Skills and Value

Topics are building up in my head faster than I have time to write them, and so despite the fact that I swore I was going to write about numerous other topics, particularly in the area of psychology a Facebook conversation has led me down a different path.

The conversation was about a McDonalds worker who wanted her $8/hr salary to go up to


the living wage of $15/hr.  Which is still not a terribly high wage.  The conversation that ensued went as you’d expect.  Most people (who are in good jobs and living comfortably) saying that working at McDonalds requires no skill and thus should be paid accordingly.  Or criticizing the person for not doing more with their life and thus have no one but themselves to blame.  One person did make the argument that no wage has kept pace with inflation, which is true, but minimum wage has gone up at an even slower rate.

I made numerous arguments in response, most importantly challenging the assumption that the person had all these choices in their life.   Most of the people reading this blog live in a position of privilege.   And it’s not your fault.  Your parents probably pushed you, help educate you, made you aware of different options for your life, encouraged you to do well in school.  You probably grew up in relatively safe neighborhoods.  You had friends that were similar to you.  You had good schools to go to, with a lot of skilled teachers.  But not all neighborhoods are safe.  Not all parents care enough to encourage your education.


Not all schools are equal in the quality of education they provide.  Some environments make it easier to fall into a bad crowd.  Not everyone has the freedom to go for further training after they get out of high school.  Maybe they have to work to take care of a sick parent who has massive bills because they couldn’t afford health insurance.  There are a million scenarios that could limit the opportunities one has.

I also made the argument that I did not choose my career path as a meteorology professor because of the money.  It is because I loved it.  I am glad it pays well enough for me to live comfortably.  But should all of a sudden a McDonalds job become available that pays more.  I am not going to jump ship and say, “Yay more money, flipping burgers all day is going to be awesome!”.

An argument was made by someone that garbage men get paid a good wage so they


could do that instead of working at McDonalds.  Okay true.  But we can’t all be sanitation workers let alone teachers, lawyers and doctors.  It’s also important to remember that at one time sanitation workers didn’t get paid very much.  Thanks to unions though they could organize, strike, and refuse to pick up garbage until they made a decent wage to live by.  Because picking up the trash and removing waste from our streets is actually an important and necessary part of our society.

I think education and teachers are extremely important.  But do I think that makes a job that doesn’t require as much knowledge and skill less important?  Of course not.  There is nothing inherently more valuable about my role in society than someone who picks up the garbage.  In fact someone could argue that picking up the trash is perhaps more important.  When trash was in the streets, things like the bubonic plague happened.  Hygiene and sanitation are extremely important.  So let’s go a step further.  Is there anything more inherently valuable about my job than a restaurant worker?  Arguably we can have a world without restaurants and everybody cooks their own food.  Might  not be a bad world, but that’s not ultimately our world.  People like to go out to eat.  There will always be restaurants.  So restaurants are just as much part of the fabric of society as anything else.  So should the required skill level in any job be what determines the wage.  The sanitation worker, from a skill level is just as demanding as a burger flipper and yet makes more.   Is that right?  I would further argue that an employee earning a living wage at any job has more loyalty to the company and stays longer thus becoming better at their job.  If you’ve had bad service at a McDonalds, maybe it’s because they are constantly having to train new people since the pay is so bad that people leave after a short time.  The money isn’t probably worth the level of abuse they get from customers.

Now there are even more good arguments to be made about a McDonalds worker making a living wage.  They would need less social programs saving the taxpayer money, they can perhaps afford to move to send their kids to a better school to break the cycle of poverty, not to mention they may now have more free time to better themselves or spend with their kids, which also helps break the cycle.  However what concerns me the most is the attitude towards the poor.  One commenter on this thread said that “it serves them right making a low wage for their self-inflicted wounds”.  I was like wow.  As I’ve just argued it is extremely judgmental to assume the wounds are self-inflicted, but basically this person is saying:

“Hey poor person, sucks about the mistakes you made in the past.  You deserve now to suffer the rest of your life because of that”.

How callous is that? I wonder if that person has ever had somebody so unforgiving to their mistakes. And how should the poor person respond?

” Thank a lot Captain Hindsight.  Now that I realize my mistakes I’ll go back in time and fix it.”

Furthermore we can see how materialistic our society is by people who would look down on poor people in such a way.  Because where is the condemnation to the rich owner of


McDonalds or any corporation?  Why don’t we judge him just as harshly?  Because he has money of course.  And obviously he must be working really really hard in order to make all that money.  This is of course nonsense.  A single mother working two jobs to support her family is most definitely working harder than the CEO of McDonalds. And I doubt that mother is having fancy lunches on an expensive account and playing a round of golf out in the sun with business associates.  But even if they were equal, why is that CEO more valuable than the person working at minimum wage jobs?  The corporation itself made almost $30 billion last year in revenues.  And the CEO’s take home pay is $9 million a year.  Is that CEO that much more valuable than one of his employees?  Is he/she that much more skilled?

And if workers should get a living wage, many argue about how much everything will cost.  But there is a second option.  The company could make less money.  The CEO could make less money.  Is that likely?  Perhaps not, but in the free market there is always somebody who is going to take an advantage of an opportunity and will undercut the competition and take home only 2 million a year instead.  That CEO is still living a better life than 99.99% of the people in this world.  If we want to equate a monetary value to skill, a CEO still makes far beyond what his or her skill warrants.

