Honor Employers on Labor Day

On Labor Day, we should praise employers as well as workers. In our economy employers make much of our labor possible by paying us wages. They make it more productive by arranging its structure most efficiently. They make it more forward looking by coming up with ideas for the next new product and service and by supplying the capital to get these ideas off the ground.

Yet many fail to acknowledge what a deeply moral act employing someone else in productive, legal work can be. By giving someone a job, an employer is not only providing a wage, but a framework of discipline and often a satisfying life that not everyone can provide for themselves. And large employers, like Walmart, do most of all by employing millions and creating paths for career advancement that would not otherwise exist.

In contrast, most of the shrill critics of companies like Walmart are academics and others who have never employed anyone except perhaps a nanny. They have done little to put bread on the table of their fellow man or set the less well off on a trajectory to a more ample livelihood. But they feel it incumbent upon themselves to tell employers what wages they should pay.

One response to the claim that employers deserve moral credit is that they are fully rewarded for employing others by profit. And it is of course true that they often earn profits. But when employers agree to pay employees a salary their profit is frequently not secure. They are taking a risk and often living a life of disquiet as result, “their minds tossing” with the fortunes of their ventures. Indeed, they reduce the risk that employee would have in self-employment and transfer it to themselves.  Employers may prosper but they do well by others in doing so.

Praising employers is not meant to denigrate laborers.  Whether the labor is highly skilled and versatile, or modest and limited, like that which that Samuel Johnson described as “a single talent well employed,” it is justly a source of honor and pride as well as means of earning a living. But employers deserve honor as well. If it is too much to ask for an Employers’ Day holiday, the least we can do is also celebrate their contributions on Labor Day.