It should not be controversial for Catholics

It should not be controversial for Catholics November 29, 2012

…that a giant corporation with the resources to pay a just wage should not keep a huge percentage of its workforce submerged below the poverty line and forced on to the dole at taxpayer expense, all while the execs who force us all to subsidize Walmart reap absurd salaries as they defraud their workers and us.  This is one of those “sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance things”.  Only it doesn’t involve sodomy (except in a metaphorical sense) and so, when I noted this on my FB page, I was met with a giant chorus of excuse makers for Walmart from the Thing that Used to be Conservatism. Turns out entitlements and Federal subsidies are *great* when its a giant corp getting them and any attempt to talk about just wages was really socialist, and utopian, and pro-abortion, and judgmental, and mean, and liberal, and “social justice” Catholicism not *real* Catholicism (which recognizes only abortion and subsidiarity as the sole legitimate subjects for conversation). (“Subsidiarity” in that particular universe of discourse, does not mean “The people closest to the problem should typically handle it with an eye to the common good” but rather, “Ayn Rand was right! Screw the state. Unrestricted capitalist self-interest will magically bring goodness to the world and if the weak get trampled by the strong, well ‘if you have no education or skills, you are not worth much so get an education! Low wage jobs are for students, hs and college, part time and second jobs. Anyone making a career out of a low paying no skills job deserves what they get.'” As one of my readers put it.) What few had to say was that, no matter how you slice it, Walmart is defrauding its workers of a just wage.

A couple days later, I noted this:

The response was again immediate. The source of the graphic was ritually impure. The exec was an Obama supporter. I was secretly pro-abortion. I hate success. Sure the Church’s teaching is right in some vague ideal sense, but it’s impossible (even though Costco was living it out). People are “free” to work for Walmart or not.  (If they prefer starving, that’s up to them.) Etc. blah blah. The bottom line remained: Walmart was mysteriously sacrosanct. Any call for it to actually abide by the Church’s teaching on just wage was not only utopian, but actively evil.

I remarked on how weird it was to hear all the excuses for this and somebody asked if I thought everybody defending Walmart was irrational. I replied, “The problem is not irrationality. The problem is lack of interest in a serious injustice and a deep desire to defend the status quo. If I went to a prolife meeting and everybody spent the whole meeting saying that trying to stop abortion is utopian, and I’m probably a warmonger if I oppose abortion, and besides Planned Parenthood does a lot of good things too, and sure abortion is sad but poor people bring it on themselves and shouldn’t expect anybody to care about their plight and besides they freely choose their predicament and also don’t forget that there are a lot of things worse than abortion etc. blah blah, I would get the distinct impression that such a “prolife” group wasn’t super interested in anything but lip service to the Church’s teaching on the unborn. I get that same impression here from people who pay lip service to the Church’s teaching on just wages.”

Here’s reality: Walmart is freely choosing to treat its workers the way it does. The rubbish that its workers, living in a down economy, often uneducated and unable to find any other work are equally “free” to work there or not is BS. Walmart has thousands of employees over a barrel and is functioning according to the pagan ethos that the strong do as they will and the weak suffer what they must. It is the ethos of slavery and that is what is being defended–by Catholics who should know better. It need not be so, as both Costco and this gentleman demonstrate:

Retiring grocer, 70, gives stores to his employees — for free Joe Lueken, seen below, is transferring ownership of his three stores as a thank you. “My employees are largely responsible for any success I’ve had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that,” Lueken explains. “You can’t always take. You also have to give back.”

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  • Richard Chonak

    I read the article and I think its analysis is half-baked. Already the average FT pay at Walmart is $11.75/hr. Setting a minimum of $12 would not compel Walmart to boost pay only of those getting under $12. People who are currently paid over $12 due to seniority, etc., would have to be hiked also, to maintain their comparative difference above the brand-new, inexperienced, less skilled workers. So the hike would likely cost the company zsubstantially

    • Pam H.

      Yes, but they will not let most employees work full time, lest they have to pay them higher wages and benefits. I know this from a Walmart employee.

      • ppeter

        That’s a novel idea: actually talking to a WallyWorld drudge before pontificating.
        But my question is: are they ‘really’ human?

        • Raul De La Garza III

          Roger that. They should pay a just wage, however, I am not of the opinion that they should be coerced into doing so. Persuaded, perhaps…

          • Raul De La Garza III

            But then again, it is truly none of my freakin’ business…

          • Why not coerced? Or, to put it less inflammatory language, why not required? There are plenty of health and safety requirements for doing business; why shouldn’t a just wage be one of them? Why is the amount a business pays its employees exempt from regulation?

            I’ll grant that it’s an immensely complex issue, and there are many valid approaches. But “a company shouldn’t be coerced into paying a just wage” at best requires some justification, and at worst is sheer nonsense.

            But then again, it is truly none of my freakin’ business…

            But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

            • Raul De La Garza III

              Oh, give me a break…really? That’s your argument?

            • The reason not to coerce is because it is better to work than not to work and it is better to gain skills than not. People produce at varying levels and there are people who produce at less than a living wage. These people need to have skill upgrades so they produce over a living wage, then go and get a job that pays that wage. Who should make up the difference between their living expenses and their smaller salaries? Is it their parents, because these people are teenagers getting after school and summer jobs? Is it the state, because these are mainstreaming disabled (either from birth or from accident) who are coming into the workforce from a position of profound disability? Or should it be the employer because these are people who are going to be sticking with the company and it makes sense to invest in training to upgrade their skills? As you might guess, I think there is no one-size-fits-all answer. In the normal course of things, parents should ensure that their children can earn a living wage when they leave the nest. I find this normal and socially just. Any dissenters? During that time between they can start earning and they leave it is just to have what I call training jobs. This is akin to the old medieval apprenticeships which didn’t pay a living wage either. That awaited journeyman status. Who shall provide these training jobs if not the Walmarts of the world? Clearly, Costco provides an alternate business model, successfully competing against Walmart’s Sam’s Club. The idea that Walmart plows all before it simply doesn’t pass the smell test. It’s just not true as Costco and Target can attest.

              The state’s coercion of Walmart will eliminate training jobs. Parents will lose the resources of sending their children to these jobs to upgrade skills. You’ve done an injury to innocent parties with your coercive action. How do you propose to make them whole?

              • ivan_the_mad

                “People produce at varying levels and there are people who produce at less than a living wage. These people need to have skill upgrades so they produce over a living wage, then go and get a job that pays that wage.”

                No. Rerum Novarum: “45. Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.”

                • “People produce at varying levels and there are people who produce at less than a living wage. These people need to have skill upgrades so they produce over a living wage, then go and get a job that pays that wage.”

                  So, let’s say everyone has a little plot of land to grow some vegetables. Now, you’re telling us that it is impossible for Bob to fail to grow enough to sustain himself? That even if he is horrible with horticulture, his plants will always produce enough vegetables for him to live on.

                  Wasn’t this blog saying a lot about prudence and facing reality or something? Eh, I guess only when Catholics feel like it.

                  • Marthe Lépine

                    You did not get the point: Wages are what is paid to someone working for someone else. The comparison with working one’s own plot of land does not apply. In an agrarian society, if someone cannot make a living working his own plot of land, it seems to me the answer would be for his neighbours to help him improve his working methods, or get a better way to water his plot, or give him what he needs, fix his tools, or something similar… When someone hires a person to do a task and gets a profit from the result of that other person’s work, the relationship is obviously different.

                • Without a lot more data, you cannot conclude that Rerum Novarum #45 is violated by Walmart wages. It has always annoyed me that living wages are not defined very well, just that this or that employer is violating the dictates. Who says? The complainer says, that’s who. And we are all supposed to bow our heads in deference to the complainer’s judgment.

