Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The Market Works--So Where's the Beef

"When you don't pay taxes, don't pay Social Security and don't pay workers' comp, you have a 40 percent cost advantage," said Lilia Garcia, executive director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a group financed by California cleaning contractors to police fly-by-night competitors. "It makes it hard for companies that follow the rules."Illegally in the U.S., and Never a Day Off at Wal-Mart

Walmart has been hit for hiring crews of illegal aliens through cleaning contractors. Most of the workers, from Eastern Europe, Mexico and obscure parts of Asia and the Middle East don't seem to mind the long hours, poor working conditions or wages which, while low by American standards, are up to 10 times what they could make in their native countries. Walmart customers are pleased because they can buy cheap consumer goods. Walmart managers and investors are also, of course, pleased. So where's the beef?

I'm of two minds about this and one mind may not be strictly in line with the stated purpose of this blog. Most people don't want to market to work--they want blue collar workers to make decent family wages and time and a half for overtime and white collar workers to have "professional level" salaries. They do not even have any serious complaints about the lavish compensation packages of corporate CEOs. Regardless of what the market wants, they want to see people getting the salaries that seem "appropriate" to their sex, race, class and credentials.

Unskilled indigenous males have, for a long time, made good money working at blue-collar union jobs. We think Joe Sixpack should make enough money to support a family and pay the mortgage on a modest suburban home because he's a white guy. Bosses get paid much more than secretaries even though they are far less important to the operation of businesses, but we think guys should get more than gals, and that a college degree, simply because it is a class marker, entitles the bearer to a professional level salary.

As an academic, I'm on the gravy train too--if the market were working I would be lucky to get a job at minimum wage. I was hired out of a field of 350 applicants, almost all of whom could have done my job just as well as I do. I am eminently fungeable. Moreover, the world does not need philosophy professors and, if the market were working, none of us would have jobs. I am one of that great mass of Smart People Who Can't Do Math who has no useful skills and can't do heavy lifting.

Comes the revolution, we're all in the same boat.