St. Joseph the Worker sez…

Walmart Execs: Pay Your Workers a Living Wage Instead of Forcing Them On to Assistance So That Taxpayers Pay What You Won’t, You Greedy Parasites.

Excuse-makers for this beloved sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance are legion. That’s because the four sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance got whittled down to 1) murder of innocents who aren’t in the way of Republican access to power and 2) sodomy. Oppression of the poor (what does that even *mean*?) and defrauding workers of their just wages are hopelessly vague and out of touch with current views on economics common among the Best and Brightest, who often moan that if Wal-Mart paid its employees a living wage, it would be the end of the world.  Actually, I think we could all cope with an extra cent for mac and cheese.

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  • Does anyone have the foggiest idea where one could go to start having an informed opinion on this? Because reading Mark’s links and then reading the discussions below them, is disheartening.

    1) Nearly all the hard-numbers people seem to be calling Slate’s* (and Mark’s) points mostly bogus.

    2) Hard-numbers people are often wrong about the big things but extremely accurate about the small things. I wouldn’t trust them to govern a nation but I would absolutely hire them to do my taxes. Are they right about the immediate effects of things like minimum wage hikes?

    3) Nevertheless, no matter how hard the numbers, obviously there’s a real problem. I don’t know if that problem is primarily:
    a) Government regulation
    b) Greedy corporations
    c) Financial mismanagement of the economy based on ignorance of economics
    d) Something else
    e) What?

    4) Seriously, this is all screwed up. I don’t trust anybody on these questions.

    *Slate is a reference to a link followed from a link. Nevertheless, I think the point still stands.

  • Sean O

    Economics has largely become the elaborate & complicated justification for the simple & obvious fact of greed in our society. The naked Emperor strolls about telling us greed is good, greed doesn’t exist–it’s the market, or it all works out for the best in the end-just wait.

  • Andy

    I’m starting to study economics from the Catholic perspective. I minored in Econ in college, but of course I didn’t learn anything regarding morality in that field. I’ve got a few encyclicals on my reading list.
    Mark (or others), can you recommend an introductory course of “Econ 101 for Serious Catholics”, perhaps suitable for group study in our Saturday morning St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers group? I find myself aggravating the loyal Republicans more and more lately… Has someone already written the book I’m looking for? If not, have you considered it?

    I do know that Costco has low prices and huge profits AND pays their happy, loyal, non-unionized employees pretty well. There is huge competition for their openings because nobody leaves. I’m itching to know why Wally World can’t do the same, and all I can figure so far is that they simply don’t have to. They do claim it’s quite easy to advance beyond minimum wage relatively quickly, and they promote from within. But then you always read about how most of them are “working poor”.

    • thisismattwade

      ahightower, the Catechism’s section on the 7th commandment is IMPERATIVE reading for any Catholic who has started “aggravating the loyal Republicans more and more lately”, or is just interested in a Gospel approach to economic thinking. Rerum Novarum, then Centesimus Annus, then Caritas in Veritate are the next in line. These will take you a while to read. There are group study guides available online for each, most for free.

      Getting a little more off the main line, I personally love Chesterton’s “The Outline of Sanity” and “What’s Wrong with the World” because although both books could really be classified as cultural/sociological treatises, yet I don’t think an opinion on economics can be properly formed without a broader appreciation of culture and history. And Chesterton is always a great read.

      Lastly, I also like several parts of John Mueller’s “Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element”, and it may be up your alley if you have some prior training in the mathematics of modern economics. It’s not widely read, I believe because people can’t make it through the generally elementary equations he presents. I studied it in depth two years ago when it was finally released – it was well worth the effort. The premise of the book is FASCINATING.

      Godspeed on your pursuits!

      • Andy

        Thank you

      • Andy

        We did read Rerum Novarum, so off to a good start. Many latched onto key sections about private property and subsidiarity, but Leo XIII’s endorsement of labor unions was largely dismissed…
        We tend to bite off more than we can chew here in Keller, TX… if we ever finish Summa of the Summa (I wish there was a summa^3), we’ll get back onto economics.

