Monday, August 25, 2014

Need-Based vs. Value-Based Wages

I hear a lot of people advocating for a raise in the minimum wage (usually to $10 or $15 per hour) so that people can "make a living wage." Here is my response to that.

If you think we need a higher minimum wage to ensure that we take care of everyone's needs, you are advocating for wages to be paid based on need, not the value of their work. That sounds nice, but there are some serious problems with that view. For one, it's unfair. (Yes, I just used the code word of the liberals in favor of my conservative viewpoint. I love turning the tables like that.) Paying wages based on need is inherently and unavoidably unfair.

Let's use an example of two men doing exactly the same job at the same company. One is a married man with 3 children. The other is single with no children. Should the company pay the married man more than the single man, even though they do exactly the same work?

If you believe that people should be paid based on their need rather than the value of their work, then you must say that the married man should receive more pay for his work because his need is greater. Yet very few would agree that a married man should be paid more for the same work. We instinctively realize that it is unfair and unjust to pay two people differently for the same work.

Let’s go a bit further. If people should be paid based on their needs, then why not do away with a set wage altogether? Instead, employers should simply meet all the needs of all their employees in exchange for work. So, if an employee’s car breaks down, rather than pay for the repairs himself, he would turn in the bill to his employer. Likewise, all food bills, rent statements, utility bills, hospital bills, and all receipts for any need are paid or reimbursed by the employer in exchange for working at the company. That way, we can ensure that everyone can live on what they make. Of course, that also means that many employees will make much more than other people doing similar work. It also means that employees become, not masters of their own destiny, but more akin to slaves – being fed, housed, and clothed in exchange for working for the master. Is this what we want? It is if we think that wages should be based on need.

Instead of basing wages on need, a much better way is to base wages on the value of the work being done. In this view, a person who provides more value to the company should receive more pay while someone whose skills are less valuable receives less pay. This seems heartless on first glance, but actually has several advantages to both the company AND the worker.

The advantage to the company is obvious. Basing wages on the value of the work produces incentive for employees to do better quality work in order to receive better compensation. Plus, the burden of deciding what constitutes actual needs (as opposed to wants) is removed and the overhead involved in doling out welfare to all employees is gone. No one debates that paying for the value of the work is better for companies.

What many don’t realize is that a system where wages are based on the value of the work is actually better for employees.

For one thing, when compensation is based on need, it is nearly impossible to have anything more than the most basic needs met. No matter how hard you work in such a need-based system, you can’t get any more. The employer is only obligated to provide for your needs. If you want nicer things, you’re out of luck. No amount of harder work, increased skill, or better efficiency will get you more than the basics you need to survive.

What’s more, you can work your hardest and still get less than someone who doesn’t put in much effort, but has more need. This is tremendously disincentivizing and demoralizing. How can anyone have pride in their work when it doesn’t matter how hard they work? They will still get the same compensation as if they had barely done the minimum. And how depressing would it be to work very hard and have the guy at the next desk, who does practically nothing, getting the same or better than you. It’s simply not fair or right to pay different amounts for the same work or give the same pay for different amounts of work.

In a system where wages are based on the value of the work, a person can get ahead by working harder, developing new skills, or becoming more efficient. Their future is in their own hands. That is empowering. That gives people hope. It gives them reason to produce something of value that is useful to society because it is also useful to themselves personally.

Paying for the value of work rather than need gives people the opportunity to better themselves. It gives them incentive to do better and to have hope because they are masters of their own destiny, not slaves to a system.

A value-based system of wages is not only better for businesses and workers, but it is better for society as a whole. A society where everyone works to better themselves in order to provide more value, and thus earn a better wage, is a prosperous and thriving society. New inventions are made, new services offered, new businesses opened, new technology developed – all for the purpose of allowing individuals to better their lot in life. There is no incentive for developing these things in a need-based system. There is far more total production when everyone is working to provide more value in order to get more for themselves.

A system where people are paid based on need has no hope or future. A system where people are paid based on the value of their work is empowering to individuals and allows them to better themselves, provide for themselves and their families, and make their society more productive.

So, should we pay wages based on need or on the value of a person’s work? We can't have both.

If wages should be value-based, then we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage. We should allow individuals to be paid based on the value of their work. Those wishing to earn more must either work more hours or increase their skills. But they have that opportunity to decide for themselves and control their own destiny.

On the other hand, raising the minimum wage to a “living wage” simply means that those not providing enough value to be worth that minimum wage will have no jobs. It means cutting off hope for those of low skills who cannot make it into the job market. It means keeping a permanent underclass who have been priced out of jobs. It might sound compassionate to want to pay everyone enough to live on, but the results actually hurt those with poor job skills. And that isn’t good for anyone.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Raising Kids in the Country

This is a guest post from my amazing husband, Doug.

I recently read an article in the National Post (a Canadian paper) entitled, “Child labour or just chores? Debate rages after Saskatchewan bans kids from working on family farm."

