At least we assume that Adam Smith’s works are sold in Waterstones. Even if not it would be worth the staff currently complaining about their wages having a read. For one of the points that Adam Smith makes is that all jobs pay the same.
Not, obviously, all and exactly, there’re skill levels, training and so on to think about. But more generally, the conditions, the enjoyability, the stimulation, of a job are going to be negatively correlated with the cash pay for that job. This is why 99% (OK, perhaps 90%) of all would be actors make nothing from it ever, as prancing on the stage is most enjoyable therefore there are many who’ll do it for no cash. Dustmen don’t make good money because it requires great skill and application but because it’s a noisesome line of work, dunnikin divers even more so.
This was, rightly, pointed out some 250 years ago or so. Not too much to expect people to have grasped it by now?
Waterstones’ much-celebrated return to profitability has been engineered by Daunt, but built on the labour of booksellers, much of it inadequately remunerated and unrecognised. My experience with the company is far from unique, because for years now booksellers have had to take on additional workload and responsibilities as staff numbers (both on the shop floor and at head office) have decreased, almost all of it uncompensated. No longer do they simply shelve, operate tills and talk to customers about books. They are expected to be operations managers, security guards, childminders, baristas, cleaners, graphic designers, events managers, social media wizards and much more besides, but at a fraction of the pay for which those jobs would normally be contracted out. Theirs is the tireless effort by which the company remains afloat, and to say – as Daunt has – that a stimulating job should be a reward in itself is not simply patronising, it is exploitative.
You can call it exploitative if you like, you can call it Aunt Sally if you prefer. But it’s a simple truth about human beings that stimulating and interesting jobs are going to pay less than horrible noisesome ones requiring the same skill and attention. Because interest and stimulation are part of the pay, filth and unenjoyment things that must be compensated for.
And if you don’t like the deal then the British economy does contain some 30 million odd other jobs, some in that marketplace perhaps offering a more favourable to your own tastes blend of conditions and money than bookselling?
Jim Taylor is a writer who also manages an independent bookshop in Edinburgh
Or maybe not for someone who moonlights in order to retain that job as a bookseller?