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Who moved my burger grill job ?

February 5th, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

I sit in a local Manhattan restaurant watching the skill with which the Spanish speaking grill chef across the counter from me, works while chatting with the four or five other staff in a language I still don’t understand, despite having been in New York for over ten years. I can’t help wondering if it is exploitation or constructive that I am enjoying and paying $13 for a burger with fries while he and his cohorts earn I suspect around half that in the time it takes to cook about a dozen burgers. In Europe he would be twice as well paid and my burger would cost twice as much.

Does the owner exploit his staff ? It would be a harsh judgment as I expect that he doesn’t make a fortune on a single store but maybe it is more that he is able to maintain his compensation by not sharing the revenue with a lot of aspiring wage hungry locally born staff. Or more accurately that this is the only price at which he can stay in business in an unregulated labor market. That also appears to be how we cope with the global wage economy. We do as much work as we can with cheap labor either offshore or here. Using insecure cautious immigrants to prop up the salaries of the few still managing the business. Are we growing our economy by allowing all the aspiring locals to run their own burger restaurant – partly – but as a trend the surplus of talented local people who grew up expecting to pay for a burger increasingly have to scratch around to find our own burger joint to run and somebody to sell to.

Given that the supply of underprivileged people in the world includes most people in the world what will this trend eventually result in? Almost certainly continually eroding differentials. This is after all the only fair outcome.

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