Scenes from the class war

“Not paying a just (wage), not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making personal profit. That goes against God!

Who d’you think made your clothes?

We are human. We want respect and dignity; that’s our demand.”

Weekly wages for women in the restaurant industry are on average about $36 less than men’s, and women of color in the restaurant industry earn on average $4.50 per hour less than other workers.”

“One worker noted that while losing work is hard, losing one’s health is harder.”

“This relatively new gap between employment and productivity will only exacerbate the old gap between income and productivity unless we begin to think and act outside that box on ways to achieve full employment.”

“Perhaps the poor attendance at a hearing dealing with unemployment shouldn’t be a surprise, given the general lack of focus from members of Congress on unemployment since the end of the recession.”

“What possible excuse can they be offering for such a direct tradeoff between lower taxes on the well-off and higher taxes on the middle class?”

“The goal was pursued through public policy, private action, and open terrorism. The goal was accomplished.”

Here’s the thing with credit histories: it’s easy to fall behind on your bills when you don’t have a job.”

“Our nation somehow managed to survive over two centuries without any federal police and fire department spending. Perhaps the sequester can help remind local governments of this fact.”

“‘We need to eat our poison to make up for how much cake we had before‘ is the austerian argument, more accurately put.”

“[Rep. Stephen] Fincher’s $70,000 farm subsidy haul in 2012 dwarfs the average 2012 SNAP benefit in Tennessee of $1,586.40, and it is nearly double of Tennessee’s median household income.”

“Beyond making life difficult for workers, these practices can also harm the companies themselves.”

“If time is money, then without money, you’re double broke.”

More than 8-in-10 employees (84 percent) report being victims of wage theft over the course of the last year; 66 percent report at least two abuses, 45 percent report at least three, and more than 30 percent of employees (31 percent) report being victims of at least four of these practices.”

I can’t help but feel that something has been lost nonetheless: basic human decency, fundamental accountability — or at least the need to pretend that these quaint notions are relevant.”

There’s a monthly fee of $3.95 just to have the card; loading fees of $2.95 if you re-up with a credit card or $0.75 from a checking account (unless you schedule an automated payment once a month); $1.50 just to take money out of any ATM, plus whatever fees the ATM charges; $0.50 for balance inquiries at ATMs; $7.95 for a replacement card; and $3 for 30 days of inactivity.”

“Last year there were about 240 Republican House members. A grand total of one (1) supported a carbon tax. For this, he was primaried and lost.”

The World as 100 People


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  • Hexep

    Nothing has been lost. It’s always been like this.

  • Ima Pseudonym

    Correct. The current state of affairs is nothing new.

  • LoneWolf343

    There are a few surprises in the 100 people chart, at least for me.

  • themunck

    Same. Those numbers on nourishment and phones were better than I’d have expected, tbh. Housing and literacy was way worse than I expected.

  • LoneWolf343

    Housing and literacy were way better than I expected. There are a lot of places that don’t even have a written language.

  • Enopoletus Harding


  • David S.

    The Summer Institute of Linguistics, in their efforts to translate the Bible into every language, have provided a written orthography for just about every language. You would have to get real marginal to find a place that has no way to write their mother tongue.

  • aim2misbehave

    It’s surprising that you hear about how China is supposedly anti-religion, but even if everyone who identified as “no religion” lived in China, it’d only make up 1/2 their population.

    Literacy was way better than I expected.

  • LoneWolf343

    “Anti-religious” is a bit of a stretch. It’s more that they are against the monotheisms of the West, because they are Western and so delude their identity.

  • aim2misbehave

    That’s why I put “supposedly” in there – having grew up in a very conservative evangelical background, I heard a lot about these communists who supposedly made it illegal to be Christian and hated all religion, but as i got older and learned about the real world, and met actual people from China, and picked up on the idea that it was ~not~ the repressive, fascist totalitarian government that persecuted Christians like the old-school Roman emperors that i had been taught in Sunday School or my revisionist history curriculum.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Also? For all that the Falun Gong makes a huge hue and cry over omgpersecution, the movement itself is somewhat homophobic. Not exactly enthused.

  • themunck

    I think this marks the first time where I’ve actually read every single link in the post. And while most of this information wasn’t new (Racism, wage theft, the fact that 15% of the people in the world’s “richest” country are below the poverty line), my blood is boiling at the moment.
    *Looks over to the red flag behind him*. Can you hear the people sing? I think I can. (Note: No, I’m not calling for armed revolution. It’s immoral, and it wouldn’t bloody work anyway. But this -is- the face of capitalism, and I’m tired of people ridiculing the alternative or saying that capitalism is somehow more moral or just than socialism)
    tl;dr: Well off white male with an excellent security net thinks he knows something about poverty. And yet, none of the statements in this post are meant sarcastically. hypocrisy, self-delusion or something worse?

  • Enopoletus Harding

    How do you define “socialism”? How do you define “capitalism”?

  • Lectorel

    Something better – a consciousness that doesn’t end at your front door. Being outraged because other people are suffering is the only way we’ll be able to make progress.

  • SisterCoyote

    Empathy. Empathy is necessary. We are all free, or none of us are free – which is why I have zero patience for white feminism that ignores racism.

    This is the face of capitalism, and it will never die until people on all levels of society realize how fucked up it is. Unless people who are not being actively kicked in the groin by the system empathize with, and try to help, people who are, we’re never going to see real change.

