Minimum Wage

OK, this whole minimum wage thing has been bugging me for a while. Then I saw the news about Blue Plate restaurant company essentially making their employees pay for part of the wage increase, and then I got mad. (Also included in that article is the tidbit about some dump in Stillwater adding a “minimum wage fee” to every check. Classy.)

I support the idea of an increased minimum wage in theory, but it only works if everything else stays the same. If you give your lowest-paid employees a raise, but then restructure the system to make sure your highest-paid employees don’t take on any of that burden, NO ONE BENEFITS.

Think about it. You pay them more, but then everything else starts to cost more. They’re no better off than they were. There’s a word for that, it’s called inflation.

(Actually, there is one group who would benefit: politicians. Those in favor of the increased wages can claim they’re trying to help the little guy, those who opposed it can claim they were right all along.)

Instead, what we really need is to structure the system to start closing the wealth gap. I’m not talking about redistribution of wealth, I’m talking about basic, common sense limitations placed upon the selfish rich.

What I would like to see is a percentage-based system: the highest-paid employee of a company can’t make more then ten times what the lowest-paid employee makes. If the CEO wants to make $100 million a year, then the mail clerk needs to make $10 million. More realistically, if you only want to pay the mail clerk $10k/year, then the top CEO only gets $100k. In essence, instead of a minimum wage, we’d establish a maximum wage. We’d probably need a couple of lawyers to word it to close loopholes for bonuses, stock options, part-time employees, etc.

“But that’s not fair! The CEO deserves to make eighty bajillion dollars for doing a crappy job before accepting a golden parachute! The janitor doesn’t deserve to make a living wage!”

Yes it is, no they don’t, and yes they do.

A solid company needs solid leadership. A good CEO needs more education and more experience than the janitor, so sure, they deserve to make more money. But the janitor is important, too. So is the mail clerk and the receptionist. Trust me, no one wants to work for a company (or do business with a company) that doesn’t have a cleaning crew. And, I guarantee that most companies would last a lot longer without their top people than their bottom people.

“But wouldn’t that mean that price of everything would go up?”

No. Somehow, these companies have managed to absorb the cost of ever-increasing executive salaries. They can make it work. Imagine a company at which the top exec makes $250k/year. (No, shut up, that’s SPECTACULAR money; that’s live-like-royalty money for most of the world.) That means the entry-level folks would make at least $25k. That’s not great money, but it’s not bad.

Suddenly, the wealth gap begins to close. Not just the numbers, but the mentality and the lifestyle. People can start to recognize each other as fellow human beings. They can start to find common ground. People can support their families on one or two salaries again. They can spend more time with their kids, volunteering at their church, or just weeding their gardens.

Contrary to what the “job creators” would have you believe, I think this would be incredibly motivational. I could get a lot more excited about washing dishes for a living if it paid $50k/year. I also believe it would be a lot easier to motivate someone to move away from an assistance program (or a life of crime).

Sure, some prices might go up, others might come down. Employers would redistribute their workforces. Real estate would likely fluctuate. It would take a while for the economy to settle down. But, I firmly believe that the vast majority of Americans would benefit, not just with more money, but better health and greater happiness. And I expect that all those poor, starving millionaires would find a way to scrape buy on their new salaries.

Yes, I’m probably over-simplifying this. Yes, I’m probably being optimistic about it. But, in a very real, practical, mathematical way, lowering the maximum wage would be much more beneficial than raising the minimum.

Oh, and don’t worry, these limits would apply to federal employees, too. A senator couldn’t make more than ten times what the guy who gets his coffee earns. If you can’t see the value in THAT, then I can’t help you.

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