Many conservatives argue no one is entitled to a job. Are business owners entitled to employees? (More)

Yesterday’s Noontime News included an NPR story about Tim O’Keefe, the owner of a transmission parts manufacturing plant in Minneapolis, Kansas. Responding to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s claim that millionaire job creators are “unicorns,” O’Keefe cites himself as an example and says “I am not a unicorn.”

Perhaps, but he’s also not much of a “job creator.” O’Keefe’s plant employs about 100 people. He says he would hire more, but….

“We’ve got the space, we have equipment, we’ve got the cash, we’ve got the customers, we have the product,” he says. “We have everything we need – except the people.”

Part of the problem, O’Keefe admits, is that he’s a difficult boss. He describes himself as “picky” and says he expects a lot from his employees. They work five 10-hour days and a half-day on Saturdays. But the larger issue is location. Minneapolis, Kansas is a tiny town of 2000 people, a half-hour drive from the “city” of Salina (population 46,000). O’Keefe implies that shouldn’t be a problem if people really want a job:

When I see the state of Michigan with unemployment rates north of 10 percent, I don’t understand why those people, just like Tom Joad did in the Dirty ’30s, jump in the car, throw Grandma on the roof, drive to Kansas and work for a productive, 100-year-old company like G.L. Huyett.

One shouldn’t have to explain basic economics to a business owner, but it works like this:

In classical economics, price balances supply and demand. If supply exceeds demand, the price falls. If demand exceeds supply, the price rises. For O’Keefe’s company, the demand (his need for labor) exceeds the supply (applicants). In economic terms, O’Keefe’s offering price is too low to attract applicants to his plant in Minneapolis, Kansas.

Or, in the conservative worldview, the lazy bums should just “jump in the car, Grandma on the roof, drive to Kansas” and work for him anyway. Because “no one is entitled to a living wage” … except business owners, CEOs, and investors:

Owners, CEOs, and investors have to be able to make a return on their investments. When a normal profit is unable to be obtained businesses stop hiring people.

This seems like a logical contradiction, but its roots lie in a unstated moral dichotomy. In the conservative worldview, those who provide labor have a moral duty to work, while those who provide capital have a moral right to profit. Those different moral assumptions – one for workers, another for investors – underlie the core breakdown in our economy.

So here’s the economics lesson for O’Keefe. If people won’t come to work for you in a tiny town in Kansas, you have two options: offer a higher price to attract applicants to move to your business, or move your business to where applicants are willing to work for the price you offer. They aren’t entitled to jobs … but neither are you entitled to employees.