What would Henry Ford do?

What would Henry Ford do about the $15 minimum wage? Years ago there was a popular Christian bracelet with WWJD on it, standing for “What would Jesus do?” We were supposed to look down at the bracelet throughout the day and let it govern our actions, what we said, and so on. I did not wear one, but I admired people who had the courage to do so at the risk of being considered a fanatic. Later on there was one with WWMSD, standing for “What would Martha Stewart do?” This was when every woman would marvel over how she could seemingly do anything with panache, with ease, no sweat. She could even fold a fitted sheet! Something that to this day I cannot do without a shrug and a comment of: “That’s good enough.”

I wonder if they had fitted sheets in Henry Ford’s day? But that’s not my brainy topic of the day today. I want to mention Ford-ism. That a term that defines a concept that when Henry Ford, in agreement with Thomas Edison, in January 2014, decided to double workers’ wages. The stated reason being that this would make it possible for workers to buy the cars they were manufacturing. Some people, myself included, believe this was one of the seminal (read: big deal) events that triggered the creation of the great American middle class and an economic boom that ran for decades. And that boom is now seeing new life under the current president. I’m not going to make this political, as people get mean and nasty about that lately. Some credit is due here, you can fact-check me by looking at Phil Rosenthal’s Chicago Tribune article dated January 5, 2014, concerning Henry Ford’s visionary move.

Basically, Henry converted his workers into his customers. So, why won’t this work today by raising the minimum wage? People want to work. And when it comes to the economy, when it comes to people being happy, nothing works like work. There’s a cliché: Work works. But wage increases without productivity increases produce inflation. Everybody knows that, right? Some pundits and at least one radio talk show personality says that if $15 is so good, why not just raise it to $50? Sounds crazy, but I think we should give it a try. That would make me happy, and maybe that will stop all those Facebook posts about how happy the workers are in Denmark? HA!

Another thing Henry Ford said, to paraphrase, that it was in the interests of nearly all businesses to pay the highest wage the employer can steadily afford. Now this I really do like, especially since I have never been the employer, only the employee. I know the paycheck matters, and just having a j-o-b matters. It makes you feel good to know somebody cares enough to hire you, give you a nametag, train you, pay you.

But there is a problem. A fly in the ointment. What about those who are not working at hourly rates, such as retirees, self-employed, small business owners? Will they also benefit? Not sure, but wouldn’t it be interesting the hear someone who makes $100,000/year ask you if you want fries with that?

In answer to my question, “What would Henry Ford do?” I think he would find a way to make it work out. He was that kind of a guy.


  • F Ben Kautz says:

    This makes a good point. The context of minimum wage now is different than Henry Ford’s factory. I am not sure the comparison is valid.
    I believe that when the tax laws are ever revised, everyone should pay something, even if it is only, say .5 %. Raising the minimum wage will do nothing to affect those who are already the “takers” i.e.. welfare. How do we get those people to be productive? In Henry Ford’s time, we didn’t have welfare like we have now. We also need to trim the ineligible from the welfare rolls.
    Still, this is a good point for discussion.

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