Upon riding home from Greg’s house tonight, I heard a song “Love is the answer, Love will find a way.” I myself wonder…Will love find a way? Will it solve our problems?
I. General Introduction
I have never heard a doctrine advocated more than the doctrine of ‘love your neighbor’. Nearly every religion, philosophy, and political view of any integrity pleads a doctrine of ‘love others’ and ‘do good unto others’. I constantly hear concepts such as ‘treat others with justice’, ‘do the right thing’, and other concepts such as ‘duty to country’, ‘duty to family’, etc.
Are these doctrines right? Are they wrong? My answer is neither — I believe such statements to be empty of any content whatsoever. I feel this is best illustrated by giving an example which Greg and I both face, and an issue we have discussed at great lengths. It is the problem: How much do you pay your workers? What is the ‘right’ wage based on their position? What is the best distribution of the company’s money that would employ the virtues of justice?
I’ve tried so hard and so valiantly to employ these principles, but I cannot find any way in which they are helpful. I find them full of holes, and full of infinite variablity in interpretation. I beg the reader to come along with me on an interesting journey, not from the normal viewpoint of the man seeking a job, but from the man in charge of the company’s money. I ask for guidance and counsel in these issues. I wish above all to employ these princples in my company and in my life, but find them exceedingly difficult – even impossible. If there is a man with wisdom, who can give light to these problems, I beg that he email me at jason (at) jasonsummers.org. In the meantime, I will help to enlighten you all, as best I can, as to this grave difficulty I face everyday.
II. The Parable of the worker’s wage
A. General Problem – Where should the funds go?
There’s probably not a problem I’ve spent more mental energies on than the problem of how much money any particular employee should be paid, based on their position. It concerns me to the utmost. The first issue I’ve attempted to employ is the princples of Jesus: “To love thy neighbor as thyself.” When issuing this in the workplace, however, I find a serious lack of ‘justice’. Next, I will examine ‘justice’ in the workplace, and the extreme difficulty of putting a numeric representation on the value contributed by any particular employee in an organization. Thoughts on justice naturally lead to the concept of ‘greater good of society’. In short, if employees would be wasteful with the money, and the money could instead be employed to greater uses for society (such as health, education, science, etc) – where should the funds go? Finally I bring up a problem faced under these circumstances: I do not know fully what the employees (or others that I give money to) will do with the money I give them. Lastly I find that typically, me keeping the money for myself and my DVD educational company, seem to be better uses for the company profits than what’s typically seen by nearly all employees.
B. Treat him as you would like to be treated
Jesus is quite a man, and his principles and teachings have changed the lives of billions of people throughout the past two millennia. Growing up in the church setting, and being hammered with the teachings of Jesus since I was old enough to even think, I cannot help but try to employ his teachings to the best of my abilities. Jesus himself said the two principles that he wishes to see exhibited in mankind are:
1. To Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength
2. To Love your neighbor as yourself
What interests God has in the temporal affairs of man is hard to know, as the Bible does not go into much detail into the paying of wages, outside of various mentionings of treating your workers with justice. Jesus himself said to show love to love God is to love your neighbor. This seems to leave me with the second principle stated, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.
This poses me with a difficult problem. What wage would I want to be paid if I was working as an employee in my company? Well that answer is quite simple: I’d want to be paid the maximum amount of money, for the smallest amount of work, in the least amount of time. This would certainly be my reply if I did not particularly love the job, and was working the job mainly for the money.
To keep this example simple, say Greg and I had only one employee. This employee is a young man who we have hired to help us put Oreck air purifiers in boxes based on orders that come in from ebay and various websites. Say Greg and I have spent years building up this company, even custom developing all the websites to take orders, writing the sales pitches, heavy marketing campaigns in various magazines, and custom in-house software for the printing of the labels and other materials for packing the boxes. This is a lot of heavy work, not to mention the money and risk we invested to get all this going. The employee was simply placed in an already engineered system, fully in place, already making money, fully ready to go – he simply has to help us out with box packing.
