In the post Conservative Capitalism Vs. Liberal Socialism, John Hawkins responds to my earlier post about sick pay. He writes,
It is not the job of a company to provide benefits for society or health care or sick days or anything else. It’s the job of a company to make a profit for its owners and in the process of doing so, it will create things like jobs, taxes, health care for workers, value for its customers, and other such things that are beneficial to society.
And I agree with him 100%. I’ll go even further. Wal-Mart is not “bad” because it pays low wages or skimps on providing health care. If they did that, Target could charge lower prices and customer might go to Target instead. They’re just doing their job, as WE, the people, through our government, define it through our laws.
So whose job IS it to provide for higher wages and health care? It is OUR job – the people – through OUR laws and regulations. WE are the ones who have dropped the ball on higher wages and health care. WE tell companies what to do – or the system doesn’t work. If WE, through our government, require ALL companies to pay higher wages and provide health care that levels the playing field for Wal-Mart’s competition with Target.
Here is where I differ with Hawkins. Hawkins writes,
…the government shouldn’t get involved with things like what sort of health care a company is providing, sick days, or the minimum wage…
This is the standard Libertarian view – keep the people (government) out of the decisions. But I say that is exactly where the people, through our government SHOULD get involved! We need to keep that playing field level. Companies MUST work to provide the highest profits. Therefore WE must set a playing field that provides the greatest benefit to US from this system. WE must level that playing field on which the companies compete. We MUST tell them to pay higher wages or the system doesn’t benefit us. WE have fallen down on the job, not the companies, by not doing OUR part, through our government, which is to set the minimum wages and benefits at a level that is high enough. And that is why wealth is concentrating at the top and the rest of us are working longer hours for fewer benefits.
Hawkins writes that people can always quit and get a better job elsewhere. But there is a problem with that approach, and we have seen the problem play itself out over and over throughout history. There are more people in the world than jobs, so without our intervention wages would necessarily sink to the lowest level to sustain the necessary employees – and the rest starve. Of course, in a consumer economy the companies would be drying up long before that because the consumers won’t have money to spend. We have learned from history that if we, acting through our government, “stay out of it,” it is a formula for worldwide poverty – a race to the bottom. Historically it is the periods of greatest involvement that have been the periods of greatest economic growth. This is because in a consumer economy policies that provide greater disposable income to the consumers grow the economy. Duh!
The system that Hawkins admires is ENTIRELY a creation of government – of us. We defined what a corporation IS. We give the owners limited liability so they can take risks without losing everything. (Imagine if buying a share of stock meant that you could become a defendant in a lawsuit.) We set up the infrastructure of the internet, and the roads, etc. upon which the companies conduct commerce… And now we need to give ourselves a raise and health care, and maybe longer vacations and shorter workweeks.