                  The most recent USCCB statement on living wages that I could find seems to put the rate of a living wage at $7.25 an hour. That is currently the US minimum wage. That a living wage exceeds $11 an hour is something that’s going to have to be demonstrated.

                  • ivan_the_mad

                    No, the point here is not the monetary amount of the living wage, nor am I arguing whether Walmart’s wage constitutes such. The point of Rerum Novarum, in contrast to what you posited above and which I quoted, is that the productive worth does not determine whether or not they are due more or less than a living wage. The teaching, pretty clearly, is that the wage-earner is owed in justice a living wage.

                    • In the heart of christendom at the height of the medieval church the apprenticeship system went on without protest that it did not provide a living wage. You are not supposed to stick around and be a permanent burger flipper in the modern economy. That is not what these jobs are designed for. You’re supposed to gain experience, skills, and move on from these jobs to higher paying work elsewhere just as apprentices were supposed to graduate to being journeymen and eventually masters. Remains of this system persist today even as the McJob system gave an alternate method of job education and skill upgrade.

                      The advantage of the McJob system is that unlike the apprenticeship system, these jobs salaries do become living wage jobs in times of labor shortage. It’s an improvement over the apprenticeship system that had formal categories that were steeped in tradition and could not be shifted around easily to accomodate changing economic conditions.

                      Now it is possible that on mature reflection you will oppose the apprenticeship system too but it would be equally foolish. I do not believe that middle ground jobs that are conceived as temporary waystations combining education and labor to process the low skilled in and lose higher skilled workers to better situations in a never ending conveyor belt is what the Pope was rightly condemning in Rerum Novarum.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      What part of §45, “wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner” is so difficult to grasp? The meaning is clear. The wage-earner is owed in justice a living wage.

                    • Mark Shea

                      Clearly you are a communist. And this is a “prudential judgment” which means nobody has to pay attention to it. And besides, ordination is not an economics degree. And you are a utopian, and secretly pro-Obama, and abortion is the only sin, and you are probably a pro-abort. And you don’t understand Hard Economic Reality. And all this is really Class Envy[TM]. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

                    • And you don’t understand Hard Economic Reality.

                      Like the principle that you can’t get something from nothing? Denying this doesn’t seem very prudent. To quote a poster on an older thread when you last went off the rails into insanity:

                      “Like all sciences, economics will tell you how things work. Biochemists will say that we can’t cure cancer simply by demanding that it be cured in the name of justice and the common good, but that doesn’t make biochemists evil people who hate God. A surgeon will say that he or she can’t operate for 178 hours straight no matter how urgent the cases are; call for laws “redistributing” the surgeon’s sleep by deferring it for a month will not produce more health care.”

                    • Mark Shea

                      And here I thought Walmart profits were something and not nothing.

                    • Well let’s see here…

                      Wal-mart employees in 2010 were 2.1 mil. Profits for that year were 14.3 bil. So, that’s an extra $6,809.52 yearly for each employee, or $3.27 an hour bonus.

                      Except… what happens if the profit margin drops? They got lucky and 2011 seems to have netted Wal-mart 16.389 bil in profit, so assume employee numbers stayed static, they would get a raise for the next year, (50 cents more an hour, actually) but if 2012 profits drop below even the 2010 numbers, should employees have to take a pay cut? Should they be paid $3.75 less an hour then?

                    • Mark Shea

                      Yes. There are always excuses, aren’t there? Note how you have totally abandoned your first excuse (“You’re demanding something from nothing!”) since it was manifest bullshit and now you are, without shame, shifting to a totally different excuse (“Suppose something bad happens someday! So it’s okay for Walmart to be unjust now.”) The amazing effort put into excusing Walmart cheating workers at taxpayer expense is a sight to behold.

                    • 1) I (as well as just about every libertarian, randian, and free-market fan) am NOT a fan of them taking taxpayer money. By all means, if they are getting government funds, cut those off.

                      2) What abandonment? I asked “from where”, you said “from [here]” so then I examined how well the chosen location would work out. If you think they should pay out of profits now, the simple question remains: what if there’s no profits tomorrow? Would it then become more just for them to pay under living wages? Would actions unjust today become just tomorrow if things change? If you have weighed the cost and find it acceptable… then ok, I can at least respect that.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      To TMLutas: If my memory is correct, although the apprenticeship system did not provide a “living wage”, the apprentice was often living with the master craftman’s family and eating at their table. The actual meanings of “wages” and “jobs” do not necessarily correspond to 21st century usage of those words. There used to be such things as barter – and if I remember my Economics studies, money gradually became used as an easier way to establish the value of goods that would otherwise still be exchanged through barter. It was kind of an easier way to carry the “value” between goods than if I had to bring a bunch of carrots from my garden and needed tomatoes, but the person selling the tomatoes did not need carrots, so I would have to exchange my carrots with someone else who had goods that the tomato grower needed, and carrying produce from stall to stall until I found the correct match would become rather complicated, therefore money would facilitate such transactions. From these “humble beginnings, and over the centuries, money took on a life of its own…

                  • Chris

                    Just for the record, jobs that are low paying are often very hard. Coming from a family in poverty, and being a first generation college student (I’m not lazy; I’m graduating magna cum laude from one of the best public universities in the state), I can honestly say that work at a place like Wal-Mart or any other department store can leave someone tired enough to be dead on their feet. Wal-Mart is actually not the bottom of the barrel when it comes to this. Saying that you should earn a living wage for a job that makes you come home tired every day shouldn’t ever be controversial.

                    Wal-Mart also forces its employees not to unionize (trying to convince them, in fact, that unions are harmful to them). We live in a delightful “right to work” state, which essentially means that you have a right to a low-paying, stressful job with no hope of bargaining as a more powerful group if you’re in a low income bracket.

                    American neo-conservatism isn’t Catholicism, and you should never think it is. It often reflects the Catholic position best on issues like marriage and abortion, but politics should never influence belief as much as they sometimes can.

                    • Chris

                      EDIT: Since I unfortunately can’t change my earlier post, “right to work” is actually not the term that I was looking for. In our state, jobs often discriminate based on whether someone is in a union or not. Right to work refers to a state where people aren’t forced to subsidize a union. There’s a difference, definitely. Sorry about that.

                    • The underlying economic problem is that job creation is being held back by various laws and regulations, keeping labor in surplus supply, a situation that has persisted for a very long time with only short periods of relief. As labor goes out of massive surplus on a global basis, the wages of difficult but low skill jobs will rise because there will be no large, ready pool of unemployed workers to replace those leaving because of low compensation. Seeking out and destroying such job killing regulation is the most sustainable method of assuring an environment where such jobs get a decent, living wage as compensation.

    • MarylandBill

      Wait, why would the workers who make above $12 and hour have to have their wages hiked as well? Last I checked there is nothing in Moral or Natural Law that requires that a new employee must earn much less than a long serving employee? Indeed there is a gospel passage that argues the opposite (Though granted it is a parable and not really about wages).

      When Ford instituted the $5 a day wage (A very high salary in industry at the time), I don’t think he was worried about how higher paid workers might have reacted. He did however believe that he should pay enough that all his workers should earn enough to own the product they made. Now neither Ford nor Costco’s CEO are ideal role models for a wide variety of reasons, but they do understand the necessity and value of paying a good wage.

      • The need to hike wages on the higher end is simple human nature and sinfulness. If you’re on the front end manning the registers for $12 an hour and the warehouse workers are hauling boxes for $11, news that they are now earning $12 and your pay equal will cause unrest among the cashiers and pressure to raise their wage to $13. If you don’t want sabotage, you’ll raise their wages.

    • Micha Elyi

      Yeah, math is hard.