It seems common sense that this new employee does not deserve a hand in the profits. Most of the money made is not based on his doings. In other words, he does not deserve (justice) the money. He seems to deserve some wage, but what would be the right amount?
You may suppose I’m misinterpreting Jesus’ teachings, and I may well be, but it seems that if I took the Biblical teachings literally, Greg and I would give all our profits to the employee. I would want the most amount of money, for the least amount of work, in the smallest possible timeframe. This basically breaks down into: the very first instant the employee walks in the doors and finishes his paperwork, he is given a check for the entire amount of profits and savings of the corporation. He is then free to go home and enjoy himself. Later on, as he’s at home, playing video games, and watching television, we will indefinitely mail him all the entire profits of the company, once a month. The fraction of an instant he worked, justifies him to all future profits of the organization.
This sounds entirely silly, and I know it is. Not even Jesus would seem to want such a system to be in place. I feel (and I feel this quite ‘justly’) I have just as much a right to the company’s money as anyone else. I am working to keep all this going as well, and so is Greg. This altruistic, love your neighbor, forget about yourself talk does not seem to work out.
This leaves us to try to find the right distribution of the company’s money via justice.
C. Justice – Distribute the funds equally or by value contributed?
Call it justice, call it the ‘right’ wage, call it the ‘good’ wage, etc; it all boils down to the same dilemma. How much do I pay me? How much do I pay Greg? How much do we pay the new employee?
There seems to be two plausible routes to take in this situation.
1. Equally distribute all the company’s money among all members. A sort of communistic arrangement
2. Distribute the company’s money by the individual contribution of each member.
1. Communism as a method of wage justice
The typical conception of justice, which I hear over and over again by nearly anyone who works a job, is that each person should earn their share in the company. You hear people bickering when a new person is promoted to a high management position, when there are other employees who have been with the organization for longer, and seem to ‘deserve’ the position. You hear it when top-management takes most of the money for themselves, increasing their salaries, and not increasing the salaries of those workers beneath them. The list goes on and on. Overall, there is a conception of ‘justice’ based on contribution to the company.
This first conception of justice, is a different mindset than the typical mindset. Maybe after reading some Karl Marx, or other communist writers, they come to feel the valuation problem is unsolvable. They feel workers should all be paid equally, regardless of deserves, regardless of position, etc.
This does not typically go over well, and you rarely if ever see it in action, especially in America, but needless to say, it is a viable option people can use.
People who cling to this mindset argue the janitor and phone order taker are just as important as the CEO or Marketing director. You may hear things like: If no one took out the trash, or cleaned the floors, this office would soon be so disgusting no one would ever want to work in here! If the phone order takers stopped taking orders, how would the company even take orders to begin with? All money would stop flowing in the company. Everyone is important, regardless of what they do. Everyone deserves an equal share.
This argument however, seems only partially convincing. If Greg and I have built up a company, which is now grossing $1,000,000 / month, it’s hard to envison that if we hired a phone order taker, and a janitor, to help us out, that we should give each of them $250,000 / month to equally distribute our earnings. It just doesn’t feel ‘right’.
What bothers me about it? “Justice”. They don’t deserve that much money. A company does not start bringing in those kinds of numbers without serious studying and intelligent design. Greg and I work out rear-ends off, sometimes 10+ hours a day. We’ve been doing this for near seven years now. Before that even, we were studying all kinds of marketing and business related books. Count in the cost we’ve spent alone just on business and marketing related educational material, and time invested, compared to these newcomers…well, if I have to give all my money to them, I’ve lost all incentive to build up a business. I’d rather let someone else do all this work, and join up with some other successful company and leech off their hard work.
Though the extreme altruist may be virtuous enough to give it all away, most of us, when honest with ourselves, do not feel this set up is fair, or desireable. This leads us to try to distribute the money via contribution to the company.
