Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has long been one of my political heroes. I don’t always agree with his policy ideas, but he always tells it the way he sees it and he doesn’t kowtow to political interests when he speaks about what’s best for this country. In the 20 or so years I’ve been listening to him speak he has also never once reversed himself, which is incredibly unusual for a politician.
All of that being said, I really have a hard time wrapping my mind around the $15 federal minimum wage he champions. I get where he’s coming from, but I have long studied the behavior of others and I think he’s underestimating the modern corporations unwavering devotion to the bottom line of the quarterly report.
In 2019 McDonald’s then-CEO Steve Easterbrook made just over $18 million, which was roughly 2,000 times more than the media worker for the fast food chain, who earned roughly $9,300 during that same year. This is a pretty outrageous difference, and is at the heart of the argument Sanders and now President Joe Biden are making in favor of raising the federal minimum wage for $15 per hour. The utopian idea is basically that McDonald’s, for example, which reported $21.08 billion in profits in 2019, would A) pay their CEO less and pay their bottom line workers more, and B) take some of that $21.08 billion in profits and use it to improve the quality of life (or at least paycheck size) of those workers.
I happen to believe that this is nothing more than a delusional fantasy.
Hear me out.
When I was a kid I lived in Concord, NC for a while and my grandfather worked for Ford, selling the trucks that power 18-wheelers. I remember going to picnics the company threw for workers and their families, and even remember that the company had a free health care clinic for workers. We’re talking about the 1970’s, so it was not an eternity ago when an American corporation believed that the well being of their workers was a critical component in their success (European corporations still do). This is not how American corporations behave any more. Workers are, for the most part, nothing more than soldier ants, carrying out jobs that pretty much anyone can do. They don’t have lives, they don’t have children, if they get sick or hurt you just stomp them out and others replace them in an endless stream.
You and I know this isn’t true at all, but we are not data-driven, soulless corporations.
There are two things that will not happen if and when the minimum wage is raised to $15 an hour. First, corporate CEOs will not take a pay cut. Second, corporations will not sacrifice even one percentage point of their bottom line in an effort to improve the lives of their employees.
What’s more likely, and is already in the works, is that McDonald’s (just picking on them because they are killing people [not me!] with their crappy food) will completely rework their business model to 1) include fewer full time employees and thus avoid paying for health care, 2) replace as many workers as possible with automation (already happening), and 3) pass the increased cost of wages directly to the consumer in the form of the $15 Big Mac.
Minimum wage is a tricky issue. Those jobs are designed to be first jobs for kids who are in high school, students working their way through college or maybe retired folks supplementing their Social Security. The run of the mill minimum wage job is not intended to be a career for people who own homes and raise children. I am aware that there are plenty of people attempting to do just that, but many of the people I know personally who are doing it were forced into the situation by their own life choices. Didn’t go to college or trade school? Chose to have kids early? Chose to have LOTS of kids? Life choices have consequences, many of which make life harder. Turning minimum wage jobs into career paths is not the best answer, in my humble opinion.
I truly believe in the world Bernie Sanders is trying to bring about. I think it’s ridiculous that our society has evolved to put so much wealth in the hands of an extreme few while the vast majority of Americans struggle to make ends meet. It would be amazing if something could be done to change human nature to focus less on greed and selfishness and more on promoting a fair and equal culture.
I also believe there is no legislation that can make it happen.