriously (well, IKEA *is* an infernal hellscape, seriously…but that’s beside the point), this:

      And just how many of these workers would like to work full time, but only receive part-time employment due to corporate policy? (Hint: I’ve had friends promised full-time employment, but never given it at Wal-Mart.)

      And I would like to receive a pony, but due to corporate policy, have so far been rebuffed.

      Now, if people were promised things that were not delivered, that sucks. Truly. I don’t mean to minimize that.

      But my wife is a small business owner. She has people asking her for raises, or more hours, all the time. Where she can, she grants those requests; but not always, nor to the degree the employees might wish; and there have been times when she has had to renege on a verbal “promise” (maybe she said she might be able to get someone a dollar/hr raise, but after running the numbers or other material circumstances change, finds that proposed raise either needs to be delayed or reduced to .75, so that the business can make payroll this month).

      See, if she didn’t manage the overall profitability of the business…there’d be no business. And her employees would have to find work elsewhere. Running a business is hard.

      Wal-Mart is much, much, larger, sure. And I have no doubt Wal-Mart Management have done things that are sucky, or even downright unethical or illegal.

      But at some level they are playing the same “margins and profitability” game my wife does, every day, and if they did not do so and do so well, all those people might be out of work.

      Doesn’t mean every decision they make is right, or can’t be questioned. Same with my wife.

      But to paint a company as Weyland-Yutani or something sounds like overstating the case, and makes people tune out.

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      • What your wife does is one thing. What Wal-Mart does is something else. They are not doing what your wife does, trying to make payroll each month or something. They are deliberately abusing employees and making it hard for employees to make ends meet, counting on the employees to be too demoralized and broken to fight back when there are real illegal abuses taking place. Meanwhile the executives see pay increases of more than 25% every year on average while the workers see nothing and get cut hours even further.

        Did you even look at my comments of what I personally saw working Wal-Mart trying to keep my kid fed while my husband was trying to get employed?

        I will copy it for you here.

        Let me open your eyes to what actually goes on in Walmart at the hands of the thugs and abusers they call their management. I have witnessed all of these things.

        I have seen a woman in tears being shouted at by a manager who was telling her that her choice was either to reschedule her father’s funeral or miss it because he wasn’t going to reschedule her shift so she could be there.

        I have seen a woman fired from work for going to pick up her child from school after being called to say that the boy had been in a fight, hit with a rock and looked like he required stitches.

        I have seen a 70 year old vietnam veteran who normally uses a wheelchair told that he was assigned to be a greeter and that he would have to either do the entire shift duty on crutches to be at eye level or else be fired.

        I have been in the store when managers locked all the doors and told everyone, no matter what time their shift ended, that they would not be let out until door unlock in the morning. Walmart claims we were never in danger because they didn’t lock the fire doors but we were all told on the floor meeting that if we set off the fire alarm to leave we would be fired. Most of us ended up trying to sleep on wooden pallets in the back and those who had morning shifts got written up for not having clean uniforms the next day even though they did not let us go home overnight.

        I was personally told that I would have to either miss one of my exams or else be fired if I didn’t show up for an assigned shift that the management wouldn’t reschedule. I had to beg and plead and cry in the Dean’s office before they would make the professor give me an exception to take the exam at a different time. It was completely humiliating.

        All the time we had to try to make ends meet between unemployment checks that barely covered the COBRA payments so that our daughter would still have health insurance, the maybe 15-18 hours I could get from Walmart, and food stamps. My parents are retired and we had to give up our apartment and move in with them to their small house for a year and a half once our savings were exhausted.

        I know so many people who have gone through similar things to what I have experienced and what I have seen. The level of abusiveness of Walmart managers can’t be overstated. They deliberately hire the worst of the worst and promote them into positions of power because they believe management is about breaking people’s spirits and degrading them until they feel they can’t fight back.

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      • But at some level they are playing the same “margins and profitability” game my wife does, every day, and if they did not do so and do so well, all those people might be out of work.

        Isn’t talking about the capital side of the equation banned here? I need to check the commenting policy for that one. ;)

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    • Progressives and libertarians both agree that in a perfect world Walmart would have no employees.