2. Value and Contribution as a method of wage justice
Should wages be distributed via overall contribution to the company? Should those who have been with the company the longest be paid the most? Should those who have put the most hard work into the company make the most money?
This overall idea sounds admirable, until it is examined closely. What I find early on is that putting a numeric value on contribution is difficult, if not impossible, to do. In any given company, there is a wide assortment of job positions, each varying in function, and job tasks. Sometimes the non-management workers feel the ‘paper-pushers’ sit in their desks and do nothing. Top-managment feels their budgeting and marketing plans are what keeps the company moving to begin with.
There’s no doubt in my mind that every position in the company is valuable and needed (typically), but how am I to put a numeric value on say, the accountant? A numeric value on a helpdesk manager? A numeric value on the office manager?
It’d be nice if we had some way of tracking how much money each particular employee was ‘worth’ to the organization, but this is a blurred concept. The accountant may save you lots of money, or she may not — she may just issue the paychecks each month, but that’s something that needs to be done. If you run a software company (as I do) how can you operate without a helpdesk staff? You may charge a monthly fee to use your software service, and the helpdesk staff aren’t making you money directly, like say, a salesmen… you can’t pay them commissions. They’re a needed component to operate, but how much are they needed? Well, get rid of your support staff, and see how long your customers stay with you, when they can’t figure out how to use the functions in your software which they need to know. The helpdesk staff is just as valuable as anyone else, but yet, at the same time, they don’t seem to deserve all the company’s profits.
Now here comes a real ethical twist for all you readers to ponder. So far, we’ve been assuming dividing the money between workers who are currently employed in the organization. We are assuming that we have a group of individuals all concurrently working within the organization, at that moment, each contributing an individual task to the whole at this moment in time. But what about the founders of the company? What about the old man who has spent 20 years building up the company, and has now retired from his labors, leaving the company to be run by people he has put in his place? Most entrepreneurs attempt to build up companies, and try to set them up as automated systems, and as they build it up to a successful position, they back out, and move on to starting another company.
As for these founders, who have ownership interests in the company, who have built the company up over time with toil and trouble – what do they now deserve? We all seem to feel that they now deserve the comfort of enjoying “their share” of the new profits the company makes, as they are the reason behind the company to begin with, but for how long? Say the man started the company when he was 20 years old, and retires from it when he is 40. Say he lives to be 100 years old. After the old man retires, he appoints new managment, who takes the company to even higher levels than the old man, yet the old man reaps a huge portion of all these new profits, even though he does not do a thing. For 60 years, the remainder of his life, he reaps the benefits of his initial labors. He keeps earning most of the profits of the company, possibly all of the profits, and yet does not contribute anything to the company anymore. Is this justified? Does he deserve to keep earning the labors for 60 years? We seem to all be under the impression that he deserves company profits for at least some time after he leaves, but 60 years? Isn’t that a bit much?
Now we come to a pinnacle crux. What about when the old man, the founder, dies? Who inherits it all? Does it go to the children? We’re already under the impression that the old man did not deserve the profits for a long period past, but now his children, who have done literally nothing, start inheriting the labors of the 1000+ employees of the mega corporation that has been built up.
When does it end? When does the the company’s profits go back to the people who actually did the work?
All these issues are heavy to consider. When I think about them, however, I come to the conclusion that this is all confused thinking. “Justice”, “Right”, “Love”, etc; these have not helped guide us in the real problems we see people arguing over. However, before we come to my conclusions on this matter, there is a furthur reflection to consider.
D. Greater Good Of Society – Who’s the best person to give money to?
We’ve talked about deserves, and futilely attempted to employ justice in our organization money dispersion. We’ve tried all scenarios. We’ve given all the money to the employees, regardless of what they’ve contributed. Next we tried distributing the company money equally among all workers. Finally we attempted to justly distribute the money via contribution to the company’s purpose. All of these methods failed to meet any sort of satisfaction, and each carried with them grave consequences we are all unwilling to accept as fair.