    (And that’s the way the lie of the American Dream hurts us all, too – we get shown a short film in class telling us that the CEO of Disney makes $29 million, or Walmart some similar amount, and rather than go “Whoa, but why can they afford that but their workers get treated like crap? That’s so fucked up!” we go, “Man, I wanna be in that spot! I’m totally gonna do that!” The reality, of course, is that most of us will never, ever see that kind of money, or even a fraction of it – statistics don’t lie, and 1% vs. 99% is not difficult to read, but we still, for some reason, rather than going “Whoa, why are 99% of the people suffering?” go “I wanna be in the 1%! That’s a sweet spot!”)

    It’s infuriating. And the only way to end the cycle is empathy.

    …or revolution.

  • Fusina

    And the problem with revolution is that it just starts the cycle over again.

    I worked for a company that paid its workers more than minimum wage although not enough to save up for the down payment on a house, but the year that I worked for them, they couldn’t afford to give bonuses. This is the same year that one of the owners of the company bought a second house and another bought a custom Harley (in excess of $100,000 was the cost). It was a very small company, less than fifty employees, but they made measuring instruments for scientists and did quite well.

    Revolution would not have been the answer, as it would have shut the company down, but a more fair sharing of the profits would have been nice.

  • Lliira

    Revolution would not have been the answer, as it would have shut the company down

    It would? Why?

    The thing about revolution is, it’s impossible to see before hand what kind it will be or where the chips will fall. We think of revolution as necessarily being a bloodbath that leads to more chaos and etc., even in the U.S., which is odd considering how we got our beginning. But there are different kinds of revolution. Agricultural. Industrial. Technological. Even when it comes to violence — that’s not always a bad thing.

    We do need a revolution. And we are going to have one, whether we want it or not, because our system is not sustaining itself. What kind of revolution we will have, is impossible to predict, because revolutions are not predictable.

  • SisterCoyote

    Oh aye, I’m not actually advocating revolution. It would create far more problems than it would solve. My last boss was the owner of a tiny retail shop who paid the whole crew very well, and was a fair and awesome dude – far more dangerous was the liberal manager, who talked often about how poor people would be healthier if they were more educated. Revolution would certainly change things, but it wouldn’t really solve them. Empathy will.


  • Fusina

    Sadly, I see empathy lacking not only in the rich, but also in the “not scraping by but not rich”. Specifically, in a conversation with a family member, someone who is not hungry and does not live paycheck to paycheck, the comment, “I don’t care what they pay per gallon for gasoline in Great Britain, I only care what I have to pay here.”

    I didn’t say anything, because the lack of empathy behind the statement was, well, breathtaking.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    To be fair, the price of gasoline in the UK is not relevant to a person who doesn’t live there. And people who talk about European gas prices in that kind of “you’re lucky you don’t pay that much HERE” tone miss the fact that the wage situation in the USA is such that if gas did cost what it does in the UK, a lot of people couldn’t afford to drive to work anymore.

  • Fusina

    The wage situation in the UK is such that I have friends with jobs there who can’t afford to drive to work. I have friends here who can’t afford to drive to work. And they get deeper in debt while trying not to be a drain on the system. The suggestion I made was that if alternate fuel sources aren’t being researched, eventually the prices they pay in GB are going to be what we are paying here too, which is when she made her reply.

  • AnonymousSam

    I lack empathy altogether, but I’m not tempted by the proposition of limitless wealth. Then again, I’ve thought through the idea that revolution is a bad thing and correcting the injustices that lead to it is far more profitable in the long run…

  • Ima Pseudonym

    (And that’s the way the lie of the American Dream hurts us all, too – we
    get shown a short film in class telling us that the CEO of Disney makes
    $29 million, or Walmart some similar amount, and rather than go “Whoa,
    but why can they afford that but their workers get treated like crap?
    That’s so fucked up!” we go, “Man, I wanna be in that spot! I’m totally
    gonna do that!” The reality, of course, is that most of us will never,
    ever see that kind of money, or even a fraction of it – statistics don’t lie, and 1% vs. 99% is not difficult to read,
    but we still, for some reason, rather than going “Whoa, why are 99% of
    the people suffering?” go “I wanna be in the 1%! That’s a sweet spot!”)

    “The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

  • Invisible Neutrino

    “This relatively new gap between employment and productivity will only exacerbate the old gap between income and productivity unless we begin to think and act outside that box on ways to achieve full employment.”

    I thnik the graph shown in that link is pointing to the beginning of a deep and fundamental shift that needs to happen about society’s perceptions of the necessity to hold a job.

    If wages have niot been tracking productivity, and now employment isn’t tracking it either, then what this is really saying is that the USA can now generate more wealth every year with fewer people every year, and this phenomenon means that if handled the right way, there is an incredible pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that could be distributed to everyone in the USA (if the wealthy in that country were so disposed : ).

    The 40-hour week has been “standard” since the 1940s. People who had been studying trends in the reduction of the work week (e.g. people like Keynes) with increasing material output due to automation and machinery had predicted a 15-hour work week by now.

    The only way this could not happen is if the wealthy have become ever more brazen in appropriating the surplus from labor, instead of fairly redistributing it.