      The progressive would do so by killing the beast. Regulating it out of existence or regulating it into a public service entity.

      The libertarian would hope it happens on its own as Walmart efficiently figures out how to deliver great products at awesome prices with zero labor cost.

      I do not care if they have full time or part time employees, as long as they can do more good, more efficiently, with less labor cost each year. That would make me smile. And it is because I love humanity, not because I hate workers.

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      • So i’ll ask a serious question Roger…zero labor cost??? How exactly does the world work if people …what i don’t know…aren’t paid for work, can’t get jobs??? i ‘m not even sure what you aiming at.

        Maybe i missed it up thread, so i apologize if you have explained this already. This entire thread is full of stupid strawmen and bad arguments by people on all sides.

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      • Thank God CEO pay doesn’t count as labor. :)

        Although I do look forward to the day the board members get their job outsourced. I’m pretty sure there’s some really smart folks in China or India that can make short-sighted decisions for a fraction of the cost of today’s American board members.

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      • How exactly does the world work if people …what i don’t know…aren’t paid for work, can’t get jobs??? i ‘m not even sure what you aiming at.

        Greg,

        Heaven is when we can get everything we want without having to work for it. (conversely, hell is when we work non-stop and can’t get anything we want.) I think that’s the hypothetical Roger’s sort of riffing off.

        I think you’re assuming a world where we can’t work and can’t get anything we want. It’s not quite as bad as hell, perhaps, but obviously not desirable. But it’s not what Roger’s thinking.

        (If anyone’s following the 2×2 logic here, that leaves as our final category a world where we work all the time and can get everything we want–which is perhaps the weirdest category of all.)

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      • That’s possible. I have no idea what Roger is aiming at with “zero labor cost” at least in terms of any real sort of world. Rog tends to speak in polemics and comes off to me as a complete ideologue but he can usually explain himself pretty well.

        I actually think your last category…lots of work + we get everything we want might actually be closer to heaven then the do nothing/get everything box. People, well almost all, seem to need a sense of purpose and meaning which work or work like tasks fills.

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      • Labor is one of Walmart’s costs. If they can eliminate it, all else equal, then we can get millions of things cheaper. YAY!

        The labor that currently works at Walmart can then do something else where they add more value. The net result is more produced.

        Three hundred years ago, eighty percent plus of the worldwide population was working a farm. Now advanced nations do it with two percent of their population. Fifty years ago, most of us worked producing stuff. Now we produce many multiples of this amount of stuff, with a small fraction of the workforce.

        Economic progress requires creative destruction. The market is signaling that these producers can be better used elsewhere.

        That was my point.

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      • Greg,

        You miss my point entirely then. I am not talking about a post scarcity world. I am talking about today and what makes today different than the past and what makes the future better than the present.

        This is the central theme in our kerfuffle through this thread. Progressives see economic goodness in getting companies to pay higher wages and employ more people. It is a cargo cult mentality.

        Economists know that hiring people and paying them a lot is easy breezy. Just set up a global make work project and pay them really, really well to dig holes all morning and fill them all afternoon. Unfortunately it adds no value to humanity. Your workers will have thousands of dollars and nothing worthwhile to buy, because nothing worthwhile was ever produced.

        Economic progress requires filling actual needs people actually want fulfilled and doing so as inexpensively as possible. Walmart plays a role in this. They deliver lots of good products cheaply — substantially cheaper than the businesses they replaced. Walmart is one of the premier economic advances of the past generation. It has done more good for humanity than a million mother Theresa’s.

        Low prices allow us to live less expensively and to spend our money elsewhere. And spending our money elsewhere creates new jobs even as Walmart eliminates the old.

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      • Roger- Short response: In your years of working did you try to earn more money and/or get raises? Why? If yes, was that a bad thing for you to do?

        Longer response: Cheap prices are great. But people need money to buy cheap stuff. If anything i think you are way oversimplifying wages and prices. If fatty hamburgers are cheap and good lean meat is expensive then some people will be able to eat healthier than others. That is life but wouldn’t all want, in a nifty world, for everybody to be able to afford all the healthy food they could eat if that was their choice. All things don’t become cheap, tech gets cheap fast, but health care gets more expensive. We already have a world where there are tons of fantastic cheap tvs/vid games/etc that people can afford while they can’t afford the price of medicines for chronic illnesses. So what gets cheap and what doesn’t is a issue you aren’t talking about.