Naturally, this incident raised a bit of debate about child labor, and whether or not government intervention was appropriate in cases like this. Fortunately, the government backed off somewhat after the case hit social media. In her defense and explanation, the mother, Janeen, made the observation that:

"Farm kids used to be in demand because they have amazing work ethic."

True statement. That's why Lindsay and I moved to the country soon after our first child was born. Not only are we going to home school our kids, we're going to give them just this sort of childhood where they will acquire a good work ethic, maturity, and a healthy dose of independence – and learn some useful skills while they're at it.

For most of my adult years, I wanted to live on a farm in the country, but I always put off making that move. Still, I told myself that as soon as I had kids, I was going to get out of the city because I really wanted to raise my kids on a farm where they could have the same sort of experience that I had growing up. I really believe that there is something about farm life that cannot be reproduced in the city, and that’s why Lindsay and I made it a priority to find a way to move to a small farm in the country when we started having kids.

Children do not learn confidence and self-esteem from being told they are special or smart over and over. They don’t learn it from getting participation trophies or playing games where no one wins or loses (so that no one gets hurt feelings). They don’t learn to be self-sufficient, hard-working, and strong by being soothed and coddled and flattered by everyone around them.

Children develop a real and lasting confidence when they have real, valuable skills and know that they can make a useful contribution. Children are happier and more confident in their own abilities when they actually have abilities to be confident about. False and empty praise doesn’t fool kids. They know whether they deserve praise or not. And while they will usually accept empty praise, when fed a steady diet of it, they tend to become dependent on others to uplift them rather than becoming self-sufficient and independent. When children have real skills and work to provide something of value (whether that’s as simple as carrying a hammer for daddy or as big as raising farm animals or building a fence on their own), they develop true confidence and a sense that they can take on whatever they set their mind to do.

On a farm, you have many such opportunities to build that sort of confidence and maturity. I recall a time when I was around ten years old that my dad took me and my two younger brothers with him around the farm fixing fence. On this occasion, we hiked well beyond our own property (which I knew quite well), and on to a neighboring farm which we rented. By mid-afternoon, we were well over into a remote area of woods that I had never seen before. Then, we ran out of fence wire. So Dad decided to hike back to our farm for more, and knowing he could travel faster alone, he left us there. After he was gone, my ten year old mind got to thinking, “What if something happened?” I was the oldest. Could I get my younger brothers and myself back home? I didn’t mention my concerns to them, but while they were exploring the woods, I mentally retraced our steps all along that fence we had been working on and convinced myself that it connected up with that of our own farm in an area that I knew I would recognize. So I came up with a plan to use it as a guide for getting us out of there if need be. That’s how independence and maturity get developed on the farm. You have to grow up, and take responsibility.

Of course, I could recount many other examples including hiking to the other end of our property to retrieve a tractor and drive it back to the house alone, and working alongside adults putting up hay, or under a truck or tractor working well into the night helping my dad get something running that really HAD to be running the next day. On a farm, you learn to contribute just like an adult, and you learn that your contributions are necessary and valuable. That gives a child incentive.

Working late into the night when you’re dead tired; hunting in the freezing cold when your fingers are so numb you can’t work a zipper; pitching hay in a barn loft when you’re parched, hot and sweaty; robbing bees when you really are afraid of being stung; and many more such real examples make a man out of a boy. These are the things which show a kid that he does have it in him to man up, especially when he is working alongside someone else who is enduring the exact same thing and still finds a way to get the job done. This is the sort of peer pressure that’s good for a kid. This is the sort of childhood that produced the sort of adults that made this country great and prosperous.

Certainly, one can raise responsible adults in the city, but based on my experience from living in both environments, I believe that farm life lends many more safe learning opportunities where children can learn independence and maturity. Notice, I said “safe” learning opportunities. Of course, you can turn your kids loose in the city and hope for the best, but that is not a safe environment for children to go unsupervised. I do not want my kids exposed to the sorts of things that they may be exposed to in the city. I don’t want them exposed to drugs, illicit sex, foul language, gangs, porn, etc. I don’t want them to hang with kids who are not mature and responsible, who are disrespectful of their parents, and so on. Children learn to mimic those they spend the most time with, and for my children, I do not want that to be the typical public school kid. Instead, I want them to grow up working alongside their mom and dad on projects that are important to our family farm.

Don’t misunderstand. I am certainly not overprotective. In fact, I do want my kids to know about drugs, gangs, illicit sex, porn, etc. I want them to know about them and what is wrong with them. I just do not want them exposed to these things in person. Furthermore, many of those who would level the “over-protective” charge at me would probably freak out when they learn that I plan to teach my kids to shoot and hunt at an early age (just as my dad and grandpa taught me). Many people might consider that reckless, but I consider it reckless to turn your kids loose in a typical public high school.

