I bet the title of this article grabbed your attention. However, I’m not going to cite Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto or Ralph Nader’s rebuke of a free-market system. Instead, I’m going to go back to our very simple founding: the Founding Fathers themselves, Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments,” and even businessman Henry Ford.
The men listed above are certainly not communists, but all of them share something in common: their works advocate civic virtue. They understand that a republican form of government and a capitalist economy are only successful through a virtuous populous. People must take care of one another and lead moral individual lives, which happen to be the two most important commandments that Jesus declared in Saint Matthew’s Gospel: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… [and] Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The obvious fact is that we have lost our civic virtue. For those who view religion as an anathema, take faith out of the equation for a moment. Who doesn’t like being loved? Valued?
We can all agree that love is important. However, many of today’s economic problems stem from a lack of love. Take, for example, the minimum wage fight: the debate shouldn’t be about whether or not wages should be increased, but rather about government interference. Why do we need a government to tell companies to pay a specific amount of money to its workers? Shouldn’t employers understand their own workers’ needs?
Clearly, however, they do not. And that is the core of the minimum wage problem.
McDonald’s and Walmart are prime examples. The “Golden Arches” are worth almost $62 Billion, and employs about 1,900,000 employees. Despite these huge numbers, the average salary for a McDonald’s employee is $7.81 an hour. Walmart is at least a bit better. The average salary is $20,744 per year, which amounts to about $11.75 an hour, but is still lower than the average retail wage of $12.04. Walmart claims to bring in over $400 billion in annual revenues.
These giants make a lot of money. Instead of paying their employees higher wages, however, they encourage them to apply for government programs such as food stamps or Medicaid. The “McResources” hotline, which is meant to help McDonald’s employees, does just that: it lists food pantries around the area and available government assistance. Walmart is also reported to have the most employees out of any company on food stamps. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce concluded that a Walmart Supercenter of about 300 employees may cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million a year due to its abundant need for welfare.
So, the employees in these companies depend on the taxpayers. But so do their customers, who also frequently rely on food stamps. People on food stamps don’t go to fancy supermarkets like Whole Foods. They either go to Walmart or fast food chains. Their products are significantly cheaper due in part to the employees’ lower wages. Seriously, how can those living in poverty pass on a Dollar Menu sandwich?
Nutrition issues aside, government dependence of any kind is unsustainable. These kinds of welfare program promote unethical wages, and incentivize those unethical wages by acting as an indirect subsidy to big businesses. I commend Portland, Oregon, for discontinuing future investments with Walmart. That’s about $36 million in taxpayer money. Their reason is plain and simple: Walmart needs to provide better-paying jobs and benefits, not rely on welfare payments to offset their own low wages.
Companies should follow Henry Ford’s example. Ford established shorter shifts to his workers and a $5 a day wage which helped establish a strong middle class. The government didn’t tell him to do that: his decision came from his own personal conviction that higher wages actually help employees lead stronger financial lives. Ultimately, this also meant that more customers could afford to buy Ford’s cars. Ford’s reasoning may have been driven by personal profits, but at the end of the day, Ford didn’t allow his workers to go on welfare or wait for the government to establish higher wages.
Income inequality is not caused by the lack of government regulation. It is caused by a lack of concern for the common good; a lack of care for one another. It’s a symptom of a culture that falls short of valuing life, and instead embraces themes that include over-consumption, individualism, and material wealth.
Liberals prescribe the wrong solution. Increasing the minimum wage is just a band-aid over an immense cultural problem. The solution to this problem should not come from the government. What we need is a change of minds and hearts, a new culture war that devotes its time and energy to promoting justice and economic opportunities for all. Each of us has to look out for our neighbor’s successes instead of solely our own, and this change starts inside each and everyone one of us.