Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Moral Wage

I try to be a reasonable person.   So when I read all these articles and hear about protests demanding a 'Living Wage', I really do try to be open to their argument.  The problem, of course, is that ever argument I have seen up to now tries to argue two ridiculous contentions; that the minimum wage needs to go up to a certain amount, and two, that people should be paid according to what they want and expect to receive, rather than what their work is worth.  So when considering wages, the question is how to determine a fair value for the work done.

The first point has to be that money must be created to exist.  Work therefore has to produce value for it to be worth paying.  That's the blunder in the concept of minimum wage laws and 'living wage' or 'fair pay' arguments.  The counter to that, in my mind at least, would be that if my employer hires me to show up and do 'x', they must pay me for that work regardless of it's actual value in the market.  This brings me to the subject of contracts.

Contracts, my second point, are an agreement between two or more parties.  If you want money from someone, to get it legally and morally you have to reach an agreement with him or her.   In employment terms that means you negotiate your pay and work duties.  You do what you promised and the employer pays what they promised.   If you don't like what they offer, go find someone willing to pay what you think is reasonable.  If you can't find someone willing to pay what you think is reasonable, then you need to go back and reconsider your definition of 'reasonable'.  

I'm not being snide there.  People don't agree on all details, but there is a general sense of reasonable value.  The problem for us working folks, is that we have a much better idea of how hard we work than how much our work creates in real value. My work, for example, does not appear to create revenue, which seems to make it not very valuable.  What I do, however, prevents loss that would otherwise happen, and I can figure out how much I am saving my company by simply looking at how the previous manager did and how much the average company loses to fraud, default, bankruptcy, and general delinquency.  I also use sites like to see what the market pays people in the same or similar roles.  I will be blunt here - there are some jobs that have a lot less work than mine but pay better, but there are also jobs that have more work and pay less.  The working conditions are also important to deciding where you work, and for what pay.  All in all, I have enough information to make an informed decision on not only what I consider reasonable, but also what options I have should I wish to change my position. 

By now, it should be obvious that you have to do your homework to know what you can expect to get paid.  I have to warn you, there is no shortage of potential employers who will pay you as little as possible, so you not only have to know what you believe you should get paid for a job, you need to know what skills and experience drive a good wage.

The title of this article, though, is 'The Moral Wage', not 'How to Get a Good Wage'.  There are two reasons why I gave it that title.  First off, if you want to make good money you better be worth it, which means you have to know what is needed for your company to succeed and for you to impress in meaningful ways.  Second, you should be able to see how your boss and employer chooses to set your wage.  In matters of pay, morality and competence have more than a passing acquaintance.  So if your employer is paying you less than scale, or if you examine the market and conclude you can make significantly more than your present wage, you have a choice to make - if you stay where you are, you are accepting the wage you have as reasonable.  If you ask for a raise, you should explain to your employer what you think is reasonable, and why you should be paid the higher rate.  If that fails, you should then explore your options and opportunity.  Note, please, that the moral responsibility is yours, not the employer.  


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