Green Room

Do you “deserve fair pay” just because you work hard?

posted at 2:40 pm on January 29, 2014 by

It sounds like the answer should be yes, but Yahoo’s Rick Newman rebuts Barack Obama after the State of the Union address. Hard work matters, but one has to be working hard at something valued by employers — and forgetting that, Newman writes, locks workers into “the modern equivalent of the Stone Age”:

“If you work hard, you should be able to pay your rent, buy your groceries, look after your kids,” he Tweeted following his State of the Union address — a speech in which he used the phrase “hard work” five times and referred repeatedly to the right of Americans to have a “fair shot” and earn a “fair wage.”

Americans feel strongly that fairness is important. They also disagree about what fairness is, exactly. A free-market economy, however, makes is very clear what fair pay is — whatever somebody else is willing to offer for your labor. And sometimes, it’s nothing. …

The point is very simple: Working hard is great, but if you work hard at something nobody is willing to pay for, you’re wasting your time and digging a pathway to poverty. In real life, figuring out what companies or customers are willing to pay for is tricky, because you don’t just have to guess what that might be today or tomorrow. You also have to anticipate how the market for your labor might change, if you want to develop skills that have staying power. With technology changing as fast as it is, even technology experts aren’t sure what will be in vogue five or 10 years from now.

I’d go one step further, at least in the context of government intervention in this process. Employment is a voluntary association in which the laborer trades his time for compensation from the employer. In a market sense, this should produce some equilibrium on relative value; if compensation is too low, employers won’t find people to do the work, while those who offer more will. The difficulty of the work plays into that, too, as well as the objective value of the work to the organization. “Fair” in this context is completely subjective, and assumes eventually that the worker isn’t competent to make his own decision on how to trade his time and effort for pay.

There are other ways to look at this, of course, from a moral or ethical position which heavily weighs on the employer to refrain from exploitation of labor. But in the end, this is a voluntary association, and government’s role in this case runs more along the lines of preparing workers to have essential skills that make their work more valuable in the market than to dictate terms of “fairness.” Putting the government thumb on that side of the equation will eventually make rent, groceries, and clothing and shelter more expensive all the way around, and leave the workers in the same “unfair” buying power position as when he started.

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Comment pages: 1 2

Under no circumstances should that be a criteria for how much you get paid……

The Physics definition of “work” is: A Force through a Distance: W = F x d

Rocking Chairs do An Amazing Amount of Workand They Go No Where….

Should Rocking Chairs be recognized as one of the most productive things in Society or The World?

williamg on January 30, 2014 at 1:51 AM

williamg on January 30, 2014 at 1:51 AM

Of course I agree with the point you’re trying to make, but you picked a really bad example. Do you really think the F comes from the rocking chair?

Splashman on January 30, 2014 at 3:49 AM

listens2glenn on January 30, 2014 at 12:23 AM

Conservatives are against tuition aid too.

eh on January 30, 2014 at 1:05 AM

Tuition aid led to an entire generation that wasted their 20s racking up debt to become too enlightened to work a job that could pay it back.

Poverty isn’t an issue the government can fix. There is plenty of opportunity still out there and if people don’t take advantage of it too bad.

jhffmn on January 30, 2014 at 1:19 AM

Well put, and right-on, … jhffmn.
There is NO justification … for our FEDERAL government, in Washington, DC, to be functioning in the role of providing ANY … “Social Services” … period.
Repeating my ‘expanded’ paraphrase of Ronaldus Magnus :

“Government (social programs and regulation) isn’t the solution to the problem, government (social programs and regulation) IS the problem”

listens2glenn on January 30, 2014 at 10:52 AM

This is a more succinct way to put it.

GWB on January 30, 2014 at 11:15 AM

I’ve told all of my 6 children this important life lesson:

Before anything else, acquire a skill that is so important to someone else, that they are willing to pay you money for it.

Funny how many people are never told that.

PackerBronco on January 30, 2014 at 11:23 AM

Yes, a person who works hard at a job deserves to be paid a living wage. No one should put in 40 or more hours a week at a job and still not be able to make the basics. Employers pay [email protected] wages because they can.

blackgriffin on January 29, 2014 at 8:32 PM

Couple of points/questions:

1) Why is it morally right to force an employer to pay for more labor than that labor is worth to him? In other words, why does a third party have the right to force the employer to provide charity and at no cost to that third party?

Turn it around. You are at shopping for a car. You and the dealer have agreed on a price and then I, stopping by, decide that you should have paid more to the poor dealer. Do have I the right to force you to pay more?

2) Yes, in a sense, employers pay crap wages because they can, but why can they? They can because the people they’re hiring have so little skills that crap wages are the best they can get (at the moment.) If you want to improve labor conditions, you have to improve the labor market. You have to have sufficient business activity so that businesses are competing for the best labor and that economic fact will force employers to pay more. However if the business climate stinks and any job is a good job, then the employee doesn’t have a lot of bargaining power.

Speaking of morality, answer this: An employer can afford $10,000 day on labor costs. Which is more “moral”? For him to hire 100 people at a $100 a day to hire 80 people at $125/day?

Here’s my answer: It’s none of your damn business because it’s his damn business.

PackerBronco on January 30, 2014 at 11:40 AM

williamg on January 30, 2014 at 1:51 AM

Of course I agree with the point you’re trying to make, but you picked a really bad example. Do you really think the F comes from the rocking chair?

Splashman on January 30, 2014 at 3:49 AM

That’s how it shows up on a Free-Body Diagram.

The fact that some guy sitting in it is applying the force is irrelevant….those vectors cancel each other out – and the FBD is reduced to the vectors from the chair and from the floor….along with gravity.

williamg on January 30, 2014 at 12:36 PM

Hmmm… if work is force Times distance, and force is mass Times acceleration, should obese people be paid more since with more mass they do more work?

malclave on January 30, 2014 at 1:50 PM

Deserve got nothing to do with it.

Bmore on January 30, 2014 at 11:04 PM

Comment pages: 1 2