  • SkyknightXi

    I’m not sure WHAT the wealthy (well, the ones who are obsessed with hoarding) have to gain from withholding their surplus. What exactly are they going to DO with it? They should have quite a bit left over even AFTER ensuring their descendants have a good bit of armor.

    Then again…One of Clark’s earlier posts mentioned the idea of (hopefully only a few of) the wealthy relying on their fortunes to be able to trade over trophy wives for “younger models”. Then I realized who else were known for a succession of trophy wives…well, trophy lovers. Who were these people?

    Zeus. Apollon. Poseidon. (I don’t know enough about Ares, Hermes, or Dionysos to make a judgement about them, and I’m pretty sure Hades and Hephaistos had barely any use for wandering.)

    I wonder if the economic archons are ultimately thirsting for adoration and exaltation, at least JUST short of what you’d normally expect your particular divinity to receive. Still makes me wonder WHAT you’d need such exaltation for, or what terrible they anticipate to happen without getting exaltation. (And multiple houses…I can’t shake the feeling that the houses won’t enjoy much in the way of use in this fashion…)

  • Lliira

    When one reads gossip blogs, one learns quite a bit about what these wealthy archons want. For one thing, they want to pay former Hollywood starlets to come to their parties, and they seem to be bankrolling quite a few of them. (This is likely how Lindsay Lohan can continue to pay for her incredible lawyer.) If they just wanted hookers, they could get better ones more cheaply, probably, but that doesn’t have the same cachet.

    Basically, these extremely rich men (most are men), most of whom are not American, want to show off for other extremely rich men. That’s their world and that’s what drives them. Numbers in a bank are another way of showing off.

  • fredgiblet

    Simple, they’re playing a game and their money is the score. The person with the most money is the winner.

  • fraser

    As many people have been quoted as saying, it’s not enough to win, others must fail.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    It’s probably more prosaic than that. They just want status, and the way to have it is to have more than anyone else does.

  • Gotchaye


    Edit: Ok, in more than one word –

    This is just a phenomenal example of where government action is appropriate and necessary. It’s mostly not the case that there’s a conspiracy of the wealthy to keep appropriating surplus. It’s just that people in a position to appropriate a surplus tend to do so.

    There’s also a collective action problem among everyone else. Almost everyone complains that they have to work too much, but no one can afford to work less in an environment where everyone else is willing to put in 40 hours (or more, and 80 or more for couples). Everyone working so much means that many kinds of prices get bid up. Housing is the obvious one – it’s very hard for anyone who has kids to choose not to work full-time when you need to work full-time in order to afford a decent place to live in a good school district. But those areas are only as expensive as they are because the other people bidding on houses there are also working full-time in order to afford them.

    There’s a reason that we passed laws limiting total hours worked and requiring overtime pay for hourly workers past a point. That limit needs to be lower, and it needs to be more strictly enforced.

  • FearlessSon

    There’s a reason that we passed laws limiting total hours worked and requiring overtime pay for hourly workers past a point. That limit needs to be lower, and it needs to be more strictly enforced.

    And then there are companies which will try to eek more hours out of their employees than that maximum without paying the additional compensation, while maintaining plausible deniability that is what they are doing. The kind which demands that certain tasks get done, but without giving enough hours to do them. If the employee brings to their attention that they need to work more hours than given, that employee gets fired for not working fast enough. This is especially common for minimum wage paying jobs where the company assumes that they can get any warm body to fill it and will not hesitate to rotate though hires until they happen on an employee with the right combination of work ethic, spineless, and desperation to stick with the conditions.

  • fredgiblet

    One of my co-workers never got his 90-day raise. He was supposed to have 6 coaching before his 90-day review, he had 2, one of which was the very first project he worked on, so he failed the review and didn’t get a raise. That was 2 years ago and the 90-day raise is the only one we get.

    More recently he was supposed to get bonuses the last two quarters, he didn’t, he brought it up to the site director in January, he was just told last week that since it had been so long since the bonuses went out they can’t help him.

  • Lorehead

    A while back, a friend of mine was complaining about wage theft at the restaurant where he worked, and I suggested he talk to a lawyer. He flat-out said he knew what was going on and wanted to keep his job.

    Another time, he got his credit card scammed for a flower shop in Russia. The company didn’t give him a refund, because the shop delivers.

  • Lori

    Another time, he got his credit card scammed for a flower shop in
    Russia. The company didn’t give him a refund, because the shop

    Huh? What does the fact that a flower shop in Russia delivers have to do with getting a refund of an improper credit transaction? Is the card company claiming that the shop delivered flowers to him in whichever not-Russia country in which he lives?

  • Lorehead

    As he described it, yes. When someone tried to charge furniture in France to me, mine was a lot more reasonable.

  • FearlessSon

    Heh. Ironically, my girlfriend’s runs into her card getting frozen for multiple geographic disparate purchases of untraceable expensive assets once a year for her business (plug.)