      I suppose the Church could raise up an order of Executive CEOs. One could replace the fellow whose salary excites the hate and envy* of those of weak morals and character. His salary could be divided up among Wal-Mart’s 2.1 million employees – raising their salary by less than a few mils each.

      *These are genuinely “controversial for Catholics.”

      • MarylandBill

        Its not that his salary excites hate and envy. If Walmart was paying a living wage to all its employees, I doubt many people here would have much issue with the salary of the CEO. Likewise, if the company was struggling and the CEO took a rather small compensation package then people might understand the small salaries, but it is the combination of low salaries for the work force and high salaries for the executives that suggests that the executives are enriching themselves (and their share holders) at the expense of paying a living wage.

  • Richard Chonak

    …. more than the 11% estimated in the article. To omit this factor makes the authors look basically unserious and unobjective.

  • Spastic Hedgehog

    The article does raise an interesting point though which is what is protecting job creator’s wealth worth if the jobs they are creating have to be subsidized by taxpayers? I know we all love topics on wallyworld but how many other big box retailers are running on the same paradigm?

  • Rosemarie


    When Walmart moves into a small town, it tends to drive many other stores – supermarkets, hardware stores, even department stores – out of business. This kills lots of jobs in the community (outside of Walmart, that is) which severely reduces people’s “freedom” to work elsewhere.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Yup. There’s nothing conservative about failing to conserve small farms and small businesses.

      • Jmac

        Oh come now, Ivan. When people say they want free-market capitalism, they really mean government-tied oligopolies. Get with the times, man!

        • ivan_the_mad

          I just placed my order for Humpty Dumpty’s New Revised Dictionary and Humpty Dumpty’s Vocabulary Workbook.

    • MarylandBill

      Lets not forget their equally egregious practice of then often closing the local walmart (after they drove local competition out of business) and leaving the residents of said community no option but to drive 30 miles to nearest Walmart Supercenter. So people can’t even work at Walmart.

    • It is not as if Walmart is a de novo phenomenon when it enters a small town these days. Everybody knows the drill. Small business owners need to be preparing their business plan and making themselves unattractive for Walmart to enter the market by providing good prices and superior service. Walmart goes where the competition is weak. In this, they are like any other company.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Wow, but that’s some bullshit. I had the privilege of Walmart moving into my town recently. Walmart is not like any other company. The local businesses did not enjoy Walmart’s scale or supply chain. The local employees certainly didn’t “enjoy” the lower wages and benefits that came with Walmart. The local businesses did not enjoy the collusion of state and local governments on their behalf as Walmart did. The voices of my town, nearly unanimous in protest, were ignored. There was no magical free-market at work there.

        Economic efficiency is NOT the highest good.

        • Wait, if your town was unanimous against Wal-mart, is it still there? If nobody shopped, then it wouldn’t have made money – ergo it closes and leaves.

          If anybody shopped there, then clearly your town was not unanimous.

          Or were your local police hired to take everyone at gun point to wallyworld and force them to shop there?

          • Raul De La Garza III

            If I am not mistaken, city councils get to decide which businesses get the privilege of setting up shop within their boundaries…

            • Irrelevant for whether the business remains in business.

              • Raul De La Garza III

                But whether it remains in business in a particular locale it is very much relevant…

                • Not… really as nobody shopping there isn’t going to keep the place afloat. City council can approve all they want, if the place makes no money, it’s out of business.

        • Yes, local businesses acting alone can find their wholesale prices exceed Walmart’s retail prices. The hardware industry was particularly hit by this phenomenon. But that’s whyAce Hardware is so popular. Mom and Pops affiliated with Ace and got access to a national supply chain but maintained local ownership and superior service. Nobody who has a choice between a locally owned Ace and Walmart picks Walmart for hardware these days.

          I bought something for my mom from a local flower shop and we got to talking and she complained of Walmart. It turns out that the same phenomenon is happening in flowers too. Walmart does not always win but it will always win against locals who do not change and improve to beat it at Walmart’s weak points. That does not actually seem that unfair to me.

  • Noah D

    Don’t forget that Wal-Mart is also essentially a storefront for Communist China.

    • Linda C.

      As are KMart/Shopko/Target/Dollar General/Family Dollar, and, I suspect, Sears and Penney’s.

  • Linda C.

    What Wal-Mart is doing is wrong. The alternative, for many if not most people, is not mom-and-pop stores, but KMart/Shopko/Target. These are not “small businesses”, they are large corporations. Do they pay a living wage? For those of us lower on the purchasing-ability scale, the alternatives are Dollar General/Family Dollar. Do they pay a living wage?

    The solution to this is not to throw up one’s hands and say, “Well, since no one’s hands are clean, I might as well shop at Wal-Mart.” Seeing this as a larger problem than just Wal-Mart would likely be a first step.

  • ivan_the_mad

    I love the story about the older gentleman transferring ownership of his stores to his employees. There’s something quite in keeping with Catholic social teaching there … even (horribile dictu and ritually impure) distributist, but I repeat myself.

    • The weird thing is how many people will conclude that such behavior (giving away your store) is likely to make him and his business less competitive on the free market, and they will draw a moral conclusion from it: he was wrong to do anything that might significantly decrease his company’s fitness in the free market.

      Nobody here has done that, but I’ve run into that before.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Yes, unfortunately, this test of economic efficiency is considered conservative economic orthodoxy. From the grand old man of conservatism, Russell Kirk:

        “So it is that thinking folk of conservative views ought to reject the embraces of the following categories of political zealots: … Those who instruct us that “the test of the market” is the whole of political economy and of morals … Those who assure us that great corporations can do no wrong.”

    • Raul De La Garza III

      Amen. And no one had to force him to do so, either. Bravo.

      • What? It’s bad for the boss to hold back pay his workers have earned, and it’s good for him to pay a just wage his people can live on; so using whatever coercive power it takes to force businesses (non-profits too?) to pay just wage to its employees must be good, right?

    • dpt

      It is a great story!

  • Jessie

    I agree that Walmart is predatory. That said, greater skill is paid a greater wage and let me tell you Costco employees SHOULD make more than Walmart employees. There could not be a greater difference between the can do, quick on the job Costco worker and the the slow, “I don’t have to do more than the minimum” attitude of the Walmart/Sam’s Club worker. I have dealt with both. Of course, the CEO attitude is key. One chooses to hire good, effective, motivated people and pays them what they deserve. The other chooses to scrap the bottom of the barrel and pay himself what he thinks he deserves.

    • Chris

      If Walmart paid a just wage they would attract better employees. You get what you pay for.

  • Mark S.

    I find it very sad how many Catholics will bend over backwards to defend WalMart and other businesses who behave this way. Have you not read the Law and the Prophets?

    Working at Walmart is even worse than the “official” figures show. I have family who have worked for the company. It’s not unheard of for managers to make you work 50 hours but pay you for 40. If you complain, your hours get cut to 10 a week. Unpaid overtime is common. Managers make it clear that at busy times, you work off the clock or you can find another job. Benefits are non-existent.

    If Dickens were writing novels today, they’d be set in Walmart.

    • This is illegal. I hope that nobody is advocating violating the law or even condoning it. If they are, they are being immoral. That’s different from defending the wage/skill ratio of Walmart. I’ve been both a Sams Club and a Costco member. I ended up preferring Costco as I tend to prefer Target over Walmart. That does not mean that it is OK for the state to illegalize the business model of Walmart/Sams.

      Part of any sane system of social justice has to deal with the issue of skills upgrades. Walmart provides skills upgrades as part of their employment, just like everyone else. If nobody is getting hired below $12/hr what is the pathway out of poverty for those who produce less than $12/hr in value? I am not in favor of trapping people in poverty. High minimum wages do this. High minimum wages and high unemployment go hand in hand. If you advocate a high minimum wage without addressing the increase in unemployment, you are an enemy of the poor. You pull up a few into the lower middle class at the cost of trapping the rest into a steel trap of poverty.

