Better Wages Can Trickle Up

Adam Davidson argues (NYT) that better paid, better treated employees reap more benefits for their employers:

The success of Costco, Trader Joe’s, QuikTrip and Mercadona, Spain’s biggest supermarket chain, indicate, [business professor Zeynep Ton] argues, that well-paid, knowledgeable workers are not an indulgence often found in luxury boutiques with their high markups. At each of the aforementioned companies, workers are paid more than at their competitors; they are also amply staffed per shift. More employees can ask customers questions about what they want to see more of and what they don’t like, and then they are empowered to change displays or order different stock to appeal to local tastes. (In big chains, these sorts of decisions are typically made in headquarters with little or no line-staff input.) Costco pays its workers about $21 an hour; Walmart is just about $13. Yet Costco’s stock performance has thoroughly walloped Walmart’s for a decade.

Along the same lines, Daniel Gross explains why Henry Ford doubled his employees wages in 1914:

Ford was playing a deeper, longer game. The Ford Motor Company was in the business of building an expensive durable good. The first cars he had built in number, the 1903 Model N, cost about $3,000, and so were accessible only to that era’s one percent. Henry Ford recognized that the automobile would be more successful as a volume business than as a niche product. “I would build a motorcar for the great multitudes,” he proclaimed. Through relentless innovation, vertical integration, and the obsessive development of an assembly line, Ford had already managed to bring the cost of the Model T, the first democratic car, down to about $500. And the company was moving about 250,000 cars a year. But per capita income was only $354 in 1913. The U.S. didn’t have a developed consumer credit industry. People paid for things with the wages they earned and their savings.

So this was Ford’s theory: Companies had an interest in ensuring that their employees could afford the products they produced. Put another way, employers had a role to play in boosting consumption. While paying higher wages than you absolutely needed to might lower profits temporarily, it would lead to a more sustainable business and economy over time. If the motorcar was going to be a mass-produced product for typical Americans, not a plaything for the rich, Ford would strive to pay his workers enough so they could afford the products they worked on all day.

Previous Dish coverage of Walmart’s labor practices here, here, and here.