        People who make very little can afford to spend little…i mean…duh…right. Well higher wages give people the ability to spend more on things other than basic needs. If you want more and better games or recreational things or art than people have to have more money. More money also gives people more freedom to do what they want with their lives like opening a business if that is their path.

        I got your point but you missed mine about Star Trek. Until we have a true post scarcity world with close unlimited energy and the tech to make almost all our needs with things like 3-d printers ( or a replicator of course) then people have to deal with not having enough of basic needs. Give people good jobs and they can buy what they need which will drive the market you love to serve them. Give them less money and the market won’t really care that much about them.

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      • It’s threads like this that reinforce my belief that libertarians (and conservatives) understand business and microeconomics to a fair-thee-well, but you don’t grasp macroeconomics for shit.

        GDP is calculated as the sum of wages, salaries, and corporate profits as a proxy for the value of actual goods and services produced. One can argue with that methodology from different angles but it is what it is. IIRC, wages and salaries accounts for about 25 to 30% of that total, the remainder being composed of profits, interest, and resource rents. That composition will vary for individual products and services but in no case, other than perhaps blowjobs in an alley, is labor 100% of the cost of production. Reduce wages and you do indeed reduce product costs, but in no case is that reduction proportional to the losses suffered by labor.

        All this wonderfulness that Roger’s gushing about is a boon for the owners of land and resources who receive rents, owners of businesses that receive profits, and owners of financial capital (money) that receive interest. But for those, and it’s actually most people, whose only productive asset is their body, whose sole income is wages*, it’s a net loss. The numbers bear it out and arguments to the contrary are just happy-clappy displays of economic ignorance.

        Increased productivity is indeed a great thing, in theory at least. But it’s hard to get enthused about it when the bulk of the gains go to a small minority that own “productive” assets. Solutions, good capitalistic, free-market based solutions exist but you won’t find them on Heritage or Cato.

        * Professional training, education, and experience can be considered a kind of intangible capital asset that leverages the value of labor for those who hold it.

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      • In theory, GDI should equal GDP but due to statistical discrepancies the figures are generally not in alignment.
        The BEA reports both GDP (using the expenditure approach) and GDI but the calculations are not interdependent.
        References to GDP in the US (and most other countries) should be understood as calculated using the expenditure approach,Y = C + I + G + (X ? M), and not the income approach you describe.

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      • Rod,

        Macroeconomics is not as straightforward as you suggest. The extent to which GDP is a truly meaningful measurement of actual value/wealth is debated (wrapped up in the debate about how it ought to be measured). There are still disputes about the fundamentals in a way there isn’t about micro. And to the extent economics is more science than merely social, that’s not befause of the macro side, which has never been put on a solid foundation of macro-individual-behavior.

        From my perspective macro sounds more important because it’s about big, national level, economics involving the well-being of millions or even billions of people, while micro is just about little individual choices at the margin. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually as well-fleshed out a sub-discipline, and given the level of disagreement within the discipline about macro (although it’s diminished over the past couple decades, I think), I’m doubtful your critique is fair.

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      • I think some of my OT friends are simply wrong here. I get where they’re coming from, but the sweep of global history from at least the dawn of industrialization cuts against their argument. The big story during that largest of all human social changes so
        Ince the dawn of agriculture has been increases in the standard of living driven by productivity gains. It’s not a smooth process, there are aspects of it that can legitimately be criticized, and the gains are not by any means evenly distributed. But that main storyline, increasing productivity creating increased standards of living, is not reasonably deniable. The disparitu between contemporary standards of living for even the American lower class today compared to a century and a half ago, as the industrial revolution was really beginning to kick off, is vast.

        A focus on wages is in fact misguided as part of the big historical macroeconomic picture. At the microlevel, of course an individual benefits from a wage increase…assuming wages aren’t increasing generally at the same rate. But at the macrolevel it’s productivity that drives net wages, and by net wages I mean wages in comparison to prices, which is what really matters, and which is just another way of saying productivity drives standards of living.