      That steel trap of poverty is disgusting and unjust. This revulsion is the heart of the legitimate conservative defense of Walmart.

  • Chris

    Check this fun fact out. I’m not sure they still do this, but the fact that they used to reveals the corporate culture.

  • Chris

    I’m not a Walmart fan (I often state the obvious). Here is another goodie.

  • dpt

    The problem is deeper than Walmart and other big box stores. From a recent article at The Atlantic:
    “We are the ones who choose where to take our business. And for the most part, Americans have chosen cheap.”

    Consumers love a bargain and millions flock to Walmart, thus Walmart and other big box store employees are invisible. We drool over cheap electronics, yet don’t give a damn about the laborers in China and elsewhere working seven days a week and living in cramped dorms (while Apple and other executives pull in tens of millions of stock options and bonuses). How many hundreds of dollars more are consumers willing to pay for a smart phone or laptop so to provide a just living for these employees? Just look at the cheap made in China plastic crap one can find in many Catholic bookstores and gift shops, yet people will consume it…for what end?

    Our middle-class lifestyle has evolved into rampant consumption thus the nonsense of black friday, superbowl madness, lining up at the Apple store, etc.

    The problem is not Walmart but us the consumer.

    • ivan_the_mad

      The solution is solidarity, a Christian solidarity that does not stop at national borders.

    • Chris

      You make a good point. But, it takes 2 to Tango, my mom used to say. So, it is both the companies and the consumers that make an unjust economy.

      • dpt

        You are very correct. I should have wrote “the problem is not just Walmart, but us the consumer as well.

    • We have more than 2 billion people entering the global labor pool in the past few decades, coming out of grinding rural poverty and subsistence agriculture and communist economic repression. Compared to their previous lives, these lousy factory jobs are a step up. Now that the rush is dying down, these people are doing exactly the same that american workers did before them, jumping from factory to factory chasing higher wages.

      The Boston Consulting Group has predicted that in 2015, adjusted for productivity, factory wages will have equalized between China and the US. At that point, it’s just as easy to make it in Oklahoma as it will be in Beijing.

      Americans will still be in love with a bargain and chasing after those bargains will locate factories in the cheapest places to build things, raising local wages in the process. I do not find this to be unjust, economically or socially. Unless you belong to a national church instead of the Catholic Church, which is global in both reach and outlook, perhaps you should reconsider your position on economics.

  • John


    Thanks for spending some time on Social Justice Catholicism. Was just having this argument today. Apparently, it’s quite the insult to free-marketeers to suggest that we must give all an opportunity.

    I RARELY go to Wal Mart. If I do, it’s for a quick item I can’t get somewhere else nearby. I find it quite loathsome the way they choose to do business, and the way their employees are treated. I wish I had a COSTCO near me. I’d go there in a heartbeat.


    • dpt

      Actually, I don’t like the Costco experience. Too big and, at least where I live, the parking lot is crowded and full of mayhem, especially on weekends. Trader Joe’s and Ranch 99 are more convenient and good deals can be found.

    • There is nothing wrong with social justice Catholicism that any free marketer can legitimately complain about. It’s the economically illiterate application of social justice principles that rankles because what you end up with is *not Catholic*. Generally what you end up with is nationalist and biased towards the comparatively rich developed world worker over their fellow workers in the developing world.

      It is not social justice when you fight for US workers to have $12 instead of $11.50 and as a consequence Chinese workers have $0.10 instead of $1.25. It is social justice to maximize the number of people who have a living wage which means you have to cheaply (efficiently) signal jobs to move to the lowest paying areas to get them closer to a living wage. You want cheap signaling because the more you spend on signaling, the less you have left to pay wages and signaling costs tend to be paid out to middle to upper class bureaucrats of both the private and public variety.

  • Gregg

    There seems to be quite a few here that must watch “A Christmas Carol” and yell at the screen for Bob Cratchit to get off his lazy ass and go find a better job! Merry Christmas!

    • ivan_the_mad

      Hahaha! Quite the funny.

      • Micha Elyi

        Gregg’s scene is even funnier when one knows that, by the standards of the day, Scrooge paid Cratchit a better-than-average clerk’s wage. And in a post-Catholic England still under heavy Puritan Reformation cultural influence, Christmas was considered another workday by most people.

        P.S. As a business, Scrooge and Marley was a model of (horribile dictu!) distributist purity.

    • Raul De La Garza III

      I doubt even Dickens would have been in favor of the British government coercing his employer into paying his employee a just wage, whatever that is. And who should decide? An external entity? The threat of a faceless mob? Dickens’ solution spoke to the heart of a man through the Christian faith and not at the end of a bayonet. This, my friends, should be our model as well.

      • Mark Shea

        You do realize that the state regulates commerce and punishes, for instance, slavery (the “free choice” of an employer to pay no wages at all), right?

        • If an employer paid no wages at all… who would go work there?

          • dpt

            And who would buy those products or services?
            Imagine the quality of your TV or car if manufactured by slave labor.

            • Do we have to? I think we can just look at old Soviet goods. 😉

        • In any employment situation, two parties negotiate the conditions. Slavery contains no such negotiation, though indenture does. I think that indenture is wrong, the civil war amendments were generally the right idea (though I oppose the slaughterhouse cases neutering of the rights and privileges clause of the 14th amendment), and so do virtually all free marketers I have ever met. The state regulates commerce even in a completely free market. It does not permit violence (murder, beatings, rape) and other coercive practices nor does it permit fraud. Slavery is an inherently violent institution.

        • Micha Elyi

          “Slavery” – I do not think the word means what you think it means.

          Whatever dictionary you’re using, you may want to take it back for a refund.

      • ivan_the_mad

        The social encyclicals provide answers to your questions. Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum spoke of societies and boards to which people might first appeal if the wage was unjust so as to avoid the undue influence of the state, in keeping with solidarity. But also in keeping with solidarity, this does not preclude action by the public authority, “the State being appealed to, should circumstances require, for its sanction and protection.”

        • Raul De La Garza III

          Good stuff, that. Also Caritas in Veritate. Give that one a good read as well, my friends.

          • Raul De La Garza III

            “The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.”

            Therefore, what is needed is a re-evangelization of the Gospel and not more government thuggery (though even gov’t thugs need more of the Gospel as well!).

            • ivan_the_mad

              Indeed yes. The market is shaped and run by people making moral or immoral decisions. You’ll have no argument from me that a re-evangelization is needed, that the right thing done freely is to be desired, and that there’s plenty of bad activist government today. I just can’t assert that the state cannot involve itself when necessary to ensure justice, cannot intervene when the wage paid is not just, because the social teaching says otherwise (all state activity in accordance with subsidiarity, as noted above).

              • ivan_the_mad

                I should add that the groups that would make the intervening levels between the individual and the state do not exist for many Americans, unfortunately in many instances leaving the state with the duty to intervene. Unions are an imperfect form of the trade associations; however imperfect unions are, if you can’t even appeal to a union at Walmart, where is the next step to redress the grievance of the unjust wage short of the state?

      • Collective bargaining.

  • Jeff T.

    This is actually the first that I’ve heard about Costco wages. While it sounds like that’s a step in the right direction, Costco is miles away from the ideal. Costco employees are still just proletarian wage workers.

    For an interesting perspective on the minimum wage, check out this controversial post over at The American Conservative.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Yeah, I saw that a while back and put it up on my Facebook. One reaction was that there wasn’t anything conservative about this piece, something something free market economics. Because, you know, Pat Buchanan’s exhortations to protectionist policies arose from a vacuum.

