Who’s more Important…Entrepreneurs or Workers?

In the “progressive media” outlets like msnbc and national public radio, we see played before us again and again the “economic class warfare” thesis.  One of the cornerstones of this class warfare argument is the premise that US workers are under paid, over worked, and exploited by business owners.  As we ramp up to the next Presidential election this anti-business rhetoric will grow.  The arguments against American employers will get louder, but make no more sense than they ever have.

In the arena of employer/employee relations I feel particularly qualified to offer a few observations.  My opinion isn’t based on empirical economic research published in some labor economics journal, but on nearly 30 years as a business owner and employer.  In bold print below are two “progressive” myths that I will debunk.

Myth #1:  Business owners really don’t think their employees are important.
Actually, the reverse is true; most business owners worry about losing their skilled workers.  No business can thrive without good workers.  Workers aren’t tethered to the floor.  The only way a business can retain good workers is to pay them fairly and treat them with respect.  If you don’t treat employees with dignity and pay them a competitive wage for the skills they bring to the table, they will go across the street and work for your competitor.  While recessions may temporarily limit the mobility of labor, recessions don’t last forever and workers never forget low pay or mistreatment.  The second they have a better opportunity they will be gone.

Myth #2:  Businesses discriminate against women and other minority groups. Again, the reverse is true.  Worker productivity is key to corporate success.  The business with the best skilled and most productive workers wins.  For example, a business owner that hires lower skilled white workers and turns away higher skilled black workers will soon find himself bankrupt.  As I tell my students, “If you’re an expert tool designer with 5 years of experience, I’ll hire you if you’re a transsexual with polka-dotted skin and you have a shovel growing out of your head.  Your skills are what matter to me; we’ll remove a ceiling tile to accommodate the shovel handle!  Are some business owners bigots?  Probably, but they won’t be in business long.

It is nonsensical and unproductive to debate whether owners or workers are more important.   The fact is, no business can succeed without competent owners and workers who appreciate each other.  Every morning, before the sun rises, our dedicated employees report to work.  The last shift ends around midnight.  Day in and day out, it is they who bring their skills to the shop floor to produce products to satisfy our customers.  On the other hand, when a recession looms it is we the owners who bear financial loss.  Without our employees, there is no production or profits.  Likewise, without entrepreneurs there are no jobs.  We and our employees are inexorably linked together in enterprise.  Both they and we know that the excellence we bring to our shared efforts is the source of our physical livelihood.

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