        Arguably we’re in a stagnant moment now–as noted, the process us not smooth–but the historical fact of what productivity gains have done for human well-being should not be overlooked or downplayed, as it seems to me some folks here are doing.

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      • I also find it odd that progressives are the folks that are most cynical that such a thing as progress exists.

        It’s less odd if we consider that the term “progressive” is at least sometimes a label assigned to people who don’t adopt it. I do mean “sometimes”: I know people who identify explicitly as “progressive” and are really pessimistic that progress, even by their own definitions of the term, is possible.

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      • , it helps to understand your terms. Productivity is measured in terms of output per labor-hour worked. You don’t boost productivity by cutting wages, but rather by cutting hours worked. The reason it works out that way is a consequence of reduced demand for labor causes wages to decline at the same time as productivity measures increase assuming aggregate demand for goods is constant.

        The issue isn’t whether productivity gains are a good thing. The issue is “what then”? To a large degree the answer depends on the general level of development of the economy, but in general you can do the same with less or more with the same, or something in between. If you want the latter, which I think you will agree is best, labor needs to reap a good portion of the gains to support aggregate demand. You can do that in their paychecks or you can do it by redistribution later, your choice, but there really isn’t a third option apart from war or pestilence to reduce the supply of labor.

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      • Greg,

        I just want to say thanks to everyone for finally engaging in my question. I know you guys think James and I are wrong, but let’s chat about it….

        Of course I pursued raises. The companies I worked for expected me to generate productive consumer solutions though my effort and creativity. In exchange they paid me. Consumers benefitted, I benefitted and the company benefitted. If they did not pay me enough the threat was that I would take my services elsewhere. If I demanded too much the threat was they would replace me with someone else or even eliminate my job.

        “Cheap prices are great. But people need money to buy cheap stuff.”

        Yes, and the way they get more money is by producing more stuff better. This aligns the incentives of workers, capital, management and consumers. We all gain by cooperatively creating a more productive world.

        I know this sounds all rainbow unicorny, but it is true.

        “All things don’t become cheap, tech gets cheap fast, but health care gets more expensive.”

        This is because productivity gains are not occurring in all segments. In general government services, health care, energy and education are not seeing fewer people producing more, better. But these are not relatively effective markets either. These are areas where markets have been driven out, either partially or completely. The reason libertarian types want to minimize government interference is not a hate of government it is that we see government interfering with the productivity enhancement process (in all kinds of ways).

        “More money also gives people more freedom to do what they want with their lives like opening a business if that is their path.”

        I obviously agree that high wages are good, but only to the extent that they are established by supply and demand. If the wages are above (or below) that set by competition between large numbers of employees and employers then over the long haul, the economy becomes less efficient and productive. The path to higher wages is productivity, thus producers must serve consumers. We are all consumers and so we all serve each other.

        The waiter that smiles at me as I sit at his table today is the same guy I serve tomorrow when he looks to buy my services.

        “Give people good jobs and they can buy what they need which will drive the market you love to serve them. Give them less money and the market won’t really care that much about them.”

        OK. Here is the key point where we part ways. Giving someone a better job than their productivity demands in a competitive market is a bad idea. The reason is because it attempts to solve the problem the wrong way.

        First, it places the responsibility on the wrong party, the employer. It effectively discourages employment. This is not what we want.

        Second, it promotes inefficiency — paying someone more than market prices discourages them from pursuing another strategy which is more productive. It effectively interferes with market signals, making the economy somewhat less intelligent. (See Hayek’s Knowledge Problem via google)

        I would suggest well designed safety nets to offset the fact that some people cannot produce enough to live off. This gets money into their hands without discouraging employment. The other thing I suggest is less interference with markets which leads to unemployment which emasculates low skilled workers, driving their wages down. In general the interferences which emasculate workers are the very ones progressives clamor for — mandatory benefits, limits on firing, union privilege, living wages…

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      • Pierre,

        Yeah, and to complicate matters we both call ourselves liberals. I consider myself a classical liberal (not a libertarian wacko ;^)).