    Every year she goes to a big series of concurrent gem expos in Tuscon, where a bunch of vendors from all over the world come to sell their stuff. She uses this opportunity to price shop and load up on raw materials. However, all these vendors, being from all over the globe, have their sales accounts likewise all over the globe. She uses her credit card to absorb the debt this incurs (making it back up through later sales of the jewelry she makes it into) but when she starts making these transactions from several gem vendors on different continents in the course of a few hours, something automated on her lender’s end locks up her card. She always has to spend a little time on the phone letting them know that, yes, she did in fact make those purchases, no her number was not stolen, yes there should already be a note in their computer about this attached to her account information, etc.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Sounds like fun. I remember when I was coming back from Calgary and apparently paying for the car rental after putting gas in it, and then 2 hours later being in Vancouver trying to pay for a taxi ride was enough to make my credit card company lock the card temporarily. I was unimpressed.

  • Aeryl

    My boss calls her credit card company before she travels, to inform them that she will be making purchases in strange places and to not flag her card, which seems to work for her. I don’t know which card company she uses, but she might want to try that before she goes to one of those expos again.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    What the hell’s a “just wage”?

  • AnonymousSam

    One proportionate to the productivity of the worker, the importance of their work, and in compensation for their time — if the worker could survive better spending their time hunting, farming and constructing their own necessities than they do working for a wage with which to buy these things, then it’s not a just wage. If the worker does something vital to society, yet is compensated less than a person doing something completely optional, then it’s not a just wage. If the worker’s duties bring a great profit to the company, yet they are compensated less than someone whose role is insignificant, then it’s not a just wage.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Who determines this importance? If the supply of very productive workers is very great, should they all get paid very much for their work?

  • AnonymousSam

    Ideally, that should be the role of the management. However, management has more short-term incentive to declare that every single worker is completely disposable and to maximize their profits by cutting corners wherever possible. In the present economy, where there are hundreds of desperate people whose options are limited by the need for finances at any cost, they can get away with this for awhile.

    If they keep it up, though, it’s quite possible that one day the management will find their backs to a literal wall with an angry mob on their heels. People can only be treated like trash for so long before they fold, and when they fold, the house of cards they support will collapse with them. When that happens, all bets are off. It’s to the management’s long-term incentive to treat people as valuable commodities, not easily replaceable drones, to build a more stable economy and society.

  • Lori

    I have a friend who says that America survives because the majority of the people have this much of the pie (holds up 2 fingers very close together).

    That’s becoming less and less true. The day that a critical mass of the population comes to believe the it basically has nothing to lose shit’s going to get real.

  • AnonymousSam

    Indeed, and at the rate some people seem to want to take things, we’ll reach a point when we don’t actually have anything. Nothing we’ll be using will be our own anymore, we won’t have health to worry about, and our lives won’t be our own (so, um, right now, SCOTUS is debating whether it should be legal to copyright human genetics…)

    They shouldn’t be surprised that if they take us into a dystopian future, the results will be like… every other dystopian future story ever.

  • Dan Hetrick

    You can determine importance, roughly, by the value of the worker to the company. I can give you an example from my own life: I used to clean grease stacks in restaurants for a living. We did three to four restaurants a night, and got paid $25 a piece for each restaurant. We were a two man crew. Sometimes we got lucky and had a quick and fast job (Arby’s only took 45 min or so), sometimes a normal job (McDonald’s took 2-2.5 hours), sometimes a really nasty job (Applebee’s took 4 hours minimum), and sometimes a really horrible job (gourmet restaurants or restaurants that got sited by the fire marshal sometimes took 8 hours or more). No matter how long or hard the job was, we got paid $50. We used equipment that was outdated sometime in the 1960’s, with budget rate cleaning chemicals (including raw hydrochloric acid). We got chemical burns and regular burns from the steam cleaner often.

    One day, we thought to ask one of our jobs how much he was being charged. We were shocked to find out that our regular billing was around $1000. Tougher jobs paid a lot more; we cleaned General Motors Institute’s air vents (the longest shift I ever worked, 27 hours straight, without a break), we were paid $100, and GMI was charged $10,000.

    There was little to no company overhead; we were the only employees other than the owner, and he used to make us pay for gas to and from jobs, and do most of the repair and maintenance ourselves (unpaid).

    We provided $15,000-$20,000 worth of value to the company weekly, and were paid $750, to split between the two of us. The owner did little to no work at all (he used to brag about it). We used (roughly) $100 worth of chemicals a week, and $50 of diesel (to run the steam cleaner). So, we provided the owner with $14,000-$19,000 worth of profit a week.

    Now, that’s an unfair wage.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Please tell me the two of you went into business for yourselves…

  • Dan Hetrick

    I wish I could tell you that I did. I went into bar bouncing, and my partner went into brick laying, once we got fired for wanting more money.

  • Lorehead

    The beauty of a below-living wage is that you aren’t going to save up enough money to cover the start-up cost.

  • guest
  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Unsurprising. These days anyone who isn’t an active serial killer is worth more to society than bankers.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If the worker does something vital to society, yet is compensated less than a person doing something completely optional, then it’s not a just wage.

    Define ‘vital’ and ‘optional’, because if Harry Potter is optional then there is no such thing as a just wage, but I’m having trouble seeing Harry Potter as vital.

  • Chris Hadrick

    I don’t see how one could arrive at a definitions for these sort of things. it’s like the “what is quality?” question.

  • AnonymousSam

    Harry Potter is incredibly vital. Literature in general is vital, but particularly literature which inspires the mind. Without our creative drive, we would have less encouragement to make progress.

