This continues to pop up on news sites I visit. The original report does not say a whole lot about the man’s motivations although they do come across as a genuine concern for the wellbeing of his employees; this story strongly suggests that Christian faith played a role in his decision to set the minimum salary for his employees at $70,000/year, and to cut his own pay from $1 million to $70,000 as well.
A few thoughts occur to me about this. First, to suggest that this move is socialist (as Limbaugh and others have) is ludicrous. Socialism is about state ownership of the means of production; a state-enforced minimum wage law has more in common with socialism than does voluntarily paying one’s employees what arguably qualifies as a living wage. One might conceivably argue whether his decision makes “good business sense” from the capitalist perspective but one cannot rationally accuse a generous employer of being a socialist solely because he is generous.
A second observation occurs to me, and that is that this man’s actions appear to be pretty darn consistent with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. That doctrine calls for workers to receive a living wage, one which is more than what’s needed for bare survival. That doctrine also condemns socialism, so it seems pretty clear that it is incumbent upon employers to do the right thing. Of course a living wage so defined is going to vary from place to place, but the point is not in the particular wage but rather in the outlook of the employer: does he recognize that he holds his property in stewardship and not absolutely? Does he understand that people have a natural right to a better existence than bare poverty, particularly when the only barrier is the distribution of property?
A third observation is that what this businessman has done is exactly consistent with the parable of the laborers in the field (Matthew 20). Does it make any sense for so-called free market advocates to condemn a man for doing what he wants with what is his own? Limbaugh and others seem to me to be advocating an economic theory based not solely upon private property but upon greed too. The Bible and the Church call us to a higher standard. We are called to hold our goods in love not only of ourselves but in love of our fellow man. I do not know if this businessman’s decision will prove to be successful for him and his company, but if it fails it will not be because real concern for others is bad for business.