Wal-Mart and the Koch brothers opt for common sense on two vital issues.
Sometimes good things come from unexpected places, and in a couple of recent instances, positive actions suggest that despite current deep political divisions, practical considerations can still trump ideology.
I don’t think anyone assumes the move by Wal-Mart is a sign the business has suddenly developed a soft spot for employees. The wages aren’t even that big, but this is tightfisted Wal-Mart we’re talking about. The decision had to make sense financially, or the company wouldn’t have volunteered to pay out what could be $1 billion a year in additional compensation for 500,000 workers.
Business writers were speculating on the why last week, and a couple of ideas rang true to me. One is that the job market is tighter now, which would make it harder for Wal-Mart to attract people who can do the level of work it needs, especially as the employment picture continues to improve and as more local governments enact higher wage floors.
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The second reason seems even more likely to have been the impetus for giving out raises. Wal-Mart realized that people who don’t feel fairly compensated may not give their best to the job. A piece in Bloomberg News said Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon visited stores and saw “long checkout lines, empty shelves and problems with produce.” That kind of environment can lead to lost sales and cost more than the price of higher wages.
I’m sure it also helped that lots of Wal-Mart workers joined demands for higher minimum wages that began with food-service workers. Those Wal-Mart workers made the wider public more aware of the situation at Wal-Mart, and may have also increased the sense of other employees that they were being misused and maybe something could and should be done about it. Unhappy employees don’t help the bottom line.
Workers in SeaTac and Seattle can take a little credit for the consciousness raising they did while fighting for a minimum wage here. And Wal-Mart’s move is likely to have a broad impact because the company is the country’s largest private employer.
More workers making above the bare minimum means less need for government support, and more people able to buy stuff and to pay taxes. Self-interest and the public good intersect.
The politically conservative Koch brothers are taking on a problem that goes beyond their immediate financial interests: the dysfunctional criminal-justice system. The brothers have criticized the system for years, especially the heavy burden of mass incarceration, which wastes public money and damages individual lives and entire communities without a supportable return on investment.
It’s not unusual for Charles and David Koch to spend on public-policy issues. That’s one of the things they are best known for. What’s different this time is that they are part of a group of organizations from the right and left of the political spectrum that usually are at war with one another. The partners include Koch Industries, the American Civil Liberties Union, FreedomWorks, the Center for American Progress and Americans for Tax Reform, among others. It’s a significant measure of the problems with the justice system that they all agree it is broken.
Last week the partners announced the formation of the Coalition for Public Safety, which according to its website “will work to reform our criminal justice system to make it more just, more fair, more effective.”
Besides fixing the system, the coalition hopes to show politicians it is possible to see past party differences to address problems that affect all of us in some way.
In both the wage increase and the forming of this new coalition, it’s nice to see actions in which what makes sense outweighs the defense of ideological turf.