    What’s actually optional is harder to define, but I suspect much of the industry of shuffling money around while accomplishing two things (one of them is “jack”, you can guess the other) would qualify. Keeping money tied up and out of the hands of anyone who does anything with it doesn’t benefit society at all — just people who are already so well off that they need no benefits at at all.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Okay, that makes sense.

  • Chris Hadrick

    right. building a bridge so people can get to work faster saves them time and that is a quantifiable thing. I’m thinking of that movie of a few years ago with Demi Moore. evil stock market something.

  • Chris Hadrick

    who downvoted that? Do you hate Demi Moore movies?

  • Gotchaye

    I can’t really agree that the “importance” of someone’s work should matter very much.

    I can conceive of incredibly important jobs which should clearly not pay very much at all. Suppose there was a real job which exactly matched Homer Simpson’s understanding of his own job. It’s incredibly important – when it doesn’t get done, disaster threatens a whole town. But it’s also incredibly easy and requires very little time or effort – it can literally be done by a little toy drinking bird (provided it doesn’t fall over).

    Meanwhile, no one member of the janitorial staff at the Springfield Nuclear Plant is very important. If they have a crew of five and one quits, basically nothing would change if the remaining four start taking five days to complete some cleaning rotation instead of four. Keeping everything just that little bit cleaner seems like a paradigm case of an “optional” job. They could all quit and it’d probably only be a (significant) inconvenience to only the small number of people who work there.

    But the janitors are harder-working and more invested in making other people’s lives better than Homer is. Their job involves being on their feet for hours, working nights, and putting up with all the (sometimes actual) crap janitors put up with. If the world were perfectly just, they would be paid more than Homer. Janitors should be paid more than most people.

  • AnonymousSam

    I’m reasonably sure that a nuclear safety technician’s position is actually a lot more complicated than The Simpsons makes it out to be. ~_^

  • Gotchaye

    Well, yeah. That’s why I said “Suppose there was a real job…”

    But do you believe the claim that this post implies? Is necessarily true that, for all actual jobs, importance is a strictly increasing function of (some measure of) complicated-ness? Even if you do, why talk so much about how important or vital different kinds of work are when what seems to really matter is some other variable which importance is merely a proxy for*?

    I should add that my intuition is that “complicated-ness” also isn’t what’s important here. I could be classified as a rocket scientist. Most people would consider what I do to be very complicated. To the extent that scientific research is important, what I do is important. I just don’t really see why that all should matter much, in a just world. People doing the sort of thing I do often enjoy it – we get to work on important and stimulating problems that aren’t painful or exhausting and we have a lot of ability to shape the direction of future research. It strikes me as very weird to say (and I’m not sure you’re saying it, given that I think you would grant that your definition of “importance” is somewhat gerrymandered to work out right) that the very things which make “scientist” a desirable job title for many people also mean that scientists should be compensated more than the average person for doing it.

    *Provided you think that, in the impossible world of The Simpsons, Homer shouldn’t be paid more than a janitor.

  • AnonymousSam

    In the impossible world of The Simpsons, Homer should have been fired ages ago for incompetence. In fact, he never should have been hired in the first place. It’s been repeatedly implied that his being there is a fluke of Mr. Burns’s senility and that his job is actually a lot more involved than he makes it seem, and that disaster has only been averted out of sheer dumb luck on as many a number of occasions. XD

    (It’s hard to use a cartoon as reference, since, yeah… cartoon! Defying logic is the point.)

    I admit it’s too abstract of a concept to put together any kind of formulae, but for that matter, I might be guilty of something I’ve thought of before– why have differences in wages at all? Are wages compensation for the complexity of the job, the schooling required to fit it, or just because it’s a job that no one would want in the first place? If we were to say that everyone earns the same amount, would that result in people not seeking higher positions in the company or the dirtier jobs that most people would associate with desperation (i.e., sewage system duties, trash collection and disposal, etc)?

    Mmm, I think most of us can agree that wages should at least be high enough to provide for one’s self and then some (in the event of being a single parent with children). Perhaps having differences in income is one of those things that relates to human desires– people wanting to believe that their job is more important, therefore they deserve more money for it. But in a just world, all jobs would be important in some way and we should all be paid equally.

  • Gotchaye

    My thinking is that, to first order, Marx clearly had it right – a just wage for just work is “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. It’s really weird, when you think about it, to talk about wages as “compensation”. People deserve a decent standard of living independent of their ability to be useful to others, and people have a duty to be useful to others only proportional to their ability to be useful. Spiderman 101, right? Being able to be more useful doesn’t mean that a person deserves to get more back.

    The problems with that are purely practical. It doesn’t work very well, because incentives matter. So we get modern Rawlsian liberalism by deciding to tolerate a degree of inequality in order to produce a society which is more unequal yet better for everyone. Differences in wages aren’t really about fair compensation; they’re just a sacrifice we make to necessity. They’re incentives to encourage people to do more useful things, even if opportunities to take advantage of those incentives are (unfortunately) unequally distributed. Of course, we’re actually way past the point where more wage inequality stops being useful.

  • Ross

    It’s really weird, when you think about it, to talk about wages as “compensation”.

    Not that weird, I think. Wages are paid to you by an employer in compensation for the work you do for them.

    Yes, everyone deserves a decent standard of living. But why can’t we get past the idea that a decent standard of living should be granted to a person by an employer in exchange for their labor?

