We Win, They LoseThe Wit and Wisdom of Three Guys Named Brent, Mark and Mike
Sunday, February 08, 2009
is vilified, supposedly by everyone, really mostly by unions. Check out this article for an enlightening read on how WalMart treats its employees. It contains a very interesting statement:
My starting wage was so low (around $7 per hour), a modest increment still didn't leave me with enough to live on comfortably, but when I looked at the alternatives, many of them were worse. Coworkers assured me that the nearest Target paid its hourly full-timers less than Wal-Mart, while fast-food franchises were at the bottom of everyone's list.
I found myself reaching an inescapable conclusion. Low wages are not a Wal-Mart problem. They are an industry-wide problem, afflicting all unskilled entry-level jobs, and the reason should be obvious.
In our free-enterprise system, employees are valued largely in terms of what they can do. This is why teenagers fresh out of high school often go to vocational training institutes to become auto mechanics or electricians. They understand a basic principle that seems to elude social commentators, politicians and union organizers. If you want better pay, you need to learn skills that are in demand.
The blunt tools of legislation or union power can force a corporation to pay higher wages, but if employees don't create an equal amount of additional value, there's no net gain. All other factors remaining equal, the store will have to charge higher prices for its merchandise, and its competitive position will suffer.
This is Economics 101, but no one wants to believe it, because it tells us that a legislative or unionized quick-fix is not going to work in the long term. If you want people to be wealthier, they have to create additional wealth.
To my mind, the real scandal is not that a large corporation doesn't pay people more. The scandal is that so many people have so little economic value. Despite (or because of) a free public school system, millions of teenagers enter the work force without marketable skills. So why would anyone expect them to be well paid?
In fact, the deal at Wal-Mart is better than at many other employers. The company states that its regular full-time hourly associates in the US average $10.86 per hour, while the mean hourly wage for retail sales associates in department stores generally is $8.67. The federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour. Also every Wal-Mart employee gets a 10% store discount, while an additional 4% of wages go into profit-sharing and 401(k) plans.
The two bold sentences above say more about today's workforce, markets and educational system than most books on the subject.