Oh yes, this is a permanent wish / gripe / dissent of mine – Robert Reich’s suggestion that we Just Imagine If People Were Paid What Their Work Is Really Worth to Society. Well yes. Teachers, farmers, people who clean hospitals and hotels and schools, bus drivers, garbage collectors, as opposed to people who massage money or market harmful shit or sell cigarettes.
What someone is paid has little or no relationship to what their work is worth to society.
Does anyone seriously believe hedge-fund mogul Steven A. Cohen is worth the $2.3 billion he raked in last year, despite being slapped with a $1.8 billion fine after his firm pleaded guilty to insider trading?
On the other hand, what’s the worth to society of social workers who put in long and difficult hours dealing with patients suffering from mental illness or substance abuse? Probably higher than their average pay of $18.14 an hour, which translates into less than $38,000 a year.
How much does society gain from personal-care aides who assist the elderly, convalescents, and persons with disabilities? Likely more than their average pay of $9.67 an hour, or just over $20,000 a year.
What’s the social worth of hospital orderlies who feed, bathe, dress, and move patients, and empty their ben pans? Surely higher than their median wage of $11.63 an hour, or $24,190 a year.
Most financiers, corporate lawyers, lobbyists, and management consultants are competing with other financiers, lawyers, lobbyists, and management consultants in zero-sum games that take money out of one set of pockets and put it into another.
They’re paid gigantic amounts because winning these games can generate far bigger sums, while losing them can be extremely costly.
It’s said that by moving money to where it can make more money, these games make the economy more efficient.
In fact, the games amount to a mammoth waste of societal resources.
They demand ever more cunning innovations but they create no social value. High-frequency traders who win by a thousandth of a second can reap a fortune, but society as a whole is no better off.
Meanwhile, the games consume the energies of loads of talented people who might otherwise be making real contributions to society — if not by tending to human needs or enriching our culture then by curing diseases or devising new technological breakthroughs, or helping solve some of our most intractable social problems.
Not to mention the fact that the competitive money-massagers caused the entire global economy to tank while making a few massagers grotesquely rich. Not a fabulous arrangement, if you ask me.
Reich suggests canceling the college debts of people who go into useful but underpaid fields. A very tiny band-aid.