        But classical liberalism took some huge turns before coming out as modern liberalism. Indeed, in any ways the views are 180 degrees apart.

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      • Roger, I take great exception to this:

        Economic progress requires filling actual needs people actually want fulfilled and doing so as inexpensively as possible.

        Underlying this, and much of the modern economy, is a sense of disposability of things; quality is not part of this equation. It may be there, and new and improved might actually mean improved and enhanced. There are all sorts of costs that may fall out of this that are not calculated in modern economics; hidden subsidies, production hazards, etc.

        I also think the emphasis of cheap as opposed to an emphasis on robust regional production a grave mistake.

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      • Rod,

        The misunderstanding between us basically comes down to your assumption that I am only calling for market based WAGES. In all honesty this is all I have spelled out, as there is no debate on these pages in defense of above market returns for capital or holders of land. Let me be clear. I am for using markets to increase productivity by making labor more productive, capital more productive and resources more productive.

        Seriously, once you correct for this misunderstanding, the rest of your comment pretty much falls away. Except….

        “Increased productivity is indeed a great thing, in theory at least. But it’s hard to get enthused about it when the bulk of the gains go to a small minority that own “productive” assets.”

        Rod, this is so ahistorical as to be absurd. You need to look at productivity, work hours, work conditions, and human prosperity worldwide over the past 300 years. Or look at these factors for market based economies vs similar non market ones over any relevant time period (look at the Koreas, the Germanys, or the Chinas). Alternatively you can look at productivity in market based industries vs non market based ones.

        The gains do not go just to groups you do not like. The gains go to workers and consumers as well. We are all consumers, so we all benefit. The status of a worker in an advanced economy is incomparably better than in a pre market or early market stage. This is because workers are more productive and due to the effects of comparative advantage (a barber or lawn mower in San Francisco is worth substantially more than a barber or gardener in Nicaragua.)

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      • Zic

        You are reading something into my statement which I did not intend to imply.

        A producer can improve the fulfillment of consumer needs by improving the quality. Better quality at the same price is one strategy. Same quality at lower price is another. Finding a new previously unmet need and fulfilling it is a third.

        I am simply arguing to align the interests of producers with those of consumers. This is what markets are intended to do.

        Take a snapshot of any generation since Adam Smith. The latter generation will be better off than the one before. This occurs in every industry and state where markets are allowed to work. To the extent they are interfered with sand is effectively thrown in the gears.

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      • In all honesty this is all I have spelled out, as there is no debate on these pages in defense of above market returns for capital or holders of land.

        I don’t recall ever seeing any good debates about the capital side of the question (by good, I mean something that goes beyond the folk economics realm of “corporations make too much money”). I could be wrong about that. You’d know more than me.

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      • “Arguably we’re in a stagnant moment now–as noted, the process us not smooth–but the historical fact of what productivity gains have done for human well-being should not be overlooked or downplayed, as it seems to me some folks here are doing.”

        Actually, to pick a nit and riff off of James paragraph, we are in an era of unprecedented gains for the least advantaged globally. Technology and global markets have empowered the most needy humans to enter the market, raising their living standards from beyond deplorable to barely acceptable. In terms of utility gains, I would argue this is the most important step. It is the one from child dies to child lives but needs shoes.

        One billion people have risen out of poverty over the past generation. This has had the negative side effect if suppressing wages in advanced economies for less skilled and lower educated. Again this supports the narrative that the struggle is not really between capital and labor, it is between laborers.

        This inconvenient truth would of course not look good on the union billboards though.

        I also just saw a paper that global inequality continues to drop. Again, the important thing is to look at humanity, not at selective (previously privileged) subsegments.

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      • , I’d be the first person to stand up and defend capital and the chance to earn an above-market return on capital. It’s what we do (we, meaning my family); we’re angel investors.

        But there’s a big difference between what we do and how most investors invest. We invest in a business directly after due diligence. If you come looking for investment, asking for that due diligence, I warn you up front: it’s pretty invasive, it goes way beyond the ‘read the prospectus’ advice. If you’ve got business failures in your past, financial failures, if I’m even interested, you’re going to have to explain to my satisfaction what happened and why; more importantly, I need to know what you learned. Past failures are often the harbinger of future success.