  • Target’s just as bad; I wrote about it recently:

    Target’s employees get paid about 8 to 14 dollars an hour. Meanwhile the CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, became one of the highest-paid CEOs last year when his total compensation (much more than just salary) reached twenty-four million dollars. For those keeping score at home, that’s nearly seven MILLION dollars more per year than the Wal-Mart CEO.

    At our local Target, which has hard-working and friendly employees, one worker I would chat with at the store kept saying she was going to have to find something else–the store kept randomly cutting her hours, and the hours of most of the other clerks, to 9 per week. Nine hours. Scattered, of course, all over the week’s calendar so you can’t very easily get a second job elsewhere. She’s an older woman taking care of a disabled vet. husband and she’s currently going blind, by the way, but there isn’t any medical help for her from the company–and I think she has moved on, because I haven’t seen her there in a while. She has our phone number, so I hope she’ll call and touch base when she’s settled someplace.

    Why don’t I, or others, take our business elsewhere? Well, define “elsewhere.” Some small mom-and-pop grocery store or even local chain? Great, if they exist in your area. And the merchandise is going to be the same stuff: imported goods, food from giant agribusiness dressed up to look farm-to-table, and the like. It will just cost a whole lot more–and if you’re making the one-income economic sacrifice (as we are) or otherwise trying to live on shoestrings and prayer, it’s not exactly greed that makes you bypass the grocery store that charges $2.89 on sale for something the big-box store always has for $1.99. A dollar extra here, five dollars extra there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

    Both sides need to view this honestly. Maybe some Americans demand cheap goods so they can stockpile investment cash or bulk up their 401Ks, but I think many Americans *rely* on cheap goods to relieve the economic stresses of over-strained budgets and virtually flat wages in an era of depleted home equity and other savings and the threat of imminently rising taxation. Middle class Americans struggle to absorb rising costs when pay raises are considered “generous” at 1 to 3% (compared to years when raises are frozen) and yet we’re better off than the lower-middles and lower class who are at risk of losing their ability to pay for basic needs.

    To me, one of the major problems that needs to be addressed is that giant corporations have this tendency to demand special treatment, tax breaks, government incentives, safety nets for their employees in lieu of better wages, etc., because they stopped thinking of workers as necessary and valuable teammates in the business enterprise and started thinking of them as “human resources” who are a drain on capital and whose value to the business is negligible. In the corporation mindset, they *deserve* to be rewarded for employing people (from the local area, etc.) even if they pay them minimal wages with no benefits and cut their hours to nine per week to keep the wage-slaves from demanding health care or anything else that humans generally need beyond the salary pittance the company must pay them (minimum wage laws, and all that). Because in their mindset, the alternative for their workers isn’t a better job elsewhere–it’s welfare. So by graciously allowing employees to come in on Thanksgiving Day to work a few hours at time-and-a-half attempting to control the frenzied mobs snatching up bargain-basement TVs to resell on eBay for their holiday cash, the company is doing the local, state, and federal government a favor. The company is not treating their employees like actual living, breathing human beings who, for instance, deserve a holiday with their families (assuming they can afford a turkey dinner in the first place)–but the company’s not in business to treat employees like people, instead of the annoying carbon-based illness-and-injury prone completely deficient lifeforms they actually are.

    If we don’t fix that, it won’t much matter where we shop. Because if corporations can treat their low-paid employees this way, then they can–and will–do it to us, too. It’s just a matter of time.

    • Linda C.

      I could take this and frame it, having been vilified for occasionally getting a few items at Evil WalMart (at the upper end of our shopping range), for not always buying fair trade, for basically not having the disposable income to make those kinds of choices—a bit hard to swallow when those attacking WalMart shoppers are shopping at Target for their “bargains” (and as was noted, Target is no different in either their treatment of employees or their participation in buying cheap foreign-made goods). But WalMart has the “lower-class” shopper image, while Target does not….

  • tz

    I shall have to join Costco.

    A “just wage” is a market wage. The Walmart CEO’s compensation v.s. the workers at the stores are distinct and separate issues.

    I can do a crappy website for you, so please pay me $5000 dollars instead of the $50 it is worth on the basis of James since I spent so may hours on it although it was mainly unproductive… If the shirts cost $10 instead of $7, and you shop where they cost $7 and the store closes, what have they gained. Nor did you mention the Chinese who do have what is a form of slavery, dump toxic waste into the water, the governments steal the land to give to the cronies, and provide capital to build the factories.

    CEOs are overcompensated most of the time. Some of this is tax-code distortion. Most is greed – avarice – in the sense of the cardinal sin. They aren’t compensated for success. The CEO of Home Depot nearly destroyed the company. Steve Ballmer is doing the same to Microsoft. I can destroy their company for 1/100th of the price.

    There seems to be a neo-Catholicism paralleling neo-conservatism. I’m trying not to troll, but I find that there are so few who are searching for the whole truth instead of trying to be part of the “team” on the right or left. Instead of the Church established by Jesus, there is a “Catholic Club” which ignores sins by their members (typically GOP). Or as you put it find truth in “ritually impure sources”. Glenn Greenwald will renounce abortion before they renounce any one of torture, corrupt crony capitalism, or war crimes.

    It is a difficult balancing act. Off-shoring evil does not change the culpability. But the typical restrictions are just a different and finer corruption. Banning cars so that the buggy-whip makers won’t suffer is not an act of righteousness. Nor is requiring a buggy-whip for every car (or CAFE, or the other things that make new cars cost $30k instead of $10k).

    It is better to err on the side of the individual and his or her free will than on some other individual who is in power or claims to be an expert. It is better to err on the side of the poor and powerless than the rich and powerful. Yet it is still corruption to pander to individuals and the poor when it is unjust to do so. Such is the world under the fall.

  • Betsy

    The Walmart in my rural area pays a starting wage of $9.00 per hour. It’s one of the largest employers in the county. Most of the manufacturers, who offered higher wages and benefits, went out of business when the economy collapsed. Retail sales is about the only gig in town for those without a degree. And there is no outside pressure to increase wages since there are more people looking for work than there are available jobs. We say it’s the land of the working poor.

    • Mark Shea

      Exactly. Walmart doesn’t care. It doesn’t have to. Saying that these people are “free” to work someplace else or starve is laissez faire bullshit that ocassioned the writing of Rerum Novarum.

      • Chris

        Mark, You make me proud to be Catholic. I just received a book entitled, “The Unintended Reformation – How a religious revolution secularized society”. This may be part of the reason why many Catholic misunderstand Catholic Social Teachings.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Hear, hear! That there are still people saying that these people are “free” to work someplace else or starve is laissez faire bullshit that should occasion the reading of Rerum Novarum.

        • Well why aren’t the wal-mart employees able to work at Costco or one of those grocery stores that were given away?

    • Just try to start a business in such an area. Very often you will find it is difficult and more expensive than it needs to be. I can’t be sure that it’s true in your area too because I’ve got no location information to work off but I’ve yet to find an exception to this rule of thumb. The sad fact is that we are facing a capital shortage in most places where it’s not possible to just go get another job. Capital is being kept out by the physical environment, the legal environment, the security environment, even the political environment. Of all these, the physical environment is generally the least significant. All the rest are barriers put in place by human action and things that we should be working hard as Catholics to fix.

      It is highly unlikely that in a physically safe area with a stable and friendly legal regime with fair politicians you are going to be lacking for alternate jobs in the case that one does not work out. If you know of one, please inform me.

  • Wait a second here… Catholics and economics, time to check the math:

    Ok, per CNN, Wal-mart tops out at 2.1 million employees.

    So, let’s take the CEO’s salary: $8,461 per hour. Now, if he gave it up, and paid it all completely to every employee, their per hour wage would increase by… $0.004 cents an hour.

    40 hrs a week, at 52 weeks a year comes out to 2080 hours, multiplied means that each employee would get… an extra $8.32, a year. It’s not even close to getting them up to $12 an hour.

