Success and the Minimum Wage – Part 2

There was a popular Peter Paul and Mary song a few years ago called “If I had a hammer”.  The primary line in the song was, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, I’d hammer all day long”.  I think the point is that if I had the right tools, I would try to do something constructive.  In case you missed it, the acronym for the 5 things mentioned in the previous post that I believe affect our attitude is HAMER (Hope, Ambition, Motivation, Education, and Responsibility).

People caught in the “cycle of poverty” are missing, I believe, some of these things.  Without education on what they need to spend effort on to be successful, there is no hope; and if there is no hope, there is no ambition – why spend time putting aspirations and objectives on things we will never expect to achieve?  So they are missing 3 of the 5. However, I believe we are all innately born to be motivated to obtain the things that will sustain life – Maslow’s Basic Needs – and if we think no one will help us with those, we will do something – make an effort – to obtain those.  Sometimes the “what” people do to accomplish this is not “good” – it may be neither legal nor moral.  If someone else takes the responsibility for providing these things to us, this can relieve us of our personal responsibility.  And as Maslow observed, a satisfied need is no longer a motivator.  So in this case, people are left with none of the 5 factors that influence their attitude.

Most government welfare programs are intended to help people with the basic necessities of life.  These usually represent the best of intentions.  Personal responsibility includes not just responsibility for our on performance, but for taking a personal interest in helping the rest of our team members – our neighbors and our fellow citizens.  The  government may be good at giving away money, it’s not so good at helping with the factors that help people’s attitudes.  Food stamps and housing assistance programs help people have the basic necessities, but not with improving people’s attitudinal factors.  In fact, they can take away an individual’s feeling of responsibility for providing these things for himself.  This is, I believe, the reason some of these programs result in personal dependence, rather than independence.  Intentions are not results.

For those of us who believe that part of personal responsibility includes helping our fellow-man, there are at least 3 alternatives.  The first and probably most effective is through volunteering.  The Memphis businessman who volunteered to coach the high school football team is an example.  Unfortunately,  most of us who have full-time jobs and are trying to support a family, don’t have the time to do what he did.  The second alternative is to support one or more of the independent, non-profit organizations trying to do “good”.  There are several that I have had some contact with over the years and there are more that I have heard about in the last few months.  These do not all go about helping in the same way, but they do have one thing in common – in addition to helping with the basic necessities, they have the objective of helping people become independent.  They are the “coach” that many of us were lucky to have at home who taught basic life skills and educated us on what we need to do to be successful.  And as the Memphis coach said,  they help people believe that if they “do the right things, good things can happen”.  They are giving them hope and they are “giving them a hammer” (or a HAMER).  These organizations rely on volunteers and private contributions.  They need our support in both time and money.

The 3rd alternative way we can do to exercise our responsibility to help our neighbors is delegate this responsibility to the government.  We can agree to let the government use our tax dollars to help people in need.  I’m told, this is a very European thing to do.  But traditionally, this country has been known for it’s people’s willingness to help each other personally and voluntarily.  We may need the governments support  to encourage and help this tradition be as effective as it should be, but we may not want the government to do it.  The government does help in ways that may not be obvious – e.g. tax exemptions for organizations, and tax deductions for individual contributions.  The management guru of the last century, Peter Drucker,  established a foundation to help train and improve the management of not-for-profit organizations.  The leadership of these have a passion for helping people in need.  They want and are trained to do “good”, but are not always trained in organizational management.  Drucker stated that while he believed that the government should financially support some of these organizations, we should “never let the government do anything”.  He believed that private non-profit organizations are both more efficient and more effective at helping people.  I agree with Peter Drucker.

But this started out to be a discussion of the minimum wage law which is not – at least technically – a government welfare program.  However, I believe its intention is to help those at or near the poverty level.  This makes its aim similar to some of the welfare programs.  On the other hand, it is also different in some important ways.  I think the premise of the law is fairness.  If someone makes the effort to work full-time to support him or her self, they should be compensated in a way that at least allows their basic needs to be met.  I cannot argue with the premise.  The intention is noble.  However, the potential consequences may be mixed, and there are several questions to be answered such as:  The obvious one; at what level should the minimum be set? and Who should it apply to? and What are the economic implications? and what are the human behavioral implications? et. al. The second of my three primary life rules is;  Nothing is as simple as it seems.  And that certainly applies to this.  (My other 2 are: Life is not fair. and There is no free lunch.  they may apply here also.)  Because of this, I wanted to put some of my thoughts in context before getting to this specific program.  This has taken longer than I had thought, so we’ll save the rest of this discussion for part 3.


About tjc13

BE - Chem Engineering, Vanderbilt Univ, MBA, University of Tulsa - Worked for an energy and chemical company for many years and then started a management consulting business working for both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.
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