But, maybe we’re asking the wrong question? Maybe, just maybe, instead of giving the money to who deserves the money (which we couldn’t even determine), we should instead look at society as a whole, and make sure the money gets to those areas we all feel is best for society. Examples include projects such as the red-cross, underdeveloped countries, education, healthcare, etc. Maybe extra company profits should go toward good causes instead of the employees?
Well, “extra” is subjective. You can pay any amount to any employee, or any dividend to the shareholders. How much “profits” the company will have is based on how you decide to divvy up the money.
Thinking in terms of giving the ‘extra’ money away to good causes is bad basis thinking, but thinking in terms of making sure money gets to good causes seems to be a rational way of thinking.
I’ve considered this line of reasoning all the time. Consider this. My companies start bringing in large amounts of money. Maybe I should start giving my employees really high raises? Maybe I should try to pay them really really well, far above industry standards. Well, I’ve considered this option as well, but have come to the conclusion that this is not the best idea. Why?
Most Americans simply spend their money on frivolous things, sometimes even destructive things. If I take the mindset that I should try as hard as possible to make sure that the money gets to good causes, I personally feel that giving the money to the employees is not the best thing to do. There are countless employees who are buried in debt, and if you raised their wages, they’d bury themselves in debt even furthur. 80% of their money ends up going to bank interest. It doesn’t matter if you give them $30,000 / year, or $200,000 / year, they will still bury themselves in debt, and buy everything through bank loans. They have bad financial habits. They will not be in debt with a small home, and a ford tauraus, they will instead be in debt in a huge home and a BMW. Not to mention bad habits, the typical person spends all their money on big screen tvs, movies, food, etc. Give them more money, they don’t think to help develop Africa’s economy, or contribute to education or healthcare – they spend it all on themselves.
What am I building up my money for? I plan on building an educational DVD company, which provides scholarly content on lots of different subjects. I have a passion that people can become educated, without burying themselves in debt through the typical college system. I think it would be a beautiful thing if a company provided cheap DVD content, to where individuals could buy DVDs on nearly every subject taught in college, and actually watch and learn about the subjects of college before taking the classes. They could watch real quality professors deliver quality lectures on varying subjects, and learn what subjects are all about.
If you want DVDs, I will ship them DVDs. I would also like to set up a large website, in which all this video content is delivered via the computer. Potential learners can log into this website and watch, possibly for free, or very cheap, quality videos by brilliant teachers, on all kinds of subjects.
This is where my millions are going to be pumped into. I need millions of dollars to pay all the professors and video production staff to make these films. If I gave most of my “extra” profits to employees in raises, I could not do such a dream.
I think it’s an important consideration to take into account where the money will go after it’s dispersed. Employees deserve money for their labors, and how much to pay them is difficult, yet, it seems trying to give it all to people, who would not put it to its best use seems to be a bad idea.
E. Lack of knowledge As to the Decisions and Plans of Others
There’s a final consideration to discuss before making our final conclusions. It may be true that, speaking in terms of probability, most employees I give money to will employ bad financial habits and waste their money on frivolous things. I suppose however, when I’m honest, who I am to judge what is frivolous? They’ve earned their money. Who am I to tell them what to do with it? Also, there is no neccessity that any particular employee will waste their money. There are intelligent men and women out there who manage their affairs with discretion. This overarching concept, saying that all employees are irresponsible, and that giving them more money is not in their best interest, nor in the best view of society, is not for me to judge, nor know.
I have no knowledge as to what a particular person will do with their money once I give it to them. It may likely be that one of the young men working in my helpdesk is saving up his money to initially fund his start-up business that will end up revolutionizing the world. Who knows.
F. Conclusion: ‘Love’, ‘Justice’, ‘The Right Wage’, etc; seems impossible
If you recall, we intially got into this entire discussion to see if ‘Love will find a way’. Did ‘love’ tell us what wages to pay our employees, and how to exhibit justice toward the distribution of the company’s profits?
