When I was 16, I had a job at the Minaki Lodge in Minaki, Ontario from which I was fired. (Why was I fired? That's a whole other story. It had nothing to do with my work ethic.) After I was fired, I still needed to find work because I needed to make money to pay for college. I was starting at the University of Winnipeg that fall.
So a few days after I was fired, I was hanging around the Lodge and Chef Rudy came by. He asked me if I wanted to work in the kitchen helping run the dish washer. I'm guessing it's because he had seen me mop floors and clean bathrooms every day for 4 weeks and had never seen me slack. The offer, I think, was $1.25 an hour. (This was in 1967.) I said, "Sure, but Rod Carey [the manager of the Lodge, the one who had fired me] will never let you hire me." "Leave that to me," he said, "Wait here." A few minutes later he came out to where I was sitting and said, "You're on. Start tomorrow at 8:00 a.m." So I did.
But within a day or two, I started sleeping in a little and showing up at 8:15 or 8:20. After the third day of this in a row, Chef Rudy and I had the following dialogue:
Rudy: You need to get here on time. Get an alarm clock.
Me: I have an alarm clock.
Rudy: Do you use it?
Rudy: Then what's the problem?
Me: The alarm sounds, I turn it off, and then I turn over and sleep another 15 minutes.
Rudy: That's the problem. Show up tomorrow on time or you're fired.
So, from then on, I did show up on time. I didn't get fired, and I thrived in my job.
I tell this story for two reasons. First, you hear people often say that low-wage jobs are dead-end jobs and that you don't learn much of value. I learned a huge amount of value, and being punctual was one of my first big lessons.
Second, my friend Don Boudreaux has a blog post this morning, titled "Dan Klein's and Lotta Stern's Virtues Project," in which he tells how another of our friends, Dan Klein, and his wife, Lotta Stern, are encouraging their daughter to be virtuous. The first virtue highlighted is punctuality. I think their project is a noble one and it well could work. My point is different, and it's one that I think both Don and Dan would agree with in a New York minute: the market teaches virtue.
Think back to Chef Rudy. Rudy's main goal was not to make me virtuous. His main goal was to get a good worker to show up on time. His incentive worked and I became marginally more virtuous.