June 14, 2007
Earnings - Wages, Salaries, Perks
By J. Mayer
"You ought to be able to keep what you 'earn,'" is a frequent cliché
of right-wing tax protestors including the current "decider." It's
appealing. It's persuasive. It's deceiving!
It's deceiving in its false assumptions. It assumes that all wages
and salaries are actually "earned." It assumes that our "value
system" is legitimate. It assumes that the "market economy" and
"capitalism" distribute income on a just and moral basis. It assumes
that the "market" is neutral regarding sex, race, citizenship, etc.
with no prejudices built in.
The "earnings" discrepancy of major corporate CEOs versus the average
employee continues to grow. A half century ago in the United States
the CEO usually "out-earned" the average worker about 40 to 1. Today
that number reaches 400, even 500, to 1. It's interesting that the
"market," which corrects all things, allows European and Japanese CEOs
to cling closer to the older 40 to 1 ratio.
Wage discrepancies expose our "value system." It is not uncommon for
a collegiate coach in a major sport (football and basketball) to
"out-earn" the University president 5 to 10 times. Entertainers,
athletes, musicians, actors and actresses frequently "earn" within a
year, month, or even a week more than many in the general population
"earn" in a lifetime. Our "value system" is questioned when a new
graduate moves into the "market economy" and immediately "earns" more
than those who educated him or her. Again, our values are exposed
when those "dealing" -figuratively and literally - in the financial
markets (sales, investments, mergers, buy-outs, etc.) "earn" many
times more than those doing such mundane things as making real, useful
The assumption that the "market economy" distributes income on a just
and moral basis is exposed as myth when we examine wage discrimination
built into the system. Last week wage discrimination against women
was cemented into law by the U.S. Supreme Court as it ruled in favor
of a discriminating corporate employer. Wage discrepancy based on
race, gender, and color is well documented. "Earned" income varies
widely in favor of "private" employees" versus "public" employees who
are deemed inefficient, superfluous leaches on society being paid out
of evil taxes. The value of our "uniformed-armed-force" personnel is
only a fraction of "contracted-military-labor" in Iraq and elsewhere.
"Immigrant" versus citizen labor provides another opportunity for the
"market economy" to exploit with impunity.
"Earnings" in a "market economy" is the instrument we use to evaluate
humans. Worth is determined by the value one contributes to profits.
Moral principles such as the "golden rule" surrender to market
"principles." Even the concept of justice is denied. "For the good
of the economy," "for the good of the markets," "growth," "freedom"
(for some) are the dominate principles in validating human worth.
Fear, hatred, crime, imprisonment, war – should we be surprised when
these dominate political discourse? What else can we expect when
selfishness and greed become our sacred cows and other principles are
relegated to rhetorical bombast? It's time to pursue the universal
principles of respect, dignity, equality, and justice, for we all
belong to One Family in which each person is influenced by the actions
of others, and when all are in harmony the One Family benefits.