The Great Pyramids, one of the 7 wonders of the world, was built on the backs of slave labor to entomb the rich and powerful.  When I look at the vast wealth of a few, at the expense of countless millions who can barely meet their daily nutritional needs for themselves and their families, I wonder how much things have really changed.  What’s clear is that by dehumanizing the poor as many do in this country it allows a system to continue that allows the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.  So it saddens and sickens me when I hear people idolize wealth and abhor the poor.  If the income gap continues to widen in this country I can tell you that statistically speaking one is more likely to find themselves in a poor man’s shoes.  Perhaps only then will people learn.

4 thoughts on “Skills and Value

  1. I’ve thought about this before and my my preference would be to work as an engineer on the Enterprise (star ship, not aircraft carrier), wear a red jump suit every day and not have to worry about bills and salaries and what colour belt I should wear. But I don’t see that happening as long as greed and laziness are part of the human condition.

    I am curious as to what constitutes a liveable wage. If $8/hr isn’t liveable how is it that so many people work at McDonald’s and keep living? What should minimum wage provide as far as lifestyle: own a house; rent an apartment with two room-mates; provide supplemental income? Should *every* job provide a liveable wage?

    How does raising minimum wage a few dollars affect import and exports and the feasibility of manufacturing domestically? Do you then take a fairly protectionist approach to international trade? What about workers in Bangladesh that no longer have a job because you doubled import tariffs?

    The rise in income disparity is very troubling, but can it be addressed with something as simple as increasing minimum wage?


  2. Well the reason they are living is because of the social programs. Clearly they are not starving. Because under a certain yearly income they qualify for social programs like food stamps and welfare to supplement their income. This comes as the expensive of other taxpayers who live beyond the poverty level. Of course that amount of money usually puts their total income at still less than it would be if they earned a wage that allowed them freedom of choice over goods they buy, where they shop and what they do with their money. This autonomy is important to a human because it gives them a sense of control over their lives. Perhaps more important than the total income they are earning. I don’t know. But as I pointed out the ultimate result would be that the top would make less (but still have an awesome life), but that poor would take less from social programs and have more free time to contribute to society in a positive way. This allows taxes to go down for all, or allows money to be allocated more towards education or health care. Things that benefit society as a whole. When people can make a living wage at 40 hours a week, they have more time to be engaged in their society, their children, and the lives of others to help out. Most poor people work very hard. Working multiple jobs and have little free time. Like factory workers in Bangladesh.

    People in Bangladesh don’t need to lose their job. Of course many factories in Bangladesh or other similar countries exploit their workers heavily. And they are exploited simply on the idea that “Hey it’s better you have something than nothing”. But ultimately what they produce doesn’t help the economy of their country compared to how much it helps the corporation. It also prevents that country from utilizing a work force that could benefit their own economy better. That being said if the corporation didn’t make quite as much money and pumped money into communities and the workers in their factories they could actually have a much greater impact on the economies of those countries. The average poor person here has it better off than the average poor person in many countries. And those working in factories if they save their money hard enough can at least help their children get out of the poverty they are in. But should those workers have to work 12 hours a day, given ridiculous quotas to meet as they work to keep their job, just so their kids have a fighting chance for more, while the corporation and CEO makes millions or billions of dollars for doing less work than the person making their goods does? It’s quite possible that we would never create something like the Great Pyramids should we have be a society in which everybody was treated equally. Because who would want to drag gigantic blocks of stone across the desert, for some pharaoh that was not theirs, but who knows? We are clearly capable of more when we cooperate, and nurture each others ability to learn, be creative. We may be even capable of more if everyone was given the same education and right to self-determination many of us have been given. Perhaps it is a truth of the world that there will always be winners and losers. But if that is the case at the very least we can be sympathetic to those less fortunate, but we should at least try. Many who rail against the poor are simply unaware of the privileges they enjoy that allowed them the opportunities they had. If happiness was the goal of a country over wealth, money, power, I think we would see a very different type of society.


  3. Swarn,

    Well stated and I must add, being a cashier, server at any restaurant, working with the public at fast food chains are excessively difficult and does take monumental people skills. What most do not know, the mass public is egregiously difficult to work with. Screaming kids, people with attitudes due to their own life stresses or just an ornery person who has bad manners. Fast food personnel must deal with everyone that approaches the counter. Some are in a hurry and highly impatient.

    Honestly, I once worked as a cashier, it was the worst job I had tried and did not last long. The plethora of personalities and things people do is confounding!!! At times some individuals actions are jaw dropping.

    To ask that an extremely profitable company regard what they may think as a lower skilled position, in its self outrageous, but to not pay them a decent living wage for the hardships these jobs cause is down right vulgar of our humanity.

    Ever seen the show, Undercover Boss….Most CEO’s that attempt any of the positions that their companies hire personnel for, the CEO is incapable in accomplishing. It is a skill set and we all have different skills and abilities.

    As to the condescension disposition regarding poor people. Anyone can fall into these categories these days. One major car accident, slip on black ice, cancer – any ailment can send and entire familiy into poverty. And those whom guff at such moments in life, lack any personal moral compass and amenable character!!! They also are ignorant, lacking compassion and down right vulgar!!!

    Thank you (as always) for your writings, very passionate while making points for many to hear and read!!!

    A Tame Woman Never Makes History


    Date: Fri, 11 Oct 2013 19:17:59 +0000 To:


    1. I agree with you. I have also had jobs in the service industry that I found also quite tiring. Really more tiring at the end of an 8 hour shift than a long day as a professor! Thank you as always for your comments and appreciation. 🙂


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