        Most folks invest haphazardly or mindlessly via their retirement savings. They have no idea where their money is invested, and they’re trusting managers to do that due diligence, and they’re depending on market forces to reveal poorly-managed companies; something I’m not sure functions properly into today’s high-speed trading environments.

        Direct capital investment in a growing company is risky; and potentially offers incredible return. It requires a nest egg you’re willing to risk. It also requires the willingness/ability to work with the companies you invest in, often in ways discomforting with the founders. It requires judgement about how to grow; growing too fast is often more damaging then growing too slow.

        The upsides, under current policy, are low tax rates, (higher rates did not seem to slacken investment historically; in fact, the founding of angel/venture investing as industries occurred during one of the periods of highest taxation) and the ability to write off capital loss against gains.

        I’ve not seem much indication that there are many investors of this nature here; people directly investing capital to build successful businesses; with two exceptions. I suspect most people think of investing capital as their 401k, stock portfolio of companies publicly traded, etc. But this isn’t really working capital in the same way that direct angel/venture investment is.

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      • Dave,

        I think that is what made James’ articles on rent seeking so good. Everyone pretty much agreed that corporations are the worst offenders. I kept inconveniently suggesting that unions were creating offense too, and got accused of hating the working man.

        [ I am against rent seeking in all forms not just by groups I do not like]

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      • ,

        , Productivity is measured in terms of output per labor-hour worked.

        Not exactly. It’s the ratio of output to all inputs. Labor-hours is only one of those inputs. It’s a handy one to use to gauge productivity because it’s so easy to measure, and because declining labor hours per unit of output (which is not the same as declining labor hours, period) can reflect the productive value of other, non-labor, inputs, but it’s not the sole measure of productivity.

        You don’t boost productivity by cutting wages,

        Actually, you can (potentially, not always). Since productivity is about the ratio of output to inputs, and labor cost is an input (the real input actually, rather than actual labor hours), if you reduce real labor costs while output either increases or stays steady you have increased productivity. Whether that real labor cost reduction comes from a) reduced hours, b) reduced wages, or c) increased production with no change in hours or wages is just details about how the productivity gain was achieved.

        but rather by cutting hours worked.

        You mean per unit of output, right? Because productivity gains can even be achieved by increasing the amount of hours worked, too, so long as the marginal output exceeds the marginal input (not that established businesses will normally have that kind of opportunity, but it’s an actual possibility). And if cutting hours simply reduces output linearly, then there are no productivity gains from reducing hours. So as phrased, your claim doesn’t really capture what’s really going on with changes in productivity.

        The reason it works out that way is a consequence of reduced demand for labor causes wages to decline at the same time as productivity measures increase assuming aggregate demand for goods is constant.

        This is wrong, I think, in several ways. First, because increased productivity does not require reduced hours worked, there is no necessary decline in demand for labor. Because productivity increases make lower prices for goods possible, the law of demand states that demand for those goods will increase. So rather than just producing the same quantity (or a few more), the firm may produce more, requiring the same amount of labor but getting more production out of it.

        Further, that labor is likely to be paid more as a consequence of increased productivity. If my productivity increases from $10 of value per hour to $15 of value per hour, there is more room to pay me more (how much of that I capture, of course, depends on various factors, from replaceability to bargaining skill to the current unemployment rate).

        Also, increased productivity is another term for increased wealth (at the social level, setting aside the distribution of that wealth). Increased wealth increases overall demand for goods and services, which increases demand for labor.

        So productivity increases do not, overall, lead to decreased labor demand or decreased wages. They can lead to a decreased labor demand in a specific industry, and they can lead to decreased overall labor demand during a transitional period, but not overall over the long run. That is, transitions can be sticky and lumpy, and some people can be totally screwed by them, but that’s because the ideal market theory assumption of frictionless transfer of resources (including labor resources) does not hold in the real world where there’s considerable friction (particularly of labor resources)–it’s not about the productivity itself.

