You are not indispensable

I hope telling you this doesn’t ruin your day, but you are not indispensable.  It is highly likely that your employers can soldier along without you.  They might hate to lose you, but they’ll live.

Likewise, if you are self-employed or a business owner, your clients can get along without you.  They would find another source for the goods and services you provide, if they found themselves unwilling or unable to do business with you.  Successful business people never forget this.

Not only could your employer probably replace you, but they might be able to do without your position entirely.  They could decide the costs of retaining your position outweigh the benefits.  They might decide their customers can live without the services your job renders.  Maybe they’ll be able to replace you with a machine.  That sort of thing has been happening quite a bit since the Industrial Revolution.  In a healthy economy, workers displaced by industrial machinery are re-purposed into other profitable pursuits; efficiency creates opportunity, rather than annihilating jobs.  (This is what President Obama comically failed to understand when he famously blamed automated teller machines for high unemployment.)

In the worst-case scenario, your company might decide it can no longer turn a profit while employing the people it needs to run its operations successfully.  Employment is the twin sister of Profit; they are inseparable.

I bring all this up because there is a strange, persistent fantasy about labor somehow enjoying immunity from the laws of supply and demand.  That’s not true t all.  Labor is a commodity.  Raise the cost, and demand will decline.  It would be fair to say that labor is somewhat more resistant to these forces than material goods, because there is a human element involved, and this influences purchasing decisions.  Business owners will, understandably, agonize more about cutting jobs than slashing material expenses.  I have worked for people who said they refused to sell their business and cash out because they cared about their employees, and didn’t want their jobs to go away.

But eventually lines are crossed, calculations of cost and benefit turn unbearably grim, and jobs become too expensive to maintain.  The public generally overestimates the degree to which labor’s human dimension overrides these calculations.  Some jobs are much more disposable than others, particularly if employees don’t build up a great deal of intrinsic value over time.  Is the experienced employee far more valuable than the fresh trainee?  If positions are dissolved, will it be difficult to restore them later?  If the answer to those questions is “no,” then job security becomes thin.

I sometimes wonder if the public’s failure to understand all this is driven by the artificially high degree of job security among academics, politicians, and celebrities.  It is risky to take advice on job security from a small group of people who can’t really lose their jobs.

These musings were prompted by a post from Moe Lane at RedState, in which he discussed a report about short staffing and declining service at WalMart.  The report somehow never got around to mentioning that ObamaCare is one of the big reasons for this, as documented by other media accounts.

Moe sheds no tears for the struggling super-store: “Walmart has earned this.  By supporting ObamaCare in the first place the company decided to put politics above its mission statement, which is to sell reasonably sturdy consumer goods to middle and lower income workers at reasonably cheap prices.  And now that they???ve allegedly discovered that that same ObamaCare???s rising health care costs and mandated coverage is going to make it impossible for the company to fully staff its stores?”

But why is anyone surprised by this?  ObamaCare imposes huge overhead on the cost of labor.  The law actually provides some fairly explicit escape hatches that can be accessed by reducing staff and cutting hours back to part-time – or, to look at it from the perspective of growing companies, obvious bear traps that snap shut when a certain number of additional people are hired.  The effect is pronounced enough to make jobs, particularly low-end jobs, highly vulnerable.  This is especially true in a highly competitive environment based on deep discount prices and thin profit margins.  And if the customers grow displeased, as the article cited by Moe Lane implies, managers know they can easily reconstitute a staff of low-end employees.  If slashing entry-level jobs proves to be a mistake, it is very easily corrected.

And now the Democrats are talking about raising the minimum wage, too!  Are we all supposed to pretend we’re surprised and appalled when that kills even more jobs?  How much farther do we have to fall, before Americans realize that labor does not defy the laws of economic gravity?