One of the problems with the minimum wage debate (whether to raise it, by how much, what will the effects be on hiring, etc.) is that it pushes this much more fundamental issue into the background. I don’t personally understand why it’s not a given that it’s immoral to pay your employees so little that they can’t afford to eat, and why this is not a major topic of public discussion.
But I also think we have to deal with the fact that that’s apparently where we are.
Cappelli’s argument is focused on wages, but it seems to me that the shift he describes is reflected in corporate attitudes towards employee education and training as well. Corporations increasingly don’t see this as their problem. Likewise, Cappelli contends that corporations’ former sense of obligation to pay employees a decent wage had both strategic and altruistic motivations, and I think that was probably true about training as well. But whatever altruistic motivation there was behind some corporate training investments in the old days has all but disappeared. Corporate leadership today more typically looks at training exclusively in terms of return on investment back to the corporation.
You can be morally outraged by all this—or not—but either way, it does have an impact on policy. What is the role of government in an environment where corporations see less of a moral obligation to their employees—not just in terms of wages, but in terms of supporting the education and training needs of our workforce?