        • thisismattwade

          Whoa, I live in Richardson. Nice to meet people close in geography and blogging pursuits.

          We had a group about 5 years ago who read through the social encyclicals – one per month. It was a good time, but there was so much alcohol flowing at dinner that I think some of the finer points evaporated in a jovial, loud-debate mist. That’s why I went back and re-read them in private. 🙂 As a poster below has pointed out, it’s really difficult to get a grasp of things on the macroeconomic level. But you can always change the microeconomic level, starting with yourself and your family. Christ is the best teacher in that regard. The Catechism ain’t bad either.

          The same Dr. Kreeft’s “A Shorter Summa” is indeed what you’re seeking. Check it out.

          Then get back onto economics.

          • Andy

            D’oh! Didn’t know about the even shorter version. No turning back now!

        • Dan C

          I recommend Caritas in Veritate, by that conservative favorite, Benedict 16th.

          Its an eye opener.

    • Kathleen Lundquist

      My pal Rod Bennett has a new book out that he edited from a couple different sources including GK Chesterton and his brother Cecil, as well as Hillaire Belloc and others, entitled “Chesterton’s America”. I think it’d be a good primer on what’s come to be known as distributism, an economic proposal with lots of dovetails to the Catholic way of thinking about people. You can find it on Amazon, I think.

    • Alma Peregrina

      1) “Ethics and the national economy” – Father Heinrisch Pesch
      (A MUST HAVE! This priest inspired Quadragésimo Anno. Oh, and it addresses those people that, then and now, come up with the question BUT HOW IS A MINIMAL WAGE EVEN DEFINED?! IT’S SOOOO CONFUSING…)

      2) “Toward a truly free market” – J.C. Medaille

      3) “Small is beautifull – Economics as if people mattered” from E.F. Schumacher

      • ivan_the_mad

        “Ethics and the national economy” I had this book on my radar years ago, but I’d forgotten about it completely. Happily, your comment has reminded me of it!

  • dasrach

    I like raising minimum wage, and I like the idea of having a law like Japan’s that says CEO’s can only make a certain percentage more than their employees. The proposal in this article about charging public assistance to employers sounds good on paper, but it would lead to discrimination against people with children, especially large families. Someone who’s average employee salary is below the poverty level for a family of four but not for a family of two won’t hire someone who arrives at the interview in a minivan with windshield stickers of her three kids.

  • Ann

    Could someone actually define ”living wage”and what jobs are supposed to provide that? Are you taking the position that every job should be paid such that someone could support themselves at- what level? Single? Family? And do one’s personal choices make a difference when it comes to the living? If someone lives in NYC the costs are certainly different then MS. There is an awful lot of all execs bad all workers good that floats through these articles but the economic reality is that my son who works cleaning locker rooms out is not expecting, nor should he, to support himself or a family on that job. Perhaps less all people who make money are bad and more many people actually supplement the main breadwinner’s salary with these jobs and oh, yea, pensions and other investments make money for people at the same time.

    • Dan C

      “…pensions and other investments make money for people at the same time.” The minimum wage owner under 60 is unlikely to have either a pension or investments.

      CST suggests that the family should be supported by the wage-earner’s work. That work is dignified always and placing financial value on it is somewhat difficult and should not be done based exclusively or mainly on the market assessment.

  • B.E. Ward

    I’m just not completely convinced that government coercion is the way to fix the problem. People with power and money will just find ways around the regulations (see: tax laws). The folks working on campaigns to raise the minimum wage have their own.. interests. The campaign last fall in Seatac, WA was instructive. Employers were welcome to pay people less than $15/hour – if their employees were unionized. Such a win-win for employees in that situation. They make less than everyone else AND they get to pay union dues!