    People deserve a living income, but there’s no particularly good reason that it should be the employers who give it to them. Frankly, I say we just give everyone a living income, completely independent of employment, and then we can get rid of minimum wage altogether and that libertarian ponycorn paradise thing will happen where actual wages will gravitate to a fair compromise between what the workers want to make and what the employers want to pay, and we can even have that thing that the libertarians around here keep yammering about where there are some jobs which pay very low wages that are just meant for young people looking to start accumulating a work history or elderly people looking to feel useful or whatever, and no one will get hurt because everyone will have the option of just walking away.

  • Gotchaye

    Oh, definitely. For the record, I’m all for a basic income as an easy and practical way to give everyone real economic freedom while preserving incentives to do useful work.

    But it’s a good point. When I say “wage” I’m really talking about good stuff that accrues to people in general, I guess.

  • PepperjackCandy

    So then my Walmart wages are just, since if I disappeared, the store would just keep going as if I had never been there?

  • AnonymousSam

    Unless you’re the door greeter, I think your job is more important than the company treats it to be. And even if you are the door greeter, I think a case could be made that someone doing the job with enough passion and enthusiasm (which a decent wage would help justify) could be considered important.

    Though in all cases, I support having a minimum wage that’s high enough that the most unimportant job is still enough to live in relative comfort and meet all basic needs, and that minimum wage should be reserved for jobs which are simple enough that practically anyone could do them.

  • Gotchaye

    I’m inclined to just refer you to Rawls.

    A just wage is a fair wage. It’s a wage that isn’t determined by morally irrelevant characteristics (so, not determined by how much money your parents had, or who you happened to make nice with in college, or even how much natural talent you have for math), except to the extent that allowing factors like that to influence wages produces a society which is better for the worst-off people.

    What we actually have in policy-making is a bizarre presumption that if someone was born with a good head for numbers, had parents with the money and knowledge to give them a great upbringing and education, and who then went to the sort of university where they made connections with all sorts of other people who were going to go on to be movers and shakers, then that person somehow “deserves” whatever salary they can convince someone to pay them. This is nonsense. That sort of thing is only ever going to be justifiable insofar as it is a necessary sort of unfairness for the sake of others.

  • aim2misbehave

    A “just wage”, I think is also at the very least a “living wage”, ie, a wage where a person could cover all of the basic living expenses with a single full-time job (however “basic living expenses” and “full-time job” come across in their local culture and economy)

  • banancat

    Let me give my own little scene from the class wars. Right now I work at a very big company. I’m currently a contractor, technically a “contingent worker”, but doing permanent work, work that will always need to be done. There are 8 people in my group, 5 of us contractors. We all do exactly the same work and are expected to do it to the same quality. There used to be 4 permanent positions. One of them left and instead of filling her role, they just cut it completely and replaced it with a “contingent” position. For permanent work. For work that will always need to be done. And then my grand boss complains about the high turnover.

    Anyway, let me explain how this plays out. I’m a contractor so I don’t ever get paid for sick days or even holidays. This means that with the holiday tomorrow, my choices are to either not get paid, or to work 4 10-hour days to make it up. It as at the point that a holiday is a bad thing instead of a good thing. It’s quite ridiculous. I no longer look forward to holidays. And that money that I’m not making is money that I won’t spend and money that won’t go into the economy.

    I’m lucky that I have low expenses and I still make enough that days like this don’t have a huge impact on my life. But it’s so frustrating, especially because I’m expected to have the same level of commitment to the company as the “real” employees, but that attitude will never be returned to me. I can’t take certain training and I don’t even get included on certain e-mails that are necessary to do my job correctly. And I’m still expected to perform at the same level as the real people.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    This kind of ongoing penny-wise, pound-foolish attitude towards workers in companies on the micro level astonishes me. The other astonishing thing is that the people who have, individually, made decisions to do this have unintentionally, collectively, created a system that just about hits the sweet spot as far as they’re concerned: Just the right level of economic insecurity to keep people trapped, but not enough to push them over the edge and begin disengaging en masse.

    And people ask why I wouild rather live and work in the 1950s and 1960s.

  • Lori

    As a female who has people near & dear to me who are not straight and/or not white, I wouldn’t prefer to go back to the 50s and 60s. As a worker I see your point. People in this country literally fought and bled* for workers’ rights less than a century ago and we’ve allowed them to be systematically stripped from us. It’s horrifying really.

    *Speaking of blood spilled for labor rights, I’m going to repeat a pitch I’ve made here at least once before for the series “This Day in Labor History” that Erik Lomis is running at Lawyers, Guns & Money. We teach our labor history very, very poorly in this country and that’s part of the reason that we don’t collectively have a realistic enough attitude about capitalism.

    Today’s entry is about Henry Ford’s use of his company “security” force to violently resist UAW organization of the River Rouge plant in Detroit in 1937. There’s a link at the bottom of the post to the earlier entries in the series.

    ETA the actual link because, duh:

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I would put up with a lot of the unthinking homo/biphobia if it meant a steady job for the next 25 years with guaranteed COLAs.

    That’s a reflection, by the way, of just how ridiculously uncertain I feel my own job prospects to be in this era. :(

  • Lori

    I can understand that. I would rather not go back to the days when my options were pretty much secretary or teacher, even though both of those jobs are actually better than the one I have now.

