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Monday, March 14, 2005

Give the Cashier a Piece of the Crop

Somewhere today, a worker is working. In return for his work, his boss gives him a certain amount of pay. If the worker is productive enough, his boss will be able to make a profit by charging slightly more for the finished product than what he pays the worker to make it. This is a good thing.
In a complex economy, things get harder to trace. Which worker is producing the exact proper amount and how to maximize profit are topics that have business gurus raking in the bucks at the bargain book rack. The basic truth remains: the worker gets paid slightly less than the market value of the item. It’s a Biblical principle called, “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”.
Actually, Paul puts it this way, “It is written in the law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.' ...the plowman should plow and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop." (I Cor. 9:9-10; cf. Deut. 25:4). In the days when practically everyone was involved in farming or was at least close enough to it to see it at work, everyone understood what he meant. In a modern economy, it might not be so clear.
What it means, in simple terms, is that the boss should not get fat and rich off of the labors of his employees. It’s fine to earn a decent living. However, the plowman is entitled to a share of the crop. You might say that the computer programmer – or cashier – is entitled to a share of the profits.
Our economy is simply not geared this way. What we have is a system where the employer tells you how much you are going to receive. If you’re engaged in certain professions, you may have some limited ability to negotiate your salary. If you’re lucky, your company might cut you in with profit-sharing and/or bonuses. This still falls short of the Biblical imperative.
Since it was last raised in 1997, the real purchasing power of the minimum wage has been eroded by about eighty cents – about fifteen percent of the take. If it had kept up with inflation since 1968, the minimum wage would now stand at $8.69. This means that in today’s dollars, a minimum wage worker gets paid about forty-one percent less than what was needed to keep pace with inflation.
Meanwhile, the lowest amount needed to break into the top five percent of household income in the United States (the floor for the top five percent) has risen by $65,044 after adjusting for inflation – an increase of seventy-three percent.
But those statistics mask the real problem. There is literally no limit on how much money someone can make. If I stand in a room with Bill Gates, on average everyone in the room is a billionaire. If you stick a doctor working eighty hours a week making $160,000 with a bunch of CEOs, the average income goes through the roof. Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott took home $22,991,599 in 2004 - including a $4.2 million bonus. For Mr. Scott, every hour of his work schedule he earns more than the equivalent of a minimum wage worker’s yearly wage. If he were to turn that money back over to the company, they could do one of the following: buy health insurance for more than eleven thousand workers, pay one year of daycare for over five thousand working moms, give 875 part-time workers a full-time job with benefits, or enroll twenty thousand workers in a pension plan.
The average worker at Wal-Mart makes $25,501 a year – which is substantially above minimum wage. However, once you figure that it takes nine hundred and one “average” workers to equal Mr. Scott’s pay, you start to see how skewed things really are. If you include Mr. Scott, then start adding only “average” workers until the entire compensation equals the “average” worker’s pay, you will add upwards of twenty-three thousand “average” workers. By including Mr. Scott’s astronomical pay in the equation, Wal-Mart employees look like they’re getting a much better deal than they really are.
Let’s be clear. I have no idea what Mr. Scott’s job entails. I have no idea how many hours he works. However, every dollar he takes home is built on the sweat of one of his “average” or minimum wage workers. According to the Bible, he owes them part of the money he is taking home. Every plowman earns a part of the crop – and every cashier earns a part of Mr. Scott’s $4.2 million bonus.

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