Friday, 13 December 2013

Money, employment, and wages

In A Humane Economy, (which I have not read) Wilhelm Röpke (1899–1966) argues that
...we cannot have all three: stable money, full employment, and further wage increases.
If that were that case which should we prioritise?

I think this can best be solved by looking at what the government should do, the nature of wealth, and the importance of work.

Man is created to work. The earth is cursed and thus work is often toilsome. Our attempts at redeeming work by removing toil have been moderately successful over the centuries. Work is what God has created men to do and as such it seems to be a priority over remuneration, or increases in remuneration. Still, we should pay what we have agreed to pay (James 5). High wages tends to allow a higher standard of living which seems a good in itself, though in a fallen world this can tempt us to seek security and independence from God (Deuteronomy 8). Further, wealth is its own temptation. Wage increases here are presumably for the masses, not the most wealthy. If wage increases were only for the latter then it would not seem wise to sacrifice stable money and high employment for this. Nevertheless, improving the material welfare for most of the population seems a desirable good.

Neither of these goods have seemed to me to be a priority of government. Policies that indirectly encourage vice and discourage virtue should be avoided, but the primary role of government is (direct) justice and punishment. So of the 3 options Röpke gives us it seems that goverment should only involve itself in one—money. If this is the case then we priorise stable money because it is a moral good. If money were material rather than fiat then stability would cease to be an issue. The problem would cease to be stable value and become an issue of equal weights.

Aside from this it seems to me that stable money is the only moral good in the list. Honest weights and measures are a necessity and dishonest measures sinful.
You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, (Deuteronomy 25:14-15)
Whereas high employment and high wages are desirable. Quite desirable. But increases in unemployment is not immoral in and of itself. Of course high employment is likely to have flow on effects that limit immoral behaviour in the community, though indirectly.

Finally, wages reflect value. People over-estimate the value they provide and under-estimate the cost for a product or a service. Tax excluded, at minimum the cost for you to pay someone to do a job will be the wages for you to do the same job plus overheads. You can't desire someone mow your lawn for only $10 and expect people to pay you $20 for the same job. Even so, with stable money and high employment (and a few other important factors), wages will likely increase over time.

I therefore prioritise these 3 in this order:
  1. stable money
  2. full employment
  3. wage increases

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