  • Lori

    I’m currently a contractor, technically a “contingent worker”, but
    doing permanent work, work that will always need to be done.

    This shouldn’t even be legal.

  • P J Evans

    The place I worked at would get people as one-year (maximum) outside contractors, and if they were good at it, they’d make them ’employee contractors’, which meant holiday and vacation pay, a renewable year-to-year contract, the company matching whatever part of your 401(k) was in company stock, and a better shot at a permanent job. And, when you leave, if you had been there for several years, even as a contractor, you qualify for a pension.

  • Lliira

    I happened to be bopping around Wikipedia, and I found the entry for emotional contagion. Here is the salient part:

    The interaction between service employees and customers is considered
    an essential part of both customers’ assessments of service quality and
    their relationship with the service provider. Positive affective displays in service interactions are positively associated with important customer outcomes, such as intention to return and to recommend the store to a friend. It is the interest of organizations that their customers be happy, since a happy customer is a satisfied one. Research has shown that the emotional state of the customer is directly influenced by the emotions displayed by the employee/service provider via emotional contagion. But, this influence is dependent on the degree of authenticity of the employee’s emotional display, such that if the employee is only
    surface-acting, the contagion of the customer is poor, in which case the
    beneficial effects stated above will not occur.

    Italics mine.

    Unless you make your employees actually happy, they will drive away customers — not because the employees are doing anything wrong, but because people can smell bullshit. It is in employers’ direct economic interest to keep their employees happy.

  • Carstonio

    One would think that more employers would grasp the connection. But I’ve long suspected that selfishness is rooted in fear. The employers who don’t seem to value long-term reward may not believe in a long term in the first place. Maybe on a subconscious level, they see the business as perpetually one bad month away from bankruptcy. For some it may be simply control, where they’re unsettled by the fact that their livelihood depends greatly on others.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Control is a big part of it, yeah. A related aspect of control has to do with ensuring owner/CEO power is at a maximum in relation to employees.

    Union busting is not an economically rational action, particularly because of the incredible war chests that get accumulated, and spent, in the ongoing war on labor.

    “Labor relations consultants” can bill up to $500 an hour during union busting campaigns and as such many of them can haul down five and six figure incomes easily.

    If you figure the average union busting campaign is $500,000 then that’s basically ten or twenty workers’ wages utterly wasted, thrown away solely to sow division and anxiety and fear in the name of the business’s war on labor.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    A related aspect of control has to do with ensuring owner/CEO power is at a maximum in relation to employees.

    Sometimes I think a lot of businesses are doing a slow-mo version of the Zimbardo Experiment on their employees.

  • Charity Brighton

    Not all companies care about customer services or even rely on it to attract customers though. Wal-Mart is the classic example here; their entire selling point is low prices. They do this a number of ways, some ways that are really good and some awful. One of the most awful is the way they treat their employees. Pay them the absolute minimum, cut their hours to the bone, and have as few people in each store as possible.

    This obviously hurts customer service; it means longer lines and more difficult work for the people who do work there, who may be tempted to drop the customer service aspect of their jobs entirely to keep up with the thousand other things they have to do.

    But people still go to WM, because it’s cheap and that’s what they need. They’ll put up with the long lines and bad service because it helps them stretch a paycheck out further. And WM has no incentive to make changes because they know that people will keep coming back.

    Now, to some extent WM is starting to realize that they may have pushed things too far. But it’s not likely that their solutions will involve better compensation for workers that they still view as disposable. At best they may just ramp up staffing levels, which may be better than nothing but isn’t what we’re talking about here…

  • Lliira

    But WM could be making even more money if they treated their employees fairly. The way they run their business is not actually logical. Employee turnover costs money. Getting people in the door makes them money. Sure, some people will shop there no matter what, but they could get so many more people shopping there with just a little outlay (percentage-wise), it’s unreal. They’re not being driven by profit; they’re being driven by ideology.

    Even before I knew how WM treated their employees, I refused to go there, because the place is dismal.

  • Charity Brighton

    It’s a cost-benefit thing. WM doesn’t think that the costs of treating their employees better will be outweighed by increased profits from more people coming to shop there. Their entire business plan is based on having the lowest possible prices achieved by having the lowest possible costs. They’re not going to change that until it stops working for them, any more than McDonalds is going to try to become a 5-star French restaurant just because theoretically some people might go there for that.

    I used to work for Time-Life Warner (well, back when it was called that) and I remember how WM would buy CDs from us for well under a third of what every other retailer would carry them for. WM gives you shelf space everywhere in the country but they’ll cut you to the bone for it. The result is dwindling profits for the supplier (I don’t mean from $500 to $250, I mean from $1 to 10 cents or less) as you try to make more and more products for less and less money.

    It’s just a larger scale version of what they do to their employees. And they get away with it, obviously, because they’re still the largest private employer in the world, the largest retailer in the world, and I think the 2nd or 3rd largest company in the world. Not just by a thin margin, but a wide one.

  • Aeryl

    Except that there is Costco, sitting right there, taking their business, paying $40,000/yr with benefits.

    They know full well that paying their employees a decent wage wouldn’t hurt them at all.

    We have to stop acting as if corporations are rational actors looking for ways to maximize their profits.

    They pay low wages BECAUSE THEY CAN.