We’ve attempted ‘love’, ‘justice’, ‘righteousness’, and every other ethical principle in the world, but have found that when you try to employ them toward a real life scenario, they do not help us in the least. They are worthless, vague, all-encompassing words that do not break down into actions which tell us what to actually do.
This is why, when I am in church, and I hear one church member say, “If these big business owners would just read their Bibles and learn to love their employees, the world would be such a better place”, I simply get out of the discussion as fast as possible and silently shake my head. People who do not run a company, do not seem to understand the real problems faced. Love has nothing to do with it. Justice has nothing to do with it. Duty has nothing to do with it. There is no ‘right’ wage, or ‘wrong’ wage. Anytime you try to complain they’re paying you injustly, that the money is not going toward the right things, etc; you run into the problems faced above.
So what is my view on the matter?
G. My Views on ‘Love’, ‘Justice’, ‘Right/Wrong’, etc;
We’ve just seen that ‘love’, ‘justice’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, etc; when carefully applied to a real-life problem in the world, does not help us at all. In fact, I could argue that they rarely, if ever, help at all. They are worthless principles. I cannot find a real use for them. They are vague words tending to be all linked together in some confusing web that you can never get out of and back into reality.
Love is a word that people attach their own meaning to. Some people attach good things to love, and their conception of love is a good thing. Others attach various stupidities to their conception of love, and nothing good comes out of it at all. Justice is near the same thing. People formulate their own conception for what the ‘just’ action is. (remember the example of wage contribution based on value to the company, and where that got us.) ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ also find every possible conception you could imagine. To some people, to be homosexual is a grave evil, to others, it is nothing worth even discussing, as it was never an ethical issue to begin with, to a third group, to be gay is to be the greatest thing imaginable.
Need another example? What happens when a neighbor parks under another neighbor’s tree limb, and the limb falls onto the neighbor’s car? Who pays for the damages? Was it tree owner’s fault, for his neglect to take care of the tree, leaving the rotted limb up in the air, and not cutting it down? Or is it the car owner’s fault
, for not taking the precaution to look above and see that the particular area was not a good place to park his car?
Try applying ‘love’, ‘justice’, ‘right/wrong’, etc; to that problem. You find they are useless. There are an infinite number of real life problems, concerning everything from government, business, healthcare, etc. in which these vague principles do not help us.
The wage earner scenario is much more simplistic than all these complex theories make it out to be. A job is an offer. If the employee accepts, then that is that. All there is in life is decisions, and people making you various offers. Life makes you offers. Some you accept, some you do not. There are people happy in every form of job, and happy being paid every sort of wage. There are also people unhappy in every form of job, and unhappy being paid every sort of wage. Life is about taking responsibility for yourself and your life, making decisions, and living with it. It’s your job to make something of yourself, and finding a life that you enjoy. As a business owner, my job simply is to make an offer, and make sure that I keep the promises I made. If I said I’ll pay you $X / month, and that I’ll pay you on the 1st weekday of each month, as long as I keep my end of the bargain and you keep yours, that is that. As long as we’re not intruding upon the freedom of anyone else, and everyone agreed to what’s going on, then, that’s enough said. We all agreed, let’s keep our word and do what we said we’ll do. If an employee makes a bad decision, then he must take responsibility for that action. If I make a bad decision, I must take responsibility for that decision. The world is ours to make what we please out of it, that is our freedom.
If my fellow man makes a bad decision, I’ll do what I can to help, but it’s not my obligation to always help; that is far too heavy a burden for anyone. The same goes vice versa. It gets very complicated, as sometimes, some people need to experience the consequences of their actions, and learn from their mistakes. Sometimes, it seems right to help out. Each situation must be considered with discretion, and consequences of each action laid before us to the best of our knowledge. A decision must then be made, and if we were wrong, we were wrong: that is our fault, and our responsibility.
Love, Justice, Right, Wrong….I don’t know what to think of them sometimes, but I do know this: they don’t help out very much if the meaning conferred to them is vague, or useless.