Last week we saw Colorado’s inability to fend off the infectious foolishness of other states. I’m not referring to Nanny Bloomberg’s pouring a river of East Coast money into our two recall races in an effort to bolster his government-knows-best credentials; that’s just ego and a lust for power coupled to a fat wallet. No, today’s subject is worse, and tops the idiocy of the “Occupy” movement on the dumb-o-sensor.
On Thursday last, we were treated to a Service Employees’ International Union-inspired spectacle: fast-food workers picketing McDonald’s restaurants in Denver, demanding that their wages be doubled, to $15 an hour. Strikes also occurred in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit. Yes, Detroit. The city which trade-unionist greed, abysmal economic ignorance and decades of wishful thinking made a smoking ruin is back for more of the same. Perhaps bankruptcy and receivership is the best we can hope for, in some cases.
The petulance of an increasingly desperate collection of hard-left unionists, community organizers, crypto-socialists and their associated hangers-on received ample coverage from the left’s echo chamber in the media, which illustrates just how badly damaged our society’s common sense has become. The protesters have two arguments, economic and moral; both fail the test of reason.
The economic argument is simple: low-wage workers demand a doubling of their income, to $15 an hour, which they describe as a “living wage.” The fallacy here is so glaring that even Richard Trumka, who wasn’t aware until last week that AFL-CIO members would have to pay for Obamacare, could figure it out — given time. Here are some major problems:
• No, the price of a Big Mac would not double. In a capitalist economy, competition sets prices. But there would be a push to replace workers with machines and to take other cost-cutting measures. Some fast-food workers would be fired quickly, but hiring would virtually disappear.
• The traditional role of the fast-food job — the first rung on the job ladder for a young person or for someone not previously employed — would be eliminated. At $7.85 an hour, a franchisee might take a risk on someone with a sketchy background. At $15, not so much.
• An undetermined number of fast-food franchises would disappear, unable to buy the new equipment necessary to keep costs down. Their former employees would find themselves out of work, possibly without other prospects.
• Finally, by using the argument “pay me what I’m worth,” protesters commit a classic economic error: confusing value with worth. Value is what one’s labor or product will fetch on the open market; “worth” is something intrinsic to each of us as humans. Employers buy value, not “worth.”
Which brings us to the real purpose of this theatre of the soon-to-be-unemployed: fanning the flames of division and class envy. This is why “economic justice” is a rallying cry, and why one of the main arguments is that the CEO of McDonald’s makes 550 times what a fry cook does. Those with a memory will recognize this from the “Occupy” movement’s lunacy, and a moment’s consideration will reveal that it has a political, not an economic, agenda. Consider:
• In terms of their relative compensation, perhaps Don Thompson creates 550 times more shareholder value than a fry cook. I know it’s wicked painful for the left to hear, but once again: corporations do not exist to provide jobs and health care. They exist to make a profit, through which shareholders are compensated for their investments. If you contribute a lot to the process, you can demand — and get — a lot in return. If you don’t, you can’t.
• The argument that fast-food workers aren’t paid a “living wage” is useful in stirring up hate for “greedy corporations,” but otherwise irrelevant. While it is possible that there are former engineers or computer programmers with two children who lost both spouse and job who found they could only be employed in the fast food industry, I would wager they are few. Instead most of those struggling to maintain a family on McDonald’s wages are doing so as a result of previous life decisions.
“Why” is a question both useful and inconvenient. It may be inconvenient to ask a single mother with young children why a job at McDonald’s is the best she can do to provide for her family. It may even make her feel bad about herself. It will, however, reveal much about underlying realities that others, including the SEIU, would ignore. So it is useful, and when we hear the left’s twaddle about “economic justice,” we ought to ask it until we’re answered.
That’s only fair — isn’t it?
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County. His column appears in every Tuesday in the Summit Daily News.