    As Mark alludes to.. it’s not a financial problem, it’s a spiritual problem. Laws can enforce penalties, but they can’t fix the spiritual ailment. But, here’s how to fix the problem in 5 exceedingly difficult steps!

    1) When you’re hired by a company (most companies, that is), don’t forget that you’re just an employee and they’re the employer. Keep that in the back of your mind, but work hard and in the service of customers, coworkers, truth, and our Lord. When you’re told to marry your job, remember your family.

    2) If you do well and get promoted, don’t forget your beliefs and don’t check them at the door. When you’re asked to do something unethical, tell them to take a hike. When they tell *you* to take a hike, leave with a smile because you kept your integrity intact.

    3) If you manage to get promoted a few times more and actually have real power over employees, don’t forget your beliefs, don’t check them at the door, and don’t forget that you were once the new person making squat. Work to make sure everyone is making a living wage and that you’re not taking too much. When your peers and board of directors and industry analysts tell you you’re being ridiculous, try to convince them otherwise. When they oust you, leave with a smile because you did your best.

    4) Share items 1-3 with your children. Have them share them with their children.

    5) In many, many years the “give a dern” folks might outnumber the others.

    It’s not just about money, it’s spiritual.. and spiritual problems can take a long, long time and the grace of God.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Now, I’m not convinced that government coercion is the way to fix abortion. Women will just get around to finding an abortion anyway. The Republican Party has their own… interests. They want votes and money from these causes. So, as you say it’s a spiritual problem, not a political one. So let’s just use your 5 difficult steps in our families, let’s not battle for legal restrictions, and the problem of abortion will be over in a long time, with the grace of God. Yay!

      «sarcasm off»

      • B.E. Ward

        Hmm.. your analogy doesn’t quite fit, but I’ll work with it. Despite your sarcasm, you are absolutely correct on a number of accounts.

        1) Abortion is indeed a spiritual problem. Women won’t stop having abortions until the sanctity of life is deeply imbedded into the heart of every man and woman. That will take generations, if we ever get there (I’m not optimistic).

        2) Abortion won’t end on Tuesday if it’s made illegal everywhere on Monday. No pro-lifer can pretend every pregnancy will be carried to term if abortion was outlawed. In fact, I daresay the pro-life movement should have a plan in place for that day. How do you convince women to stay away from illegal abortuaries?

        3) Your sarcasm about the Republican Party is actually not sarcasm. As Mark has pointed out here over and over again, to suggest that the Party is *actually* interested in saving human lives (as opposed to just saying they are) is a joke. It’s simple when it comes down to it – principal over principle.

        Now, if I understand you correctly, what you’re really trying to say is “Obviously, making abortion illegal will save some children. Accordingly, raising the minimum wage will help some workers.” It’s true.. to a point. But will a higher minimum wage (and perhaps a salary cap for the top) make people suddenly act and believe ethically? No. And if we humans have learned anything, it’s how to circumvent restrictions that we don’t like. We’re (hopefully) talking about solving problems, not just creating new ones.

    • Dan C

      “I’m just not completely convinced that government coercion is the way to fix the problem.”

      We need a little more humble acceptance of what the wisdom of the Church says on this matter. That is my opinion. The Church is clear that yes, the government gets a say and should protect the workers and it is unjust and unChristian to avoid paying one’s workers poor wages.

      The government is to ensure justice and safety for its people. Benedict in CinV states that justice is infused with charity so therefore, a government providing justice through redistribution ( a term mentioned over half a dozen times by Benedict in CinV with regards to government actions) is providing charity. This is the teaching of not just Benedict, but a clear development all the way to Leo.

      It is time to accept this and stop pretending the wisdom of Hayek, Friedman, and Reagan outdoes the Church’s. It is well past time to submit to the wisdom of the Church.

      • Jonk

        To what degree does the Church say the government “gets a say?”

        Also, I’m not sure how a government is capable of love, except maybe in some creepy dystopian way.

        • Dan C

          The government gets a say in redistribution.