    Now let’s check the sourche:

    Based on the distribution of wages for the Walmart workforce, we estimate that a $12 minimum wage would increase Walmart’s total payroll for hourly workers by 11.1 percent (Table 1). With
    a total hourly payroll of 28.9 billion for the company in 2010, this comes to $3.21 billion per year.

    Alright, so for Walmart to do as the paper suggests, it will need $3.21 billion. Where is it going to come from? The CEO only makes 17.6 mil a year. He would have to go without pay for about 182 years just to make up the money needed for ONE year of this raise. What does the paper say?

    As we showed in the previous section, the cost for Walmart of a $12 per hour wage increase would amount to $3.21 billion a year in payroll costs, or 11.1 percent of Walmart’s current hourly payroll. If
    we distribute this among all consumers, we find that it amounts to 46 cents per shopping trip for the
    average consumer, based on the annual sales and customer figures provided by Walmart for 2010

    Ok, so customers have to pay $0.46 cents extra per trip (we’ll be nice and assume no taxes are going to impact this and make it more). Wait a second…

    Walmart notes that its average hourly wage is $11.75 for full-time associates.

    Think about that a second: those workers earning that amount, for them to get a 25 cent raise, their place of business would have to increase prices, by nearly twice that amount.

    Giving workers a raise, would mean that they would then be able to buy LESS at their own store.

    • So, with all that calculated, what can we conclude?

      Yes, Timmy, a “living wage” is only determined by the surrounding prices of the area of that wage. Example: a dollar an hour is more than enough for someone in a place where say… gas is 10 cents a gallon. (assume average sized car tank of 20 gallons, you can fill up for $2, 2 hour of work, etc). Likewise, $50 an hour is NOT a living wage in an area where a loaf of bread is $80.

      Thus, what can anyone conclude with a basic awareness of reality and common sense? Raising wages anywhere won’t do jack squat if prices aren’t controlled. And what do price controls lead to? Yes, Sarah, shortages. But that’s ok, it doesn’t matter if the poor have food or shelter, only that we feel good about ourselves.

      • This may describe the position of some people but it does not describe the position of the Catholic Church. Please do not mistake one for the other.

        • Yes, that is true, TM – I should be careful to not extrapolate an organization off a number of individuals.

          Though it does get tiring seeing just how many people forget (or ignore, or condemn) Jesus command to “count the cost”. Or to watch someone say “we should face reality” and then have them yell at the accountant who says “we can’t afford the idea you just had”.

    • dpt

      This highlights that Walmart alone is not the problem but the consumer as well.

      Same can be said for the greedy types on Wall St, who–I read–paid out $30 billion in bonuses last year; yet, if the govt were to take it, what sort of dent would it put into our $15 trillion debt?

      We need bad guys to point at, but it really is a problem with the system. We howl against Wall St. now, but during the go-go times before 2008, we loved the rising home market. Middle class America loved it because they were rich on paper or could afford a huge dream home with no money down. Lower income folks loved it because they could become a homeowner with little upfront (no down payment) stake. Politicians of most stripes loved it as higher home values meant more tax revenue thru property taxes (see pre-bankruptcy Stockton), thus more money to offer bennies and perks to govt employees.

      So much for preparing for a rainy day and knowing that what goes up must come down.

      If Catholic solidarity is the answer, I don’t expect it to happen without a profound conversion. Of course, we need to begin somewhere and our everyday choices and decisions can be a start in sending messages to corporations, who I think could be more responsive than politicians.

      This is an interesting discussion, but I am worried about the economy and for my kids going forward. Seems to me that a bigger price needs to be paid to correct for our overspending (both at the family and govt level). More pain is likely in store.

      • Mercury

        It’s nice to blame the consumer, until we realize that low prices are most attractive to people with low incomes. As Erin Manning pointed out above, people do not shop at Wal-Mart because they love Wal-Mart, but because they do have low prices on items that are necessities.

        One thing not mentioned here is also: While we can say it would be just, or that justice even demands it, for companies to pay their employees more than the market value of their labor demands if this is what they have to do for their workers to earn a decent living, what about high school kids, people working on the side for extra pocket money, etc. – what demands that they be paid a “living wage” (i.e. enough to support a family) or that the companies paying them should pay them such a high wage at a loss (which again, justice may demand for full-time workers)?

        Also, does anyone really think that Catholic parishes really pay their cleaning people and other staff much more than minimum wage (currently $7.25/hr or so)? Shouldn’t we expect the people who answer phones at Church or who clean the rectory’s linens to be paid $20/hr or so?

        • dpt

          “As Erin Manning pointed out above, people do not shop at Wal-Mart because they love Wal-Mart, but because they do have low prices on items that are necessities.”

          When I go into a Walmart, I see a lot more than basic necessities: racks of junk food, aisles full of electronics and video games, plastic crap home decorations…

          • Mercury

            Of course there is more. The point is that people in low income brackets can buy things there, yet can’t afford to shop at other places. And people who DO buy necessities buy them there because it’s cheaper.

            Besides, should no one sell electronics, video games, or home decor? People should have priorities, I get it, but are going to burn all the DVD players in a Bonfire of the Vanities? Do you never buy anything that is not strictly necessary for subsistence?

            • dpt

              “Besides, should no one sell electronics, video games, or home decor? ”
              Who said that?
              Come on…think, dig deeper, geez.

              • Mercury

                All I was trying to say was that poor people often buy the things they need from Wal-Mart because it’s cheap.

    • Andy

      Other than currently released studies have shown that raising the salaries of retail workers increases the amount of sales in the store. For an individual who spouts studies I am surprised you didn’t metnion it or did you not mention it because it goes against your beliefs about money?

    • A Philosopher

      Giving workers a raise, would mean that they would then be able to buy LESS at their own store.

      …if they made a trip every hour.

      • Are all philosophers bad at math?

        No, it does NOT matter if they make a trip every hour.

        Ok, simple example. Assume wally employee is making $12 an hour. This employee has a grocery budget for his family… let’s say $100 every pay period. So, wal-mart institutes the changes recommended in the paper, everything in store goes up $0.50. And… now what? The employee in question didn’t get a raise (just those that made less than him). So his budget can’t go up. But everything cost an extra fifty cents. So when he makes a grocery shop, he’ll have to get $50 LESS of food than he did before everyone else got a raise.

        Same with the $11.75 person. Let’s say this employee was proportional to the first. So beforehand they would spend $98 a payperiod on groceries. Oh, but they got a raise, so now they can spend a $100 on it! Only, the prices have gone up fifty cents a piece. So the employee’s extra $2 in the budget would go to cover the price hike on just FOUR items that he/she used to buy previously.

        The time spent shopping doesn’t affect (much) purchasing power. Duh!

        • A Philosopher

          Are all philosophers bad at math?

          Many are. I am not one of them.

          If we distribute this among all consumers, we find that it amounts to 46 cents per shopping trip for the average consumer.

          Note that this is not equivalent to your:

          So, wal-mart institutes the changes recommended in the paper, everything in store goes up $0.50.

          • Yeah, I was rounding to 50 cents because that’s easier for people to grasp.

            Oh I see, it’s supposed to be read as nearly 50 extra cents per shopping trip. Except how do they figure it out?

            Under “Sales data and impact on shoppers”

            Total sales come from Walmart annual reports. Walmart serves 200 million customers worldwide every week18, but does not provide the fraction of the customers in the U.S. To estimate this we use the fraction of U.S. sales associates (1.4 million) to the number of worldwide sales associates (2.1 million) to estimate that 2/3 of Walmart customers are from the United States.19 This results in an estimate of 133 million U.S. customers each week. As international Walmart stores may be more labor intensive, thereby requiring more employees per customer, we may be underestimating the
            number of weekly U.S. customers. If so, the wage increases to workers would result in a lower cost per shopping trip, and per year, to the average Walmart shopper.