  • Cathy W

    Supposedly trying to meet Walmart’s price point played a big part in Levi’s a) moving production offshore, and b) buying cheaper denim to make jeans out of. Multiply that by every supplier on Walmart’s garment racks… and Walmart may also be driving the Grocery Shrinkification Ray.

  • Ross

    True. Wal-Mart might be a soul-destroying place full of surly, unhappy employees doing their job as poorly as they think they can get away with, but what else am I going to do, pay ten bucks for socks?

  • Lliira

    It’s filled with exhausted employees being exploited. And the idea that WM is the only place to shop cheaply is just wrong.

  • Jamoche

    Spirit Airlines CEO responds to a Consumer Reports survey placing them dead last in service with “We do have great customer service.”

    CBS’ Charlie Rose somehow manages to keep a straight face and points out that the Consumer Reports survey seems to indicate otherwise. And so Baldanza goes back to singing his song about being low-priced.

    Baldanza then shows just whose interest Spirit truly serves — the investors.

    “But let’s talk about the lists that are important,” he says. “You’re saying bottom of the list, but we’re #1 in margin performance for our investors.”

  • Aeryl

    Paying their employees low wages has absolutely NOTHING to do with the prices at WalMart.

    Studies have shown WalMart could pay every employee they have in the States a living wage and provide full benefits, and the average cost to the customer would only be $.42 per trip.

  • Lori

    This is why I always liked shopping at Trader Joe’s. I’ve said more than once that the people working there never struck me as miserable. It makes a difference, both in that the atmosphere in the store is more pleasant than in many places and because I never felt like I was contributing to other people’s misery by going through the checkout line. I wish we hadn’t gotten to the point where we think of those things as luxuries.

  • FearlessSon

    I get the impression that team morale at Trader Joe’s is pretty good too. A pub near where I used to live was also a few blocks from a Trader Joe’s. I went there one night and saw a bunch of TJ’s employees (still in their work shirts) shooting pool and drinking together.

  • AnonymousSam

    The class war has just escalated: one of the Republican representatives of Kansas is opposed to the poor buying food.

  • AnonymousSam

    Kansas, not Texas. *Edit*

  • Lori

    Why does Kansas have any sales tax on food in the first place? I don’t remember the last time I paid sales tax on groceries. Not just in commie California and freeloader central DC either. Right here in red-blooded ‘Merica Indiana they encourage people to buy food instead of other things by having zero sales tax on groceries*. Somehow even the dimmer bulbs in our retail sector are able to manage the “confusion” resulting from differing tax rates on food vs other items. Because, you know, the tax or lack there of is programed into the computer and is applied or not automatically. Dumbass. I have to agree with the commenter who asked what happened to the GOP trying not to be the party of stupid? I guess they couldn’t quite swing it.

    *ETA: Candy, soda, alcohol and a few other things are taxed, but pretty much anything with the slightest nutritional value is not. The exception to the nutrition rule is that hot foods from the deli are taxed. I’m not sure what lawmakers have against rotisserie chicken, but it seems to be the lousy exception to a lot of rules.

  • Aeryl

    Prepared food, it’s just like buying food and McDs or Wendy’s. It’s why you can’t use food stamps to pay for it either.

  • Lori

    I understand the concept, I just don’t agree. Picking up a rotisserie chicken so that you can have a decent meal quickly or in a small, ill-equipped kitchen is not like getting fast food. At least not anywhere other than in the minds of the fast food lobby.

  • Aeryl

    I don’t either.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    The sheer bizarroness is a terror to behold.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think what he may actually be opposed to is the poor getting fat, but that’s not precisely an improvement.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Especially since even people with steady jobs can eat crappy food, so it’s not the poor’s eating habits he ought to be concerned about so much as the fact that a salad can cost more than a Big Mac.

  • aim2misbehave

    That quote from Doctor Who gets me every time I see that episode… the other day I was all like “Yeah, I have money, so now I can sew my own clothes!” and then I realized “Shit, this fabric was probably made in some kind of overseas textile factory that’s not really any better than a sweatshop….”

  • Jenny Islander

    I used to get around this by buying new only from Deva Lifewear, which employs American workers at home (to keep them out of the stuffy air of a room full of sewing machines) to make hippie clothes out of domestic cotton.

    But something happened to their fabric supply, or supplier, or something, so they’re just selling down their backstock at present.

    Still, go have a look. If you like North Indian-influenced clothing or old-fashioned European styles of men’s/women’s shirts, they may have something you want.

  • Invisible Neutrino
  • AnonaMiss

    Looking at the guy’s other articles, yep. It’s the same guy who was behind the “Unskewed polls” during election season, though, so at least the circle of crankpots is small.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    The rule of thumb I’ve heard is that a headline asks a question, the answer to that question is “no”.

  • Ursula L

    Seen while I was driving today. A small commercial truck, marked with the company name “Christian Flooring.” With the “t” in “Christian” being a large cross, just to make the point clear.

    No indication as to what made their flooring “Christian” rather than otherwise. Just what is the Christian theology of flooring?

    And the icing on the cake: “Financing Available.”

  • BringTheNoise

    Tribal-based marketing at its finest.

  • Turcano

    So, did they offer “wood-panel carpeting?”

  • AnonymousSam

    Not strictly class war, but I had to share the pain.

    Fox News praises big oil and demands you do it too.