          That next bit is a policy argument, and worthy of argument. How much should be redistributed? That is worthy of argument and is a different discussion than saying there is no role for government.

          A representative or Republican form of government can enact communal desires to demonstrate charity. Charity and love is not a feeling, and I recommend the Brothers Karamazov for anyone suggesting otherwise.

          With distorted, warped, selfish and deifant folks, maybe the government needs a stronger hand to reign folks in. I would say this is today’s Gilded Age and the attitudes around this.

          But a policy discussion is welcome.

          • Jonk

            That’s not exactly what I’m getting at. Does government “get a say,” or does it get to do the work? I haven’t seen anything at all in CST saying the state must necessarily perform redistributive functions. Were that the case, our fair host would only need to point at those arguments and tell the government to crack the whip at these Walmart execs, rather than making the moral case against them.

            • Dan C

              Sorry, I thought the “to whatdegree does the government get a say” was a state,emt that acknowledged the clear and obvious statements in CST.

              This is a boring argument with someone who clearly is distorting and deliberately misreading the encyclicals.

              At least those Catholics on the left who disagree with Humanae Vitate will man up and say that they disagree, not try to re-write and bleach the clear intent and spirit out of these encyclicals. To pretend that these churchmen were cowboy-esque, John Wayne type libertarians is a dishonest warping of the encyclicals and is entirely the opposite of my original comment.

              Your sell by date on liberatrianism as something easily annealed to orthodox Christianity is gone. It would be wiser to submit to the wisdom of the Church, Or at least honestly confess to disagree with the Church on these points. Pretending that these encyclicals are written by American libertarians is getting old and boring.

              • Jonk

                So, umm, in QA, where Pius XI points out that the state getting involved in economic matters didn’t turn out so hot (I believe the phrases “grave evils,” ‘degradation,” and “a slave, surrendered and delivered to the passions and greed of men” made appearances), that didn’t really happen?

                • Dan C

                  This discussion is a yawner on FB too.

                  dan Conway

                  • Jonk

                    I figured that was you.

                    So no answer to my question? Where in CST does it direct a massive industrial state structure to remove property for the care for our neighbors-as-ourselves in solidarity? Or is your answer merely more anti-libertarian “settled dogma” generalities?

              • Jonk

                Seriously, I’m asking: Where in CST does it say that the state shall do X, Y, and Z? Most of the time, it’s “allow” or “encourage,” which are something different than creating massive, industrial, dehumanizing social programs in a vain attempt to end all injustice and palliate the consciences of taxpayers.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  This sounds like arguments I read a few years ago about torture: Where in the Catechism does it say that waterboarding is torture? Where is the clear definition of torture? Sounds a lot like: Where does it say clearly what is a living wage? The poor in our country are much more well off than the poor in developing countries, so why should we support their lifestyle? If one wants to avoid having to accept the teaching, it is much too easy to claim that it is not clear enough… Or that it applied to another time or another part of the world, not to our own country…

                  • Jonk

                    CST says certain things should happen in a just society, but it never says the state must do it. Sometimes it can, but, as often as not, the state getting involved makes things worse. This very thread is under an article about a company that can get away with not paying a living wage because the state subsidizes its employees. Take away the state subsidy, and you take away Walmart’s excuse to pay its workers so little.

                    All I’m saying, to you and the most patient and charitable Mr. Conway, is that if CST doesn’t specifically say that a function is the role of the state, let’s make sure that the state actually needs to be the institution to perform that function, rather than assuming it because it’s easy. Otherwise you could end up with some not-so-nice unintended consequences, like actually subsidizing poor wages.

          • Jonk

            Also, you’ll have to remind me of the applicable passages in BK. It’s been a few years.

  • Matt Talbot

    Let me propose a working definition of a living wage: Paying your workers enough that they don’t qualify for assistance.

    • Paxton Reis


    • Dan C


  • Jonk

    Are you willing to dump the entire social safety net to make this happen? Because the one begat the other.