        It’s also not clear to me whether you’re distinguishing between nominal wages and real wages. My position is that nominal wages are a mistaken focus, and only real wages matter. (I’m not asserting that you’re not; it’s just unclear to me.)

        The issue isn’t whether productivity gains are a good thing. The issue is “what then”? To a large degree the answer depends on the general level of development of the economy, but in general you can do the same with less or more with the same, or something in between. If you want the latter, which I think you will agree is best, labor needs to reap a good portion of the gains to support aggregate demand.

        Yes, and historically it has. That’s why Roger and I are emphasizing the tremendous, phenomenal, world-history unprecedented, growth in standards of living since the start of the industrial revolution–which is in fact nothing more nor less than a productivity revolution.

        Are the productivity gains being distributed in the same proportions now as in the past? If you look simply at nominal wages/salaries in the U.S., no. If you look at a broader picture of gains, including decline in worldwide inequality, perhaps it’s not so bad.

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      • Zic,

        I could also argue the opposite. Another successful strategy for investment long term is actually to go with a market basket and count on the market to weed out subpar strategies. This effectively takes you out of the game of picking winners and losers against insiders and instead allows you to bet on overall human prosperity. Most importantly it minimizes expenses.

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      • Roger,

        A good nit to pick. I should have specified that I was referring only to the U.S. at present. In my last comment, written while you were picking my nits, I’m more specific and actually end up just where you are, including emphasizing the decline in global inequality.

        Although I won’t pretend to understand the dynamics perfectly, I think the current real-wage stagnation in the U.S. is intimately related to that decline; the productivity growth is at present occurring in the developing countries, and until they are more closely caught up with us they will have an advantage that limits the rate of wage growth in the U.S.

        (Another part of it in the U.S., though, is that household wage growth has stagnated more than individual wage growth, and that is–I’m persuaded–largely a function of the growth of single-parent households, as argued by Russ Roberts.)

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      • : “Another successful strategy for investment long term is…”

        Not to take a conversation many branches off onto yet another branch, but isn’t this part of the problem we have with the current system? That “long-term” investments are seen as a suckers game?

        The people who make short term investments that pay big in the short term but kill or limit companies in the long term, make the economy shaky, or are even patently illegal are rewarded far more than the “slow and steady” investors. BoDs of F500s are pretty good about giving bonuses of millions to hundreds of millions to CEOs who make moves that make the balance sheets look like a big gain today but end up really being a large loss within a few years; I’m not aware of any that reward CEOs for thinking long-term over short term.

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      • Chris,

        That article’s a classic case of “they could do X” that doesn’t put much thought into why in fact they aren’t doing X.

        We should always be a bit skeptical when someone whose goal is not in fact the company’s bottom line argues that an action not taken by the company will, in addition to the goal being sought, also just so happen to improve the company’s bottom line.

        Could Wal Mart do that and increase employee pay? Sure, I think that’s pretty straightforward. Is it really in Wal Mart’s best interest? Possibly, but who am I really inclined to believe has a better grasp of that? The folks making money off Wal Mart’s success, or folks with a do-gooder axe to grind (no matter how truly good their goal)?

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      • Mr Truman the company may know what is in the company’s best interest but it does not care what is in the public best interest or in the employees best interest and there has to be some sort of balance between those.

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      • Chris,

        I pretty much agree with James. Personally, as a customer, I suspect it would be wise for them to invest in better employees. Oddly enough, this may be the worst thing for the people they actually employ today.

        When progressives ask for higher wages they make the mental shortcut of assuming SAME WORKERS — BETTER WAGES. As you and I know, this is a Grand Canyon sized assumption. Higher wages and better working condition would attract a different and more skilled labor force. Some current employees would of course make the transition, but the least skilled workers would be worse off than they are today.

        Funny how that works, huh?

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      • Roger- One obvious seeming retort is not that Liberals just want the same old workers to get more money for doing nothing more or better, but that the workers have been getting underpaid for the quality of work they do. They aren’t being appropriately compensated due to a labor market that has a glut of workers. So they are providing value but the companies can get away with giving them less than they are worth. I’m guessing your reply would be that the workers wages are set where even supply and demand meet or that they are at the correct value beca