Whether through birth, brains, or luck, all of us have different life opportunities. But with aspiration and hard work, each of us can improve our life.
I note this alongside the article in the Guardian on Thursday, in which a young Briton, Katie Southworth explains why she just went on strike. Southworth, a student who works part-time for a cheap but normally cheerful bar/restaurant chain, Wetherspoons, says that she and her fellow workers must be paid 10 pounds an hour (approximately $13 an hour) if they are to "live a happy life."
I believe Southworth is wrong. More than that, I think Southworth inadvertently makes the case against herself. Consider the student’s answer as to why she can’t be happy without $13 an hour wages. It’s because, she says, "When you earn less than £9 an hour, it’s impossible to afford a place of your own in Brighton, where I live. How can people like me live our best lives if we’re splitting bills with five flatmates and arguing over the shared bathroom?"
These contentions are nothing more than the words of a spoiled individual. From the age of 26 to 31, I lived in a house with six housemates for five years. I did so to the detriment of my living conditions and personal relationships, but also in the utility of my career. Because by saving money on rent, I was able to stay in a career field that — at that point — paid me very little. But with time I improved my skills enough to make more money. And to move out.
This is the way it should be. Unfortunately, Southworth makes another broader mistake: She does not appear to realize that it is the expenditures that Wetherspoons customers choose to make that allow her to have a job at all. Instead, Southworth believes all workers are entitled to an artificially set wage that is set beyond an employer's productive potential. She argues, "The basic wage of £10 an hour has to be paid to workers of all ages. Currently, across the sector, workers under 18 years of age do the same work, yet get paid so little. They don’t get a discount at the checkout when they do their weekly shop, so why should they get paid any less?"
The answer, of course, is quite simple. Younger workers earn less than their elders not because they are younger per se, but because their youth means they lack the experience and thus the productivity-per-hour of their older contemporaries. And if their productivity is worth that potential their employers will pay for it. But Southworth’s argument gets worse. Because she also calls for "an end to insecure contracts … We deserve that basic security, when we’ve been loyal to the company for years."
It’s hard to emphasize the delusion in that comment. Because Southworth’s contention is antithetical to the nature of service industry employment, which is inherently dependent on changing revenue streams and competition. To survive in this industry, service employers need flexible contracts so that they can adapt with changing circumstances. The alternate scenario is that which exists in much of Europe outside of British borders. Namely, of secure contracts that prefer the older employees over both the viability of a business and access to employment by younger prospective employees like Southworth.
The simple point is that if a business knows it has to employ a certain number of individuals on fixed contracts with fixed terms, it will have to hedge against that unproductive choice by either raising prices or reducing costs. And in a free market economy, that choice invariably falls on a mix of both options, thus fostering youth unemployment (the least skilled and thus first to be fired) and higher prices for consumers.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by Southworth’s argument. After all, she isn’t terribly consistent. She argues, "Working in a pub can be lonely," but then a few lines later adds that she has "worked in retail and hospitality since I was 16 because I enjoy meeting new people every day."
The simple response to this article is that if you want a better living standards, then either work hard to either get a promotion, or educate yourself with new skills, or reduce any and all costs. But don't buy socialist delusion.