Professor Perry has excerpts posted from an article by Charles Platt. He’s a former senior writer for Wired Magazine who, out of curiosity, took an entry level position at Wal-Mart. He’s been blogging about his experience and has some good observations.
“Some people, usually community activists, loath Wal-Mart. Others, like the family of four struggling to make ends meet, are in love with the chain. I, meanwhile, am in awe of it.
The company is rebuked and reviled by anyone claiming a social conscience, and is lambasted by legislators as if its bad behavior places it somewhere between investment bankers and the Taliban.
Considering this is a company that is helping families ride out the economic downturn, which is providing jobs and stimulus while Congress bickers, which had sales growth of 2% this last quarter while other companies struggled, you have to wonder why. At least, I wondered why. And in that spirit of curiosity, I applied for an entry-level position at my local Wal-Mart.”
“Coworkers assured me that the nearest Target paid its hourly full-timers less than Wal-Mart, while fast-food franchises were at the bottom of everyone’s list.
I found myself reaching an inescapable conclusion. Low wages are not a Wal-Mart problem. They are an industry-wide problem, afflicting all unskilled entry-level jobs, and the reason should be obvious. In our free-enterprise system, employees are valued largely in terms of what they can do. This is why teenagers fresh out of high school often go to vocational training institutes to become auto mechanics or electricians. They understand a basic principle that seems to elude social commentators, politicians and union organizers. If you want better pay, you need to learn skills that are in demand.
The blunt tools of legislation or union power can force a corporation to pay higher wages, but if employees don’t create an equal amount of additional value, there’s no net gain. All other factors remaining equal, the store will have to charge higher prices for its merchandise, and its competitive position will suffer.
This is Economics 101, but no one wants to believe it, because it tells us that a legislative or unionized quick-fix is not going to work in the long term. If you want people to be wealthier, they have to create additional wealth.
To my mind, the real scandal is not that a large corporation doesn’t pay people more. The scandal is that so many people have so little economic value. Despite (or because of) a free public school system, millions of teenagers enter the work force without marketable skills. So why would anyone expect them to be well paid?”
It’s a pretty interesting article. I’ve always wondered what it would be like doing one of those under-cover, on-the-inside type of investigations. Do you suppose I could masquerade as a lib?