Fast Food Wages and Fabian Follies

Protesters rallied in Michigan and nationwide recently to claim that wages at fast food restaurants are too low. Here’s an alternative compensation schedule.

These workers should be paid as much as doctors and lawyers and executives. Those in turn should all get the same salary. Every member of their staffs should make that amount too. The same principle should prevail in government: A receptionist at a state agency would make the same as the governor; a custodian cleaning a public university’s toilets would be paid exactly what the university’s president gets.  

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Everybody gets equal pay. All across the board, throughout the economy, wherever and whoever and whatever, everybody’s wage is exactly the same as everybody else’s.

The author of this scheme was the celebrated Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. He was also the most prominent member of the British Fabian socialist movement — “the highly respectable Fabian Society,” as he called it — and one of its leading economic theorists. In 1928 he published, “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism.” It had more than 450 pages devoted to capitalism’s defects in causing “the evil effects of a division of the people into rich and poor” and to socialism’s virtues as a corrective. At the core of true socialism, Shaw maintained, was “equality of income.” He was serious that such a policy would work.

Fabianism’s unique socialist twist was gradualism, a slow and steady conversion from private ownership of production to public, in contrast to the explosive worker revolution predicted in “the so-called Scientific Socialism of Karl Marx,” as Shaw put it. Great numbers of government workers — all paid exactly the same, of course — would manage the Fabian transition and ultimately the publicly owned industries and businesses.

Shaw lived until 1950 and so witnessed the early implementation of his theories. Fabian infiltration of the British Labour Party converted it into a de-facto socialist party, which gained political control in 1945. Its nationalization of industrial sectors was undone by later governments, but its National Health Service lives on.

A similar single-payer health care system for America is the goal of many Fabian-influenced advocates. Other socialist notions also abound here. For instance, “equal pay for equal work.” The only equal work is identical work, so any “equality” of disparate jobs must be determined subjectively. Shaw-style public workers (but with superior compensation) would execute that assignment.

The so-called “living wage,” defined as how much a person must have to pay for basic necessities, is also a bureaucratic calculation. The concept is founded on the ancient socialist principle of “to each according to his needs.”

Many of the aggrieved fast food workers are unwitting socialists, complaining that they should be paid more money because they “need” it.

As a playwright, George Bernard Shaw spent a career in make-believe, which also is the foundation of his economic visions.

In the real world of fast food, economics looks like this: If the workers sell their services to their employers for $15 an hour, the businesses will have to adjust their prices upwards. Potential customers will then assess whether their higher costs represent enough value for making a purchase there. Loss of sales, loss of jobs.

That ancient proverb — even older than the utopianism of socialism — applies to those demanding the $15 an hour for their fast food employment: “Beware lest you get what you want.”


Daniel Hager is an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

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