            So how is wal-mart going to calculate it? Will they just tack on $0.46 to each bill? (so you get more screwed if you run in to buy one item, but get more of a deal if you’re making a major trip) What’s the average # of items purchased? Hmm… the article doesn’t say (the chart just takes all of the year’s total and then divides it up) If the customers average out to nearly 50 items each trip, then fine, 1 cent increase in price, it’s all covered. If, however, the average customer is say… 1-2 items, then you’d have to raise prices by half a dollar.

            Of course, all this is assuming that customer shopping rates at wal-mart, remain consistent from one year to the next. I don’t see any weight given to that. After all, some might find an extra $12 a year at walmart unacceptable and take their business elsewhere, meaning that fewer customers have to pay more… etc etc.

            So please, by all means, how much do prices on each item need to rise to cover this?

    • Mark Shea

      “Giving workers a raise, would mean that they would then be able to buy LESS at their own store.”

      I am inexorably reminded of Megyn Kelly asking Karl Rove, “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better or is this real?” Sorry, Nate, but this is crap. And I think that, at some level, you have to know this.

      • If this is crap, then please show for me where I am wrong. Show how an employee getting a quarter raise is then going to be able to buy more when prices have gone up $0.50.

        You really think basic math “is crap”? Think about it, every item goes up $0.50 in price. Which means:

        Every employee which makes (before the hike) anywhere from $11.51 an hour up to $12.50 an hour is going to see themselves being able to buy LESS than they could before (anyone above 11.50 won’t get enough of a raise to offset the price hike, and those who are “stuck” at 12 and up will be able to buy less). Only those employees making less than $11.50 an hour will see something of an improvement in what they can buy as their raises will be at least more than the price hike.

        Yes, wal-mart can (and I think does) do stuff like employee discounts and all that. But then you’re veering dangerously close to the old “coal mining town” philosophies. Where workers were paid, well they were pretty much paid in “fun bucks” which were only good in the store that the coal mining corporation ran, in the town. And it was that stuff which led to some of the conflicts and riots in Kentucky and Virginia. What’s the difference between that and say… wal-mart letting their employees have products for free? (sure they could get other jobs, but it’s going to be very hard for the very poor to leave the free loot) Chains don’t have to be used to keep people trapped.

  • Andy S

    I hear a lot of complaining and calls for fairness, but not any specific proposals on how we get to fair for everyone. Whether you think it is fair or not, the cashier with a GED couldn’t run WalMart if the gig was offered to her. If you do what a lot of people can do, you won’t drive a high wage because there are lots of others that do what you do. The CEO of WalMart is highly compensated because he can do something not a lot of others can do. Should he accept no more than $500k per year? Would he be a saint ready for assumption into Heaven if he did that, like the Costco CEO is being anointed here? I think $500k is a pretty obscene amount of money, personally. Couldn’t the Costco guy live nicely on $250k? $150k. $75k? But the modern day Judges, at least for purposes of this article and this specific discussion, have decided $500k is a saintly sum while more is evil.

    I wish things were more “fair” for me and my family and that we didn’t have to worry about money, or health, or safety, or anything. But that doesn’t seem to be the hand we’ve been dealt. So we pray, we save and spend for things we need with a sense of stewardship, we give time and treasure to the Church and charities. Everyone needs to work harder, train and/or educate themselves up, save wisely, spend frugally, and help those around us as much as we can. Me and my family wouldn’t find any joy or sense of fairness or victory if the powers that be decided everyone in the country would make $50k per year from here on out…no more and no less…including those evil CEOs.

    What is a real, fair, Christian plan for just and living wages? Is it un-Christian to allow for any variance between wages between any two Americans? Is it evil and Ayn Randian to believe that saving and out working others might fairly result in some deviation in wages and financial well-being from someone else?

    • Adolfo
      • Mercury

        I think Andy’s point was: What is a real concrete way that we can institute the encyclicals? How do we actually put these things into practice? He was asking for specific details. One detail a lot of people wonder is just what is a living wage – what figure is it? Someone above said that the US Bishops recently said $7.25, which is minimum wage – no one can really support themselves, let alone their families, on minimum wage, and that will always be true no matter what we make the minimum wage. Or again, who is entitled to a living wage? Does someone have to pay an unskilled pimple faced teen who lives with his parents the same wage he’d pay a single working mother for the same job? Why or why not and how could one realistically do this without getting into legal trouble (I for one do not imagine that at teenager should be paid a living wage – i.e. enough to support a wife and family, since he is not supporting a wife and family or even himself; but I think that companies should pay workers who DO support families a living wage)? Should a man with just a wife at home and a man with a wife and six kids get paid the same for the same labor? Why or why not?

        And finally, would a system like some European countries use (i.e. Germany), where workers are paid market price by the companies they work for (there is no minimum wage), yet are compensated by tax money for up to a certain level of income; and the larger a family is, the more assistance they receive if they need it). In other words, they have a minimum income guaranteed by the state, and people are happy to pay for this in taxes, AND wages are still on the whole excellent and competitive. Would that be an unjust system because it’s not the company that is coerced into paying above the market rate? (and btw their systems seem to be less wasteful than the US’s current social assistance system)

        Who has a real plan is what people are asking.

      • Andy S

        Thanks for the link. Read it in full. Excellent 30,000 foot view for economic issues as the Church has always done. I couldn’t find the part where it said Walmart workers were paid unfairly and Costco workers toiled for a benevolent saint. Point me to that part if I missed it.

        Show me your fairness plan for this fallen world. Don’t send philosophical links which are profitable but not sufficient for the discussion at hand.

        • Mark Shea

          Love it. Spitting on the Church just like Catholic for a Free Choice. “Ensoulment is so abstract! The Church is out of touch with modern sexuality! The Church has never even defined what abortion *is*! Shut up! I don’t have to listen!” It’s all there. Just transposed into conservativese. “Prudential judgement” really is the conservative jargon for what the Left means by “primacy of conscience” whenever it wants to blow off the Church.

          • Andy S

            Wow. Lose the anger, Mark. You started this discussion. Show your fairness plan. Complaining isn’t a plan. Your anger is getting the better of you. You are confusing disagreeing with Mark with unorthodoxy.

            I have been a faithful Catholic for 40 years, but I ask what your fairness plan is specifically, not even disagreeing with you really, just asking for something other than populist claptrap and I am accused of spitting on the Church.

            Eat the rich (anyone more successful financially than me or you) isn’t the apex of Catholic social teaching…that is the bloody history of the atheistic and hedonistic French Revolution…which crushed Catholicism in what once was a stalwart Catholic nation.

            You need to see the difference in people disagreeing with you from people going to war with you.

            • Mark Shea

              Yes. Excellent. You continue the meme perfectly. “So abortion is ‘wrong’! Show me a plan to eliminate it completely! Oh you *can’t*. Well then *obviously* abortion is fine! Or what do you want? Women in *chains*, barefoot and pregnant and not allow to Vote?”

              Look, my point is simple. Walmart owes its employees a just wage, not below poverty wages which are supplmented at taxpayer expense. Nobody’s saying “eat the rich”. Nobody’s calling for atheistic and hedonist French revolution or Bolshevism, just as nobody’s calling for The Handmaid’s Tale in protesting abortion. Other companies pay their workers a just wage. Walmart can too–without bloodshed. Your excuses are bullshit, just like the excuses for abortion by CFFC are bullshit. And you are using the same rhetorical strategies as CFFC to purvey bullshit. I’m more amused than angry. It’s kind of fascinating to watch how dissent works the same everywhere.

