Postmodern Papist links to a post by ZippyCatholic on the Distributist website What's Wrong With The World entitled descriptively: "Single People and Women Should Receive Less Pay For Equivalent Work". The author argues that as one of the key elements of morality is treating people as people rather than objects towards one's own ends, that employers should take their employees' states in life in account, rather than simply their productivity and job descriptions. A husband should, he argues, be paid more than a single person, a father of five paid more than a father of two, etc. The argument is not that this should be the only factor. Job importance and performance would still be taken into account. But all other things being equal, those with greater family responsibilities would be paid more. (The comments thread is immense, and I haven't read all of it, but Zippy does develop his concept in some more detail in the first 40 or so that I've read. It's worth reading at least some to get more of a feel where he's going with it.)
Now, if you're like me, you may have an instant and highly negative reaction to this idea. However, as I thought about it, it's not strictly speaking the idea of "unequal pay for equal work" that I object to. "Work" is a rather difficult thing to pin down, in many cases, but even assuming two employees to be producing roughly equal results in equal roles within a company, there are a number of other factors which often are taken into account in their compensation. For instance, it's often that case that people who have been with the company longer receive extra consideration (in salary, bonuses, vacation, or all three) over those who are new, all other things being equal. This isn't just a perk. Long term employees carry a lot of institutional knowledge which is essential in ways that are not always obvious at first. And simply not having to train new employees all the time saves the company a lot of effort and lost productivity. Similarly, companies sometimes identify "development" employees that they actively want to keep for a long time, and compensate them accordingly in order to encourage loyalty.
So there are a number of ways in which people are paid for something other than just their "work" which are widely accepted. What, then, is wrong with Zippy's idea here?
Well, the desire here is to strengthen the traditional family by making sure that heads of household are paid a living wage, and more generally treating people as people rather than labor commodities by paying them according to their family situations. That's a laudable goal, but I think the danger here is in trying to support something through contrived means.
When it comes to supporting the traditional family, perhaps its best to start from the basics. What is the natural human condition, as we found it 5,000+ years ago as early fixed villages were first forming, and as continued for many people in the world until only a few centuries ago? Originally, one's ability to have one's own family was directly related to one's ability to provide enough food and shelter for a mate and offspring. Your main occupation was either raising food, or providing some sort of craft in return for which you were provided with food. From a Distributist point of view, I would assume this should be a fairly familiar, and indeed, attractive.
So in this natural state, how was it assured that a man could support a family? Well, generally speaking a man remained either attached to his father's occupation, or if he went off on his own, lived singly, until he felt (and could convince his potential wife and in-laws) that he was able to support a family. This was a commonly-enough discussed concern until the beginning of the 20th century. Could a man afford a wife? Could he afford a family? Was he able to offer his intended bride a good home?
Now obviously, things could go wrong: harvests could fail, houses could burn down, livestock could die. If after a man married his means of supporting the family failed, his first recourse would be to the two spouse's families, and after that to the wider local community. And indeed, people gave a lot of thought as to what sort of family they were marrying into.
Clearly, the fields and livestock could not be told, "I'm getting married now. You're expected to produce at least twice as much." A man's ability to support a family was predicated on his ability to produce food, or good exchangeable for food, on a scale to support a family -- and then go on doing so until his children were old enough to support him in their turn.
Many things have changed between that sort of essentially agrarian, subsistence society and our own. However, I think it is often the case that policies which most resemble that "natural state" for families and society will prove the healthiest for us even in the present. This is where I think Zippy's suggestions go astray.
I do not have any objections to removing any legal restrictions that might keep a small business owner from taking one of his employees aside and saying to him, "You've just got married, and you're probably thinking a lot about where you're going in the long term at the moment. We value your work here, and we want to make sure that you stay with our company in the years to come, so I'd like to take this opportunity to offer you a raise." However, I do strongly dislike the idea of having some sort of institutionalized system whereby there is some sort of family- size-and-responsibility-modifier on everyone's compensation plan. This seems to strip the breadwinner of his traditional dignity as a person responsible for finding a way to earn enough to have a family, and for to continue to support his family once he has one. Instead, the head of household now goes to his boss, hat in hand, and says, "Excuse me sir. My wife and I are expecting again, and so I wonder if perhaps I could make a little more." The breadwinner is no longer the head of his or her household -- the breadwinner's employer is.
Paying people according to how useful their work (and potential and knowledge) is to the company may not be a perfect system, but in many ways it continues to echo the ancient calculus that humans have had to perform ever since they were told, "By the sweat of your brow shall you earn your bread, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken."
If someone isn't making enough, he can seek to find a way to do more work, or to do work that is more valued -- a few words to describe a process that can seem daunting if not nearly impossible at times. But then, the Biblical metaphor is itself pretty bleak. While I'm certainly in favor of humanizing the relationship between employer and employee, it seems to me essential that increased earnings be tied to increased productivity and/or responsibility -- not only because it keeps the economics whole, but because it ties in to the inherent dignity of earning one's living.
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