My goal is not to raise children. My goal is to raise adults – well adjusted, confident, independent, responsible, and capable adults who have an impeccable moral character and healthy work ethic; intelligent adults who have a good understanding of inalienable rights (and the source thereof), the proper role of civil government, a good comprehension of Biblical apologetics and Bible doctrine. These are the sort of adults that Lindsay and I wish to raise on our little farm in the country.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Should We Avoid "Controversial" Topics?

Have you ever had a conversation with someone about some topic, maybe a Bible doctrine or a political topic or a moral position, and they dismissed your argument by saying that the topic is “controversial?” I have. Lots of times. Apparently, pointing out that something is controversial is supposed to mean that nobody knows the answer, or maybe that there isn’t a right answer at all, and thus everyone should just be quiet about it. If they can’t be quiet, they should at least avoiding taking a strong stance on it one way or the other. After all, it’s controversial.

But is it really true that controversial things don’t have a clear right answer? Not necessarily.

Controversy: strong disagreement about something among a large group of people

Controversial: relating to or causing much discussion, disagreement, or argument

According to these definitions, a controversial topic is simply one on which many people disagree. In some cases, this may be due to the topic being merely opinion. If you are asking which ice cream flavor is the best or which sports car is the best or which season of the year is the best, these are all matters of opinion and there is no right answer. There is no absolute truth in these cases because the inherent question is about what people prefer. Different people prefer different things.

But in spite of the fact that there is a lot of disagreement on the best ice cream flavor (vanilla, in case anyone was wondering), we don’t usually try to shut people up when they express an opinion, even if it differs from ours. And we usually don’t call these opinions “controversial.” In fact, I have never heard anyone refer to ice cream flavors as a controversial issue. (What a conversation that would be. “I like vanilla best.” “Oh, don’t talk about ice cream flavors because they’re so controversial.”)

When people talk about something being “controversial” they usually do it when it’s not just a matter of opinion, but they want to believe it is. They want to use the disagreement out there to avoid taking a side on an important topic.

Sometimes they don’t want to take a side because it’s unpopular. If they take a side, the people on the other side might not like them.

Sometimes they don’t want to have to put the effort into studying the issue. Laziness makes them avoid finding out which position is the correct one.

Sometimes they don’t like the implications involved in taking a position. What if believing one way or the other means they have to change something about their life? Perhaps give up something they enjoy or do something they don't like?

Sometimes they have the mistaken idea that a “controversial” topic doesn’t have a correct answer and thus neither side should be dogmatic.

Some see taking a side on something that evokes a lot of disagreement as somehow “divisive” or “polarizing” and therefore bad.

Whatever the reason, these people want to stay “neutral” and not take a side. And, often, they don’t want to hear anyone else’s position on the matter either.

The problem is, some things that are labelled “controversial” are very important and have distinct right and wrong sides. Just because a lot of people disagree about it doesn’t mean there is no right answer.

Let me give an example. In the years preceding the Civil War in the US, slavery was a very controversial issue. Roughly half of the country believed it was acceptable while the other half believed it was not. It doesn’t get a lot more “controversial” than that. Not only were there radically differing positions, but they divided communities, families, and ultimately, a country. People took up arms to kill each other over this issue. That’s a very heated controversy indeed. But surely no one today would claim that the issue of slavery should have been ignored or that there was no correct side. Slavery was one of the most systematic violations of human rights in the history of this country – a black mark against us that we may never live down. There most certainly was a right side. Those who stood for abolishing slavery were right while those who wanted it to remain were in the wrong. Broad disagreement does not mean that neither side is correct. It may mean that many are wrong, but it does not mean that no one is right.

In today’s world, there are many issues that receive the “controversial” label that are actually issues of great importance and should not be ignored. One of the most important of these is abortion. While legal abortion is most definitely “controversial” – with many people on both sides of the issues who hold their position ardently and vocally – this issue does have right and wrong sides. There is no right to kill an innocent human child in the womb, regardless of the many who believe strongly that there is. Strong belief does not make something so.

Of course, there are many other issues that also evoke strong disagreement and yet contain a right and wrong side. Political issues, theology, morality, religions in general – these things are among the most hotly contested areas of human thought. Yet to suppose that there is no right answer in these areas is to greatly misunderstand the nature of man and the nature of truth. Having disagreement on these topics means just that – disagreement – and nothing more. It says absolutely nothing about the truth in such cases.

So, while there's nothing wrong with noting that something is controversial, one cannot logically conclude that controversial topics have no right answer or that they should be avoided. Sometimes controversial things are just issues on which a lot of people are confused. But how many people believe something has nothing to do with whether or not it is true. Controversy may prove that many people are wrong about a topic, but it doesn’t prove that no one is right.

Next time someone dismisses your position as being "controversial," as if that means that you can't be right or should not take a stand on it, point out that controversy just means people disagree. It doesn't have anything to do with whether or not one side is right or whether that issue is important or whether or not people should take a stand for it. Controversial topics are not inherently bad to talk about and we need to reject the idea that they are. After all, we need more people to take a stand for what's right on important issues, not more people silenced.