  • Colleen

    Most people worship a good deal. After all, that is our society. When we buy a $10 do-hicky at Wal-Mart we are saving 5 bucks and therefore should be commended for being thrifty. The real question is-do we really NEED it? We are a society that wants things. Things define us, motiviate us, and make us act crazy. (Black Friday for example. I hate Black Friday but that is a whole other rant…) To paraphrase Matthew Kelly, we should love people and use things, but most of us love things and use people. I know that many of my fellow Catholics think that I have lost my mind, but I do believe in saving the environment, reducing waste, buying local, and have great concern for working conditions overseas. I also abhor abortion, child abuse, and big governement. We can’t change everything at once, but we can pray, talk, inform, and love. WE NEED TO LOVE LIKE CRAZY!!!!!
    As a side note to affordabilty of food- most groceries do not vary much in price from store to store. Apples are pretty much the same price in Wal-mart as they are at the local store. Most staples run about the same amount regardless of where you shop. Except for peanut butter. I mean, come on! Why the heck is peanut butter cheaper at Wal-Mart? And why is peanut butter still so expensive? I thought the peanut shortage was over… 🙂

    • Gosh, Colleen, maybe that’s true where you live, but where I live there are significant price differences on staples between the big-box retailers and the small grocery stores. Not only that, but when I go to the little store the meat is greenish, the canned goods are expired, and the produce section is tiny and not exactly appetizing–and it costs more than the Wal-Mart/Target stuff. Take a simple example, a box of pasta–cheap meal, right? At Wal-Mart you can get a store brand for about $.99 a box, at Target about the same or you can go up to $1.29 for a more expensive brand, but at the local grocery store the store brand costs more than that and the pricey brand is going to be more like $1.59 a box. Now, multiply that difference, say between $0.50 and $.99, by every food item purchased to feed a family, and pretty soon you’re looking at a $40 or $50 per cart difference (assuming weekly shopping).

      People with room in their budgets and strong senses of economic justice might choose to eat the difference in price, but I bet they’re still going to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or one of the other trendy smug stores–they’re not going to settle for greenish meat, inferior produce, and expired canned goods (oh, and pantry moths, the only time I bought flour from that store). Sadly, when–and it’s when–that store goes out of business they’ll blame Wal-Mart and Target. And they’ll probably be right, because they lack the purchasing power to obtain the best food items at prices that would allow them to pass the savings to their customers.

      • The sad bit is that even your concession isn’t true. What they lack is the flexibility to band together with other independents to forge a better supply chain so they can compete with the big box stores. Hardware stores were absolutely devastated by the rise of Walmart until Ace arose to allow them to affiliate together and weld together their own monster supply chain.

        It is not in any sense Catholic to extol inefficient supply chains that give expensive, inferior quality goods to consumers. IT dominated disintermediation on the wholesale level is not in any sense anti-Catholic. Global supply chains are not anti-Catholic.

        • Marthe Lépine

          “The flexibility to band together with other independents to forge a better supply chain…” This brings to mind the idea of cooperatives. In my area, over 60 years ago, a group of dairy farmers decided to get together to obtain better prices for their supplies, contributed the price of 1 cow each, and started a coop. Now this coop, with over 200 or 250 employees, is the largest employer in our small town, and runs a supermarket, a grocery store, 2 or 3 gas stations and a heating oil distribution business, in addition to the various agricultural services it was started for. In Calgary, Alberta, there is a huge coop with some 250,000 members, and actual chains of grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations. Maybe it would be an idea to start promoting more coops of that kind, where the customers as a group become owners of their stores and the profits get redistributed among them (and even the employees are able to become members)

          • There is nothing wrong with cooperatives so long as they are voluntary (E European communist variants do not qualify). Land O Lakes is a cooperative like that and Ocean Spray is as well. Nobody on the free market side ever protests those to my knowledge.

            That doesn’t mean that coop is the only way to adjust to the Walmart challenge but it certainly is one way to do it.

  • Jeremy Dobbs

    To me, teh issue is clear. To the Capitalist, the measure of a successful economy is how much money there is for people to fight for. To the Christian, the measure of a successful economy is what percentage of the workforce can, if they are ready, willing, and able to work full time, able to sustain themselves by their wage by working hard and living frugally. More simply put, iss the point of economy money or people? Corporations firmkly in the black have been laying off workers, tearing up existing labor agreements, and sending jobs overseas to glorified slave labor and unsafe working conditions because they want to make X+Y profits rather than X profits. This is morally inexcusable to the Christian. It’s the age-old dilemma of pleasing teh world or pleasing God.

    • I believe that you misunderstand the meaning of money, which is a generic, commoditized claim on a future good or service. You work, you get money, you turn in the money for stuff and help you need, completing the exchange. You may wish to have a great many debts owed to you in the form of money or very few. That is your choice and both are completely consistent with capitalism. Running any of these economic systems involves waste and loss. A successful capitalist economy is one that is focused on minimizing the waste and loss in the system and conforms to the best, most efficient practices because no matter how much can be produced, human desire to possess things and especially be served is orders of magnitude greater.

      This explains why profitable firms lay off workers. If you build a factory to create steel and you have 50,000 workers there, you can turn a profit in 1905. In 1930, with technological developments, the same steel can be made with 25,000 workers. You can adopt the technology, lay off the 25,000 workers, or you can stick with the old ways and watch someone build a new factory and drive you into the red so you have to lay off 35,000 workers later if you’re lucky enough not to have to shut down entirely.

      There is nothing wrong with the 2nd firm opening up a steel plant and hiring the 25,000 workers. In the end, money is freed up and invested in other enterprises which involve greater profit and less danger like robotics, a development that has driven workers to new jobs, some of whom would not have existed without the increased profit created by robotics.

      Companies all have a cost of capital. If they cannot justify that capital, they need to make a change. Every age has a long list of projects that simply do not get funded because there is insufficient funds. Increased profitability means more projects get funded and more jobs get created.

  • pjm
    • Hmm… interesting. Who noticed this?

      One of the biggest dividend winners will be none other than Mr. Sinegal, who owns about two million shares, while his wife owns another 84,669. At $7 a share, the former CEO will take home roughly $14 million. At a 15% tax rate he’ll get to keep nearly $12 million of that windfall, while at next year’s rate of 43.4% he’d take home only about $8 million. That’s a lot of extra cannoli.

      That… seems a bit more than the $500,000 stated in the above graphic.

  • Andy

    Great column Mark! If employers paid just wages and benefits, there would never be a need for unions. Since many employers — including MalWart — do not pay just wages and benefits, we need unions.

    • Andy S

      Andy – state what you think a just wage is. Is it 35,000 a year for everyone no matter what you do or how you have educated or trained yourself?
      This is silly and disingenuous populist claptrap if you won’t be specific.
      What is your plan? Exactly who is making too much and who is making the right and fair amount?

    • Andy S

      Unions are a thugocracy who pillage the masses. Get out of the 1870s and into the modern world.

      Oh…unions also love contraception, abortion, and the obamacare jam down.

      You side with union thugs…I’ll side with my neighbors whom I actually care about.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Maybe you should have a look at what the Church teaches about unions in the encyclicals.

        • The Church has always fought against corrupt organizations that claim to represent workers. Unions, at least in the US, are outdated, violent organizations who survive because people are scared to try to replace them with better groups that help workers more. They fear beatings and worse.

          • ivan_the_mad

            Which is incidental to a Church teaching.

  • Denise

    So just wondering if all the people judging Walmart still shop at Walmart? You vote with your dollars not your words. If you’re willing to buy cheap clothing, toys, and groceries, then you are supporting the unjust wage. Just sayin’.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Denise, some people cannot vote with the dollars they do not have! As was stated by someone else above, it is not always possible to pay a dollar or two more for basic food items just for the principle…