- By Bill Bonner
Today is Labor Day. Most of the rest of the world pays homage to its sweating, bussing, trucking classes, its poor huddled masses...yearning for a cushier seat and a better deal...on May 1st. Grover Cleveland chose the first Monday in September.
On Friday, the Dow fell again...down 272 points. But don't worry, Tobias Levkovich, Citi's chief strategist, told CNBC that there was a 96% chance - 96%, not 95%! - that the Dow would be higher one year from now. Well, we can't fight those odds, can we? B...b..buy!
No, wait. What does he know? Nothing! Just like the rest of us. We're all guessing. But our guess is that the risk of losing money is 82.7% greater than the risk of not making more. No, make that 82.8%.
So, let's go back to Labor Day.
Of great interest to people in America, as indicated by the newspaper headlines, is how much other people earn. No one, or almost no one, writing in the editorial pages works at McDonalds or earns the minimum wage. But practically every one of them seems to have an opinion about how much low-wage people should earn. A 'living wage' is what they say they want. Thirty thousand dollars is the amount we've seen discussed.
Of course, a national 'living wage,' is absurd. It costs far more to live in Manhattan than in the Ozarks. And it is far less expensive to live with mom and dad than have a place of one's own.
But we are not so much concerned with the practical details as with the theory. We have been told that the people who work at McDonalds need to earn more. But what about those who don't work at McDonalds? Perhaps, they should set each others' salaries. Well-educated, well-liquored, and well paid employees can decide the wages of McDonald's workers. And the burger flippers can decide the wages of the chattering, meddling, and improving classes. Were that to happen, our guess is that the well-paid know-it-alls would take a pay cut. Which seems proper and just to us. We walk into McDonalds and a minimum wage worker serves up our order. We get what we pay for and are content with the transaction; we do not begrudge the worker his recompense. We read the paper, on the other hand, and we get bilge and nonsense.
Generally, we get decent service and good value-for-money from the blue-collar worker. What do we get from the white-collared clown? Grief.
Logically, there are only two possibilities. Either wages are determined by a free give-and-take between those who offer their labor and those who want to buy it. Or, someone(s) sets wages according to his own standards. The do-gooders want to use other peoples' money to raise the wages of the least well paid, but they make no mention of their own. Nor do they even offer to pay more for their hamburgers so that McDonalds can pay its workers more. And what about the poor people who cannot find jobs at all? If the minimum wage were raised there would surely be more of them - either because McDonalds could not afford to hire so many people at higher salaries or because it had replaced its minimum wage employees with machines!
But the price fixers are so self-satisfied taking what they think is the high road - driving along comfortably in their Subarus and Priuses - that they can't be bothered to look out the window. If they did, they would see that setting prices always...always!...makes people poorer, not richer.
Nevertheless, we will give them the benefit of the doubt, if there were any, by trying to imagine how the world could be improved by setting wages for other people. So let us begin with a modest nod to fairness: if it makes sense to set the wages of the least among us, why the most? In other words, if people not involved in a labor transaction themselves can know, better than the participants, what the terms should be, why not set the salaries of editorialists? Publishers? CEOs? Sports celebrities? Movie stars? There may be cheapness on the low end, but there is extravagant generosity on the other. If one side should be fixed, why not both?
You can see what a jolly undertaking this would be for a bureaucrat with a sense of mischief. Instead of allowing the market to set prices, we will set them ourselves. Yes, we will not stop by rigging up the stock market...we'll rig up the labor market too - by assigning salaries where we think they should be.
So, let's have a go. We have taken the lead to propose annual salaries for the following trades according to the good we think they do society.
Entrepreneurs (including your editor), poets, inventors and whacked-out metaphysicians -- $100,000
Priests, teachers, mathematicians, scientists, pilots, nurses and flimmakers -- $85,000
Corporate CEOs, prostitutes, writers, bartenders, hedge fund managers -- $75,000
Drivers, laborers, nurses, clerks, salesmen, farmers, firemen, policemen -- $50,000
Psychologists, bone crackers, doctors (including witchdoctors), financial planners, -- $40,000
Government employees (those not included in the groups above), politicians, drug dealers, world improvers, economists, counterfeiters, psychiatrists, sociologists, political scientists, pollsters and flimflam artists--- $30,000
We do not mean this list to be comprehensive or final. It is just a suggestion, a point of departure towards a "fairer" distribution of national income. Readers are invited to make their own contributions.
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.