Friday, October 8, 2010

"Now, Listen, You Rich People", part three

Listen, the wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Almighty. (James 5)

The second problem James seems to have with the rich people he is speaking to is that they are cheating people out of pay they have rightfully earned. In all honesty, I don't have much personal discomfort at this one. I can't think of anyone I owe money to, for any reason, that I don't pay. At worst, I'll admit to sometimes forgetting to tip folks whose services I rarely use -- like, the baggage handler at the airport. It's not that I'm cheap, or trying to cheat them; I just flat-out forget. Traveling is hectic and stressful, you know.

But as I noted in part one of this series, I have friends (whose voices I can hear now) who would use this bit of scripture to back up governmental policies they support. Friends who often decry the "obscene" salaries of CEOs compared to the minimum wages their factory-workers make. (SIGH. I am most certainly all for every worker getting paid a fair wage that they can live on, but the constant slamming of American CEOs -- who are NOT all corrupt, or care-less of their employees, or even overpaid necessarily -- just smacks of bitterness. It gets very old.)

Nevertheless, what I notice about this complaint of James, compared to #1 and #3, is that this one seems to actually be within the realm of what a government should deal with. Ensuring that contracts are upheld. That people get paid what they have been promised. This is a legitimate state duty. Yet, I would argue that the content of these contracts -- that is, how much a worker gets paid -- is NOT within the realm of what a government should deal with.

Some of said friends would also use this scripture in their arguments against companies sending work overseas where they can get a job done for a fraction of the wages. Another SIGH. A very complicated issue. I'll only make a couple of quick points. If those overseas workers are being paid a wage that is a living wage in their community (even if it sounds like pocket change for us), they are not being cheated. Second, if the companies know what the market value of their product is (that is, what consumers are willing to pay for it) and they determine that they cannot produce that product at that price with American workers earning American minimum wage, just what are they supposed to do? Use American workers anyway and lose money on every item they sell -- and ultimately go out of business, sending all their employees into unemployment? I think a lot of the grumblers here are not looking at the big picture.

However, I'm getting off-topic. My point was that this particular wrong -- failing to pay your workers what is due them -- is a wrong done against another person. It is one against which the state should legislate and judiciate. (Is "judiciate" a verb? Well, I just made it one.) On the other hand, the other two -- hoarding your money and excessive indulgences -- are wrongs done against the self and against God. The government does not have the right to tell people how to spend their own money; only their God does.

Perhaps that's why the other two points are more convicting to me. I'm accountable to no one but God in these areas. And accountability to God is a serious thing.


KK said...

To your point on CEOs I am fairly confident in saying that, if given the chance to switch jobs (and salaries) with a CEO most "blue collar" workers would BEG to have their old job back within a very short time. There is incredible pressure in running a company - not to mention the long hours invested in the climb TO even be awarded the position.

Anonymous said...

I hope I don't get in trouble for this, but here it goes.
To KK, the same could be said for the CEO. He would go running back and begging for his high salary "stressed" job if he had to work the assembly line. In 110 heat for 1/8th of what he was making as CEO and worse health in surance.
My point is, not every job is ment for every person. Would a CEO be a CEO or try to achieve that if it wasn't a goal he wanted to reach?
Life has been hard where my husband works and the details are long and boring. The bottom line is my husband is smart, just as smart as a CEO, but that was not his calling, not what he wanted to do. He loves working with his hands watching the product get built, takes pride in the product, with no one to care. Especially the CEO's. My husband is so frustrated with upper management not caring about the quality of the product just the bottom line. How cheap can we get the labor, with no insurance, no benefits.
Gwen I really do see what you are saying about cost, profit, and such, and I don't have the answers. I do have a question, why do CEO's think they are more important and worth more than the people who actually build the product they are trying to sell? A product is only as good as the person who makes it, or so I thought.
What I do know is, I think every job (including the CEO's) is equally important. If it is not then why is that job there to begin with? So why are the wages so different? Our kids want health insurance and to go to college too, let alone a roof and electricity.
I guess the point is CEO's have the "pressure" and "stress" of running a company, and the workers have the "stress" and "pressure" of trying to support a family. So, which is worse?
Julie W.

Anonymous said...

Gwen, I must disagree with your last statement here. Employers are just as accountable to God for their treatment of their employees as they are for the way they spend their money elsewhere. God holds us to a much higher standard than any government could because he looks at the heart.

For me, this is actually the most convicting part of this passage, not because I have any employees, but because I'm usually more concerned about saving money than making sure the company I am buying from is treating their employers well. Like you said, companies can only sell a product if consumers are willing to pay the price they set for that product. I think most of us think only of our own bottom line when it comes